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Figuring out how to breastfeed is hard enough. Then on top of that, you likely will have to figure out how to use a breast pump. I’ve been there … three times.
Having gone through three breast pumps, I can say that not every breast pump is made the same. There are things I know now that I wish I had known the first time around.
It’s important to know:
- why you should use a breast pump in the first place
- the difference between breast pumps
- essential things you need to do while pumping
- then taking care of all the darn issues that can arise
It’s not just about getting extra milk, and yet, it’s EVERYTHING about getting every drop possible. You’ll see what I mean.
Why You Should Use A Breast Pump In The First Place
Even if you’re not working outside of your home, pumping is for every mother. It’s one of the BEST ways to increase your milk supply and keep as much of it as possible.
Sure, you can learn how to manually express by hand without having to setup your entire pumping contraction. And I STRONGLY suggest that you learn how to manually express for a number of reasons.
But when it comes to breastfeeding, it’s a ‘Use It Or Lose It’ scenario. Using a breast pump tops any manual expression in a bunch of ways.
- it’s the fastest way to get extra milk
- it’s less messy than by hand
- it saves you time while saving extra milk
- it encourages more milk production
- it’s just plain easier when you’re away from your baby
But it’s not as simple as picking one off of shelf and running with it. There are a bunch of different kinds of breast pumps.
The Difference Between Breast Pumps
There are many breast pump brands and styles to consider. Some are better for certain situations than others.
- Electric Pumps – These are automatically powered with cycles and suction. You can just turn it on and go.
- Manual Pumps – These kind you have to manually compress and release by hand, over and over.
- Double Sided – There are two cups and bottles so that you can pump both breasts at the same time.
- Single Use – This kind is a setup for one breast at a time.
- Hospital Grade – Very similar to double electric pumps. But they’re not as portable and often cannot be purchased for home use. You usually have to rent them from your local hospital.
Depending on your situation, the most common form of personal use breast pumps are the Double Electric pumps. You can attach them to both breasts, plug them in, and express the easiest and most efficient way.
Many mothers also prefer having a Single Manual Pump handy for times when they’re baby is only nursing on one side for the moment. That way they can capture extra milk from the other breast while they’re nursing to save time.
I recommend that you start out with a Double Electric version and go from there. It takes a little bit of practice to master the art of pumping. I’ve used the Ameda Purely Yours and also the Medela Pump In Style. I found the Medela worked much better for me.
Essential Things You Need To Do While Pumping
When I was first learning how to pump, I was stressed out. Quite often I couldn’t get myself to ‘let-down’ and express at all, after 15-20 minutes of trying. I didn’t understand how much my emotions are tied to the proper lactation hormones in my body.
Make sure that you follow these tips in order to make your experience with your breast pump the best.
- Find a calm, undisturbed environment. You must treat your time with your breast pump like nursing your baby. Or your body will react negatively and inhibit your ability to release milk.
- Massage your breasts beforehand. Warming your breasts up helps to mimic the feeling of your baby cuddling and caressing you.
- Center your mind on your baby. Look at a picture of them, smell something that belongs to them, think about how much you love your baby. This creates the positive hormonal cascade that leads to expressing milk.
- Make sure all your pump connections are tight. If you have a tube or valve that’s not sealed properly, you won’t get the proper suction and setup for a successful pumping session.
- Start your suction cycles fast, then turn down slow. This speed of repetition is similar to what your baby does when they start nursing. The fast suckles to start are before your milk releases, then the slow speed is once your milk is flowing.
- Adjust the suction to the proper setting. Turn the suction up until you are slightly uncomfortable, then back down a tad until you’re not feeling discomfort.
- Get your mind off of pumping. Once your milk is flowing, relax your mind by reading, eating, or watching something.
No matter what breast pump you decide to use, following these steps while using it will help train your body to respond the same way it does to your baby.
But things can definitely go wrong. There’s a learning curve and I want this to be the easiest, shortest learning curve you experience.
Issues That Can Arise
It’s not always plug-and-chug. You may even find that you’ve been using your breast pump just fine for months until something goes wrong.
Here are a bunch of ways that you can prevent problems with your breast pump and get over them quickly.
- Inspect your pump parts each time you use them. Valves can tear. Tubes can break. Trying to use parts that are defective will guarantee a bad time with your breast pump.
- Have backup batteries as well as a power cord. You may have to pump somewhere without an electrical outlet. I also had my power cord break and I had to get a new one.
- Have spare valves. I don’t think that having spares of all the parts is often necessary. But the valves are the most sensitive pieces that can get damaged and worn out. Sometimes even replacing them, even when they look fine, will have a dramatic improvement on the suction you feel.
- Prevent growing mold. Make sure you wash out all your pump parts immediately after use. Also make sure that they dry completely. Often the little valves and connections will have hidden moisture repeatedly that leads to mold.
- Have a tote with ice packs for storage. You may not be able to store your milk in a fridge. Make sure you have a little cooler with ice packs to keep your milk for longer periods of time. Luckily, many breast pump totes come with a little cooler pack.
I think that the hardest part about working with a breast pump is that you don’t know what can go wrong until it does.
When Your Milk Won’t Let-Down
It’s that stressful moment when you’ve been pumping for a few minutes and you look down to realize that nothing’s flowing. What?!
Then you look at the clock, realize your time is short, and hurry to unhook everything to try again. But then nothing happens …
I experienced this a TON with my first baby. My boy was about six months old and his appetite had really kicked on. My frozen storage was running out and I wasn’t producing as much as he was drinking.
So I was stressed! I thought that I was doing everything to help support a healthy milk supply. But then a local gal I knew from La Leche League gave me some great advice. She told me to stop thinking about it so much. The worry was making it hard for my body’s hormones to work enough to let go of the milk.
And I knew that! I just didn’t realize how much of a major truth it was for using a breast pump.
In The End, Remember …
So … if you remember NOTHING about using your breast pump but one thing, remember this:
Let go of the worries about your milk.
Doing everything I’ve already suggested will help with that. But I would always say these additional tips make a difference too!
- If you’re stressed, don’t pump until you’ve let go of any negative feelings.
- If you don’t let-down, take a break and come back to give your body a chance to reset.
- Know that even if you don’t have enough milk, there are other options—your baby won’t starve.
- Look forward to pumping as a well-deserved break from work.
I highly recommend taking a breastfeeding class from your local hospital. I took one and learned MUCH more than I thought I ever could. My mother didn’t breastfeed us kids, so I had to learn from someone in person, somewhere. I’m so glad that I did!
But too, I found some great books about breastfeeding that helped me along the way too. I still have them on my shelf today.
You may still end up having a love-hate relationship with your breast pump. And that’s okay! But I hope that you’ll be able to at least figure it out in a way that helps you continually feed your baby.