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The Ultimate Guide to Pumping Breast Milk

Gone are the days when breastfeeding was the only option for busy Mamas who want to provide breast milk to their little ones. Learn more about pumping breast milk in this article!


Table of Contents

When should I start pumping?
What are the benefits of pumping?
What are the cons of pumping breast milk?
What do I need to start pumping?
How often and how long should I pump?
Where and how do I store breast milk?
How do I give expressed milk to my baby?
What can I do to boost my milk supply?

Skip ahead to any section you find the most interesting!


While breastfeeding is recommended by World Health Organization up until six months, pumping breast milk is an entirely optional experience for Mamas. It is not necessarily “required” but one major reason behind Mamas’ choosing to pump is the fact that not everyone experiences a smooth breastfeeding journey.

From inverted nipples to medical conditions, these breastfeeding problems are often too much for some Mamas so they turn to the next best alternative—pumping.

When should I start pumping?

It’s all up to you. Some Mamas go into pregnancy intending to exclusively pump, while others only come into this decision after a few weeks of breastfeeding problems or supply issues.

If you plan to breastfeed and pump eventually, most experts recommend waiting until around 6 weeks old to use a breast pump. According to Rachel O’Brien, an international board-certified lactation consultant, pumping regularly before the 6-week mark can lead to an oversupply of milk.

On the other hand, if you intend to pump exclusively-—meaning you will not breastfeed at all—you can start pumping after your baby’s birth. Since our bodies are ready to produce milk after giving birth, this simulation is necessary to get your breast milk flowing.

What are the benefits of pumping breast milk?

Pumping breast milk provides several benefits that can’t be denied. Here are some of the benefits Mamas can reap from choosing to pump.

1. Mamas can schedule feedings

Unlike breastfeeding where Mamas often breastfeed “on-demand,” having your milk in a bottle means you follow a schedule and have more time on your hand to do other things. Moreover, it also allows you to measure how much milk your little one is getting.

2. Mamas can split feeding duties with other caregivers

Whether it’s Papa or Grandma, others can also experience the joy of feeding your little one.

3. Pumping can help improve the milk supply

Breastfeeding follows the law of supply and demand. As such, the more you empty your breasts of milk, the more milk it will produce. 

4. Mamas can enjoy a few breaks

As mentioned earlier, feeding breast milk through a bottle occasionally allows Mamas a few hours for themselves. Whether it’s to get some much-needed sleep or enjoy a quiet meal, it’s a small thing but incredibly helpful to Mamas’ well-being. Plus, having a stash ready is always a good thing to have in case of an emergency.

5. Mamas can share any excess breast milk with other babies

When you pump, you may not always consume them all or you may also find your freezer overflowing with stored breast milk. It’s not uncommon for Mamas blessed with a lot of milk to share it with other babies or even donate them to hospitals.

 

Are there any cons to pumping breast milk?

The truth is, there are certain disadvantages to pumping, too. What are these exactly?

1. Babies may not receive all the immune system benefits of breast milk.

One of the most astounding things about breastfeeding is that the milk is always tailored to what your baby needs at that moment. For example, when your baby is sick, for instance, your breast milk’s components will adjust and ensure that it contains antibodies that your baby needs to fight off any infection. When you exclusively pump milk though, your body will not be able to feed off your baby’s health cues. 

2. Pumping can be an additional expense

From breast pump and storage bottles to pump bags and even an additional freezer, if you have an oversupply of milk, all these accessories can take a toll on your budget.

3. Pumping takes a lot of your time

It doesn’t seem like it does, but pumping eats up more of Mamas’ time than they think. The time you spend pumping is different from the time you spend feeding them. Plus, if you have breast milk in the fridge or freezer, you have to warm or thaw them in advance. Lastly, think about the endless washing and sterilizing you need to do to maintain your pump parts and bottles’ cleanliness.

4. It’s not always convenient

The rise of accessories such as nursing covers, quieter breast pumps, and breastfeeding rooms in offices and several public areas help make pumping easier. But the pumping schedule Mamas have to follow to maintain a steady milk supply can be challenging when Mama is on vacation or in a meeting. Plus, you need to bring your pumping bag all the time.

 

What are the accessories I need to start pumping?

If you’ve decided to start pumping, you’ll then have to make sure you have all the necessities. The last thing you want is to discover you’re missing a storage bag just when you’ve finished pumping. Below are the basics for pumping breast milk.

  • Breast pump. Choose between a single electric or double electric version. You can also get a manual pump, which is great for when the power’s out or when you don’t need a big batch of milk to store. (Check out our buying guide for breast pumps!)
  • Breast milk cooler bag. Make sure you also have reusable ice packs.
  • Milk storage bottles or milk storage bags. It’s good to have milk bottles which you can store in the fridge and milk bags for storing in the freezer.
  • A nursing cover. So you can have additional privacy when pumping in public areas.
  • A hands-free pumping bra. At work, the last thing you want is to hold onto your pump. Invest in a good bra that firmly secures the flanges in place so you can pump while working.
  • Nipple cream. A good investment to prevent any soreness or dryness, you can apply it before or after your pumping session to moisturize your nipples.
  • A separate pumping bag. Use it for hygiene essentials such as wet wipes and alcohol, nipple cream, or hand sanitizer.

 

How often and how long should I pump?

If you’re still at home with your baby, but want to start building up your stash, then it’s good to pump after a feed. Although you may not express a lot of milk, it will help empty your breasts and signal your body to make more milk.

However, don’t pump when you’re close to your baby’s normal feeding time because it may only frustrate your little one when he/she doesn’t get enough milk from your breast because you’ve pumped them all!

For Mamas who are working and away from their babies, it’s recommended to pump after every 3 hours. It’s good to set a schedule like the one below:

Pumping schedule for working mamas

How long should you pump, you ask? The time varies among Mamas, but the rule is you should pump until your breasts are empty. For some Mamas, the milk flow slows down by the 15-minute mark. In others, it takes up to 30 minutes. A great gauge to determine if your breasts are empty is if it feels flat and floppy.

 

Where do I store pumped milk?

One of the most important steps to proper milk expression is to know how to properly store pumped milk. Since breast milk can be easily contaminated if you don’t thoroughly store breast milk properly. There are two ways to store breast milk: in a milk bottle or a milk bag.

A milk bottle or a glass bottle

This container is ideal for fridge storage only, meaning you won’t be freezing them. This is a great way to keep milk so it’s easy to warm whenever you’re baby is hungry or ready for a feed. However, just make sure the bottle you’re using has been cleaned and sterilized before transferring milk inside. 

Breast milk storage bags

There are many breast milk bags available in the market so you don’t have to worry about finding one. Just make sure that you select ones that are specially made for storing breast milk since they are ready to use and no need for Mamas to sterilize beforehand. Mamas who opt for this storage usually intend to freeze the milk, which can then be stored for up to 6 months. The CDC even mentions that storing breast milk in the freezer for up to 12 months is acceptable.

When choosing between a milk bottle and a storage bag, think about your budget, your refrigerator space, and your pumping goals.

If your goal is to build up a stash, then you may as well use milk bags. However, if you intend to pump and feed, milk bottles would be a good option. Another thing to remember is that milk bottles are more eco-friendly than using disposable milk bags.

Keep this table as a guide on how long you can store your breast milk, Mama.

Breast milk storage guide

Apart from ensuring you use proper storage containers, here are additional tips and tricks to help you store your breast milk properly:

  • Wash your hands before you start a pumping session
  • Place a label on the bottle or milk bag to indicate the date and time the breast milk was expressed
  • Don’t store breast milk in the refrigerator doors, as doing so exposes them to frequent temperature changes which can be bad for breast milk
  • Freeze breast milk if you think you won’t consume them within 4 days
  • Don’t fill up bottles or bags to the brim
  • Split them into small batches of up to 4 ounces to ensure you don’t waste breast milk

 

How do I give expressed milk to my baby?

So you’ve pumped your milk, stored it in the fridge, and now you’re ready to feed it to your little one. What to do to ensure it maintains its quality? The first step is to wash your hands! 

Some babies are perfectly fine with drinking milk straight from the fridge. However, most Mamas prefer to warm it up. Remember that the goal is just to take the chill off. When warming milk, you can use a bottle warmer or by submerging it in a bowl of warm water. Never microwave it, Mama, as it can unevenly heat the milk and burn your baby’s mouth. 

How to warm chilled breast milk

Meanwhile, if you’re feeding frozen milk, the first step is to thaw it. One way to do this is to put it in the fridge and let it thaw overnight. But of course, not everybody has the time to do that. Instead, you can let it sit in a bowl of warm water or under running water. Wait until all crystals are thawed. Then, give it a swirl so that the milk fat is incorporated back into the milk.

If your baby doesn’t finish the bottle, you need to discard it after 2 hours. However, during that window, never re-heat it or re-freeze it again.

 

What can I do to boost my milk supply?

Pumping is no walk in the park. It’s a commitment that can test the fervor and patience of some Mamas because sometimes, it can be just as difficult as breastfeeding. Now if you are struggling with your milk supply, many tried and-tested tips can help you out.

Below, we’ve rounded up some of the best and most effective (some of these tips this Mama swears by too because it worked for me!) tips to improving milk supply.

1. Hydrate

Breastfeeding Mamas don’t need to hydrate more than the general recommendation, but as Mamas, we tend to get busy and forget to hydrate. As such, it’s important to stay hydrated and maintain the recommendation of 8 glasses of water per day. While all drinks count towards your daily hydration quota, try to limit sugary sodas and caffeinated drinks. Another tip to keep dehydration at bay is to drink whenever you’re feeding your baby. Pumping? Have a water bottle on hand so you can rehydrate.

2. Get enough sleep

One of the major causes of dwindling milk supply among breastfeeding and pumping Mamas is the lack of sleep. While it is completely understandable, you can always reach out to your partner or a relative when you’re struggling and need help. With lack of sleep, stress also shoots up, which is another reason behind low milk supply.

3. Avoid smoking

According to Healthline, smoking not only “transmits harmful chemicals to your baby via your breast milk” but also affects the milk supply.

4. Snack on lactation cookies

It’s a well-known fact that there are certain foods to help boost milk supply such as oats, brewer’s yeast, fennel, flax, and more. All these are usually baked into delicious cookies or brownies, which make for a tasty treat while supporting your breastfeeding journey. 

5. Look at your baby’s pictures

There’s no hard science behind it, but many Mamas attest to how looking at their babies’ pictures seems to yield them more milk. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that it makes you happier and more relaxed. And as we all know, the more calm and relaxed you are, the better will be your pumping experience.

6. Avoid stress

As mentioned, stress is a supply killer. When you’re pumping, encourage a more relaxing environment by listening to soothing music, lighting a candle, or keeping the room quiet. 

7. Do a power pumping session

In a supercharged pumping session, the idea behind power pumping is to pump more milk so your body naturally produces more milk. Kicking the law of supply and demand into full gear, a power pumping schedule requires you to pump three times in a row with a 10-minute break in-between. 

 

The Takeaway About Pumping Breast Milk

Although it’s a commitment in itself because veering off your schedule (once you’ve set up one in place) can have a tremendous impact on your breast milk supply, pumping is a great way to nourish your little one with breast milk if breastfeeding doesn’t work for you.

And for those with lifestyles that are not attuned with the demands of direct breastfeeding, exclusively pumping is the next best thing. But of course, it’s all up to you. Whether you decide to breastfeed or pump, it doesn’t diminish the love you have for your baby. Remember that, Mama, okay? 🙂

 

Let Mama’s Choice Be Part Of Your Pumping Journey

Mama's Choice breast pump and nipple cream

Practical and affordable, Mama’s Choice Single & Handy Electric Breast Pump is great for Mamas who want to breastfeed but still enjoy the benefits of having a milk stash in the fridge. Quiet and portable, you can also bring it with you to the office for convenient pumping on the go!

Mama’s Choice Intensive Nipple Cream is also an ideal companion as it soothes and protects your nipples from soreness and dryness. It’s made with natural ingredients that are completely safe for your baby, so there’s no need to worry about all the harsh chemicals. Plus, it’s food-grade so there’s no need to wash it off when breastfeeding your baby.

Did you find this article about pumping breast milk helpful? Click the share button and help a fellow mum make the right choice in her journey!

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Hanna of Mama's Choice

A mama of one energetic toddler, Hanna likes to read books, watch baking shows, and play video games when her little one is asleep.

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