Well, here are a couple of things to keep in mind.
- Re-read the manual: Although this seems like a mundane thing to do, it’s worth reading, as each manufacturer provides specific care instructions for your pump. After investing in your pump, you want to get the most out of it! According to the American Breastfeeding Medicine recommendations, you needn’t sterilize breast pump tubing and containers, but must rinse them prior to each use with hot, soapy water followed by either air drying or paper towel drying them. However, the guideline refers to term infants, and to err on the side of caution, I would advise you sterilize the parts in contact with milk at the least once a day. Yes this means you sterilize before the first use too.
- Adjust the suction settings: The pressure on your nipple should feel like a drawing force, but not painful or excessive in any way. Each time you use it, you may require a different pressure to reach this comfort level.
- How long to breast pump? For different women, the time differs. One easy pointer is to feel your breasts. If they are soft and supple (you will get the hang of it after a couple of uses), then the breast has been emptied. On average this can take from 10-30 minutes, with most women finding about 15 minutes sufficient for each breast. If you have a fast let down reflex, or have an oversupply, you could do this in about 5-8 minutes too.
- What time of day to breast pump? Prolactin, the hormone that increases breastmilk supply, is higher at night, and so if you pump either in the wee hours of the morning or in the middle of the night, you are more likely to be able to express a larger amount.
- Can you quantify exactly how much milk you produce based on the pumped amount? An emphatic NO. Although the breast pump is a viable means to express breast milk, it does not come close to the efficiency of a human baby while sucking. The amount of milk produced per session is based on so many variables, that one can’t summarily state that the expressed quantity is all you produce.
- What does pumped milk look like? Pumped breast milk is a whitish, cream colored fluid; the water content of it varies from feed to feed. The color of the breast milk too can vary based on the colors of the foods consumed by the mother. In case you see blood or pus in the breastmilk, contact your lactation consultant or seek help from your medical provider.
- How long can you store breast milk after pumping? Breast milk can be stored at room temperature, provided you aren’t in a very hot, or humid climate, i.e. 10-25° C (50-77° F) for around 6-8 hours.; between 27-30° C (81-86° F) for around 4-5 hours. Breast milk can be refrigerated in the middle compartment or deli drawer of a fridge for 48-72 hours (however, the bactericidal property of breastmilk begins to decline after 48 hours). Some studies have even found breastmilk is safe for 4-8 days after refrigeration, however, its safer to stick with 48 hours. If you should choose to freeze breast milk, it is safe for 3 months, provided there was no bacterial contamination to begin with, and that refrigeration standards are maintained. Macronutrients in the breast milk are unaffected by freezing even up to 9 months, however enzymatic action and bioactive factors have a shorter life. Fat, calories and protein content begin to decline compared to fresh human milk after 90 days.
- What if you don’t have a constant source of electricity due to power outages? Either you can consider a generator, or you can line your freezer with ice packs so that in the event that the electricity is out, you can still safely keep the breast milk in a frozen state until it returns. If your breast milk should be entirely thawed, you can use it up to 24 hours and not longer.
- When to pump if you are also feeding your baby? It’s best to feed the baby and then pump about 15 minutes after a nursing session, or you could pump from the other breast while feeding to capitalize on the let down reflex. As each woman’s body differs, you could try and see what works best for you, but ensure 1-2 hours gap between the pumping and the nursing so that the breast milk has enough time to accumulate.
- Should you invest in a sterilizer? While there’s nothing wrong with bringing water to a boil and immersing parts of the breast pump apparatus in that for about 12-15 minutes, it becomes tedious to do on a regular basis, unless of course you have help. Investing in a sterilizer or a bottle warmer can get the job done in a jiffy, without breaking a sweat. Especially on the days you feel so tired to just move, having this aid will relieve you of at least some amount of work.
- How do you give the frozen milk to the baby? It’s best to thaw the frozen milk in a warm water bath for about 20 minutes (37-40 degrees Celsius ), and once thawed you could give this to the baby at room temperature or body temperature, babies will soon let you know their preferences. Having a bottle warmer on hand would again save you some time on this front.
- Do all babies like the taste of frozen milk? No, some babies show a distinct aversion to pumped milk; in this case, you could consider alternatives.
- What is the best way to store breast milk? Breast milk can be stored in food grade plastic, or tempered glass and is better than steel containers in its ability to retain the immune properties of breast milk. However, be sure to stay clear of plastic containing bisphenols. Breast milk expands while frozen so its best to keep space at the top of the bag or container for this to avoid leaks.
- How much should you store in each bag? While breast milk bags come with capacity for 80-100 mL, its best to store breast milk in increments of 15-60 mL so as to only thaw the amount the baby requires for that feed without wasting the unused breast milk.
- Should I keep snacks handy? I cannot stress how hungry breast feeding, or producing milk makes you, and not to mention thirsty. Make sure you keep a bottle of water and some healthy munchies alongside your breast pump to have an enjoyable nursing session.
- Should I get a hands-free pumping bra? Having a hand’s-free pumping bra makes life THAT much easier! You can fold your baby’s clothes, put clothes in the laundry, watch your favorite TV show, and eat popcorn too. Having the option of a hands-free bra enables you to not just be immobilized during the duration of the pumping session and can ease your burden of feeling like this is all you are doing every 2 hours.
I’ve covered some basic doubts that you may have had when it comes to breast pumping. However, if you still feel you need help, do reach out to the nearest La Leche League group, or a qualified lactation consultant for further advice. There are also some great Instagram accounts out there detailing pumping journeys of mothers that can keep you going.
You got this momma! One pump at a time!