7 Tips to Make Breast Pumping Easier

Woman using a breast pump
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Many mothers will use a breast pump at some point during their breastfeeding time. Some women will use a pump once they go back to work, other mothers may use a pump occasionally, and still other mothers may be pumping exclusively.

When you ask moms how they feel about pumping, many are not terribly excited and look at this as something they have to do, not as something that they want to do. While pumping breast milk does not have to be a pain or a chore, it may never be something you love. Here are some easy tips to increase the amount of milk, make pumping easier and generally help you in your pumping.

Pick the Right Pump

Selection of the right pump is very important. Be sure that the pump you have selected will meet your needs. The mother who will need to pump only occasionally has very different needs than the mother who pumps several times a day. This includes a breast pump with the correct flange fit to maximize breastmilk pumped and avoid damage to your breasts.

Get Started Early

If you're going back to work, start pumping a couple of weeks prior to your return. Most lactation consultants recommend adding one pump session per day (on top of your baby's usual feedings) and storing that milk. This will help with let-down issues and allow you to build an emergency supply.

Pump Often to Increase Supply

Pump more frequently rather than for longer periods to try to increase your milk supply. Instead of pumping twice during your day for long periods of time, try pumping three or four shorter periods. Pumping both breasts at the same time can help increase the yield of milk you get.

Don't Skip Pumping

Skipping a session can have a negative effect on your milk supply. Pumping even for a few minutes (rather than your usual amount of time) can still be beneficial. If you are stuck without a pump or collection device, you can try to hand express and either use an alternative receptacle (like a clean cup or water bottle) or dump the milk, even though that is discouraging.

Nurse Exclusively on Weekends and Holidays

Use this time for exclusive nursing. It can help keep your milk supply abundant as well as promote bonding between you and baby. Moms often report loving the ability to not pump when they are with their babies. You will need to find a schedule that works for you and your situation, so it may depend on why you are pumping. 

Look at Your Baby's Picture

We all know that it's easier to feed the baby than the pump. If let down is a problem for you with a pump, try viewing photos of your baby while pumping. Many pump cases have a spot designed for this purpose. One mom actually recorded the coos of her baby and would listen in her headphones while she pumped.

Learn How to Hand-Express

Using a mechanical pump, either hand or electric, is not the only way to express milk. Many moms do just fine with hand expression. Though very few will be able to use this technique if they are working, it works quite nicely for an occasional need for expressed milk and costs very little if anything.

Remember, trial and error may be just what has to happen. Sometimes you simply stumble on the right thing for you and your family. There is not one schedule for pumping that works for everyone, just as there isn't one best way to pump or remove milk.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.