Breastfeeding and pumping primer

Expressing breastmilk with a pump is a skill that can take some time to learn.

By Alex Mlynek
Photo: iStockphoto Photo: iStockphoto

Not all new moms will need to use the strange-looking contraption otherwise known as a breast pump. But it’s smart to have an idea of what’s involved in case you’re required to pump during your first weeks with a newborn (usually because of milk supply or latch issues).

Read more: 10 reasons for low milk supply when breastfeeding >

“I remember not knowing how to do it properly,” says Toronto mom Lauren Moses-Brettler, who needed to pump when her son Holden didn’t latch on for the first six days. “It felt super-weird at first. You can feel like a dairy cow hooked up to a machine, and you often have to fumble with breast shields.”

How does a breast pump work?   You have two options: manual and electric. Manual ones are less expensive but you have to provide the muscle power. Most electric pumps are automatic these days, says lactation consultant Nancy Mohrbacher, co-author of Breastfeeding Made Simple. All pumps are based on suction and release. Each suction and release is considered a cycle, and if your body is ready, each cycle causes milk ejection. (Milk letdown is triggered by your hormones, not by pumping.) Some moms assume that the stronger the suction setting, the more milk they’ll get, but that’s just not true, says Mohrbacher. So don’t overdo it or you’ll damage your breasts. What pump should I buy? That depends on how soon and how often you’ll need it. It’s wise to do your research before your due date, but most moms wait to buy a pump until after the baby’s born, and you know for sure whether you’ll need one. (Renting a pump from a hospital or lactation consultant is another option, if you’re in a pinch.) Ottawa lactation consultant Joan Fisher suggests moms who have to pump for the first six weeks choose an automatic-cycling double-electric breast pump. This is more efficient because it gets milk from both breasts at the same time. (With a double-electric pump, it can take about 10 to 15 minutes to pump the same amount your baby would have consumed during a feeding. with a single manual or electric pump, set aside 20 to 30 minutes.) Another consideration is nipple tunnel, or breast shield, options. when a pump fits well, you should see some, but not too much, space around your nipple, says Mohrbacher. Nipple size can change over time, so make sure there are various tunnel sizes available for your model.

When should I start pumping? Even if there are no issues with nursing, you may want to express and store milk so that a partner or babysitter can help with feedings, or for times you’ll be away from your baby. Fisher advises waiting until after your baby’s six-week growth spurt, when most moms have established a good milk supply. Be aware that after the three-month growth spurt, babies develop free will and could turn their nose up at bottles.

I’m not getting much milk. Do I have supply issues? Nope, this is normal, says Mohrbacher. Your milk can be affected by factors such as time of day pumping earlier to midday is usually better. Stress or frustration can also release adrenaline that blocks milk ejection. Your pump quality plays a role, and so does your breast storage capacity. (This is not about breast size, but refers to how much room there is in your milk-making glands.) “A mother has to train her body to respond to the pump like it does to her baby,” says Mohrbacher. Some moms record and play back the sound of their baby’s cooing, smell a baby blanket or massage their breasts. Another simple—and sweet—tip is to look at a picture of your little one when you sit down to pump.

This article was originally published on Nov 25, 2015

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