Now that my little girl is at childcare a few days a week, I’ve been pretty pumped. And by “pumped,” I mean my boobs are being pumped like whoa. (My emotional state when my maternity leave was over, on the other hand, was totally bipolar — somewhat relieved to have a break but also so darn worried and sad about it. But, that’s for another post!)
The first few weeks I pumped while she was away, I struggled to keep up with her intake. I was stressed, not exactly sure if what I was doing was “right,” and generally just worried that I wouldn’t be able to provide all the milk necessary for her unless I was physically right there with her. Fast forward two months later, and I am now — after getting so much advice from experts and my mom friends — happy to say that I’m pumping more milk than she needs (yay for getting a frozen stash!) and, even more importantly, not stressin’ over the breast pumping situation. Hooray!
Here are 19 breast pumping tips that have worked for me and other moms! Hopefully they help you out as much as they did me. (And for a great primer on how breastmilk production works, read this!)
1. Relax. This is my No. 1 tip! Get as comfortable as you possibly can when pumping. If at all possible, put your phone down, stop checking your email and just breathe and relax. We’re all so busy as moms that not only do we need the mental and physical break, but also it helps with expressing more milk. I literally cut my pumping time in half once I finally stopped trying to work and just gave myself permission to relax every time I pumped.
2. Hydrate like crazy. Drinking enough water is SO IMPORTANT. Drink water consistently throughout the day, and definitely make sure you have water on hand when you’re pumping. Guzzle it down, girl. It helps.
3. Play around with timing. It took me a few weeks to figure out how long I needed to pump to get the most milk out, along with how much time between sessions was ideal. Most experts recommend pumping every three hours or so for 20 minutes, but see what works for your body. (For me, at this stage in Gwen’s development — she’s almost five months — every three to four hours for 25 minutes is best. You may need more or less though — and pumping more can increase breast milk production.) Once you get your timing down, try to be consistent with it. Boobs love consistency!
4. Compress those breasts. (Rhyming is fun!) Most women don’t get quite as much milk from pumping as their baby would get from breastfeeding. It’s normal. What can help, though, is doing some gentle compressions or massage on the breast as you pump to express more milk. I almost always get another half an ounce to a full ounce out this way.
5. Visualize your milk letting down. The mind is a powerful thing! So when you’re pumping — and relaxing (right?) — visualize your milk letting down easily and plentifully. It’s not unusual to let down more than once in a pumping session. (And when you do, you feel like you just kind of won the jackpot, no?)
6. Eat all the things. There are a lot of foods that are said to increase breastmilk production. Try ’em. My favorites are oatmeal, dried apricots and half a Guinness. (Too much alcohol can decrease milk production.) Also, make sure you’re eating enough in general — remember, breastfeeding burns an additional 500 calories a day. Eat extra, especially if you’re working out.
7. Suck it. No really, play around with what level of suction on your pump is best. Some women swear a higher suckage gets more milk out; others find that a lower setting does better. Play around and see what works for you. (I’m right there in the middle, but like to crank it up a little as the session goes on.)
8. Pump it a little longer. Be sure to pump for a few minutes after it seems like your breasts are dry. It’ll help signal to your body to keep making more milk — and you just might get that second (or third!) magical let down.
9. Have the right pump for you. If you’re not getting as much milk as you like, make sure you’re using the right pump for you. Does it fit properly? Is it positioned properly? Does it have good suction? Would you be better off with a hand pump or a machine? Single? Double? There are a lot of options, we know, but it’s worth it to find the one that works for you and your life.
10. Change your position. I’ve had success sitting up in a chair and even reclining back some, but some moms I know say they get more milk when they lean over a bit and let gravity help. Try it! Just remember to try to lean over with your abs in and your back flat — we moms already do enough hunching over!
11. Be patient. If you’re new to pumping, give your boobs, your body and you time to get used to it. After a few weeks of pumping, you may find that your boobs are into a routine and more likely to release more milk.
12. Get every last drop. I am a crazy woman about getting every last drop of milk that I can. I pump directly into Gwen’s bottles, and although I haven’t tried the Milkies Milk-Saver, I think the idea is genius. (And I love that company’s easy one-ounce breastmilk freezer trays!)
13. Have the right mindset. There are times when I really don’t want to pump. It’s a hassle. It takes time. It can be messy and frustrating. But complaining about it certainly doesn’t help with your milk output. So change how you think of pumping and consider it “me time.” Put on some nice tunes, remind yourself why you’re doing it and think good thoughts. (I do a full meditation when I pump — it’s like zen multitasking.)
14. Pump both sides every time. And don’t be surprised if one side produces more than the other. It’s normal. Also, this is totally essential for comfort.
15. Expect variability. One day you may produce a ton of milk. The next, not so much. That’s okay and totally to be expected with the many changes you’ve got going on in your life with a baby (sleep, rest, stress, eats, how much the baby is or isn’t nursing, etc.).
16. Pump in the middle of the night. If you need more milk than what you’re producing during the day, tack on an overnight pumping session. Of course milk production peaks in the wee morning hours. This is especially great if your baby is sleeping longer than normal and you find yourself with uncomfortably full boobs. Yes, not sleeping sucks, but your boobs will thank you. And believe me, if you’ve never had mastitis before, it’s not worth playing with.
17. Don’t compare your boobs to other moms’ boobs. While it can help to swap tips, don’t get caught up with whether or not you produce more or less milk than your mom buds. We’re all a little different!
18. Look at pictures of your baby. When you’re pumping, try looking at those cute pics you snapped of your little one or watch a video or two of him or her cooing. You may even want to hold one of his/her toys or a onesie they’ve worn. The mother-baby bond is strong.
19. Be in awe of your body. Isn’t it crazy that your body can feed your baby?! Whenever pumping is hard or seems like a chore, just remember that. It’s AMAZING.
What breast pumping tips do you have? I’m always looking for new things to try! —Jenn