Whether you are new to breast pumping or not, there are a few basics to follow:
Buy a Great Breast Pump
First, and most importantly, you need to have selected and purchased a breast pump and parts. It is important you select a breast pump that best fits what you intend to use it for.
For example, some moms prefer a manual breast pump. But if you intend to pump multiple times a day, every day, this might not be the best choice for you.
You will likely be in need of a double, electric breast pump (like the Spectra S1). They are fast and easy to use. There are many brands and options to choose from so you should be able to find what works best for you.
Get Stocked With Extra Pump Parts
Selecting a breast pump also means ensuring you have proper parts.
The parts for a breast pump are made up by the motor, plastic tubes that connect to the motor and the flanges, which are the plastic horn-looking pieces that fit your breast. The breast pump flanges come in various sizes.
A set of standard size flanges (typically medium) is included with most breast pumps. To ensure a proper fit, you should hold the flange to your breast and take note of how your nipple sits in the opening.
Your nipple should have some room. If it is rubbing against the side of the flanges then you likely will need a larger size.
If your nipple appears to fit too far back from the opening of the flange, then you may need a smaller size. Incorrectly sized flanges can affect how much milk you pump so it’s important to ensure proper fitting.
A lactation consultant can help you determine what size flange you need if you aren’t sure.
Most pumps come with a set of the needed parts (tubing, flanges) to get started but there are parts that need replacement frequently as well as plenty of optional accessories that make the process much easier (did someone say hands-free pumping bra?!).
It can be tricky getting the right pump parts as not all parts (even if they are the same brand) if each pump model. We have a pump parts page that lists by brand the common parts and accessories. It can be very confusing trying to find the right parts for your pump!
Ready, Set, Pump!
Okay, so now that you have selected a breast pump that best suits you and your nipples feel cozy in a proper fitting flange, next we move on to the good stuff- actually pumping!
After your sweet bundle of joy is finally here you should take the first few weeks to focus on getting the hang of breastfeeding. Your milk should come in within a few days (you produce colostrum in the meantime to fit baby’s needs).
Once it does, your breasts may (more likely, WILL) be very engorged. Your body will regulate how much milk it makes over time but until then you are left with painfully, engorged breasts in most cases.
Many mothers take to pumping to help relieve the excess milk during this time. Refrain from doing that unless you want to be a painful, 24-hour milk leaking mess, then by all means, pump away! Pumping a small amount to take the edge off is okay every now and again but excessive pumping will only make things worse.
You have to think of breastfeeding (and, therefore, pumping) as a simple example of supply and demand. A baby (or pump) suckling at the breast tells the mother’s body that more milk is needed to support the baby’s needs and as a result, you guessed it, more milk is produced. Lack of suckling, tells it that it is making too much and therefore, milk production will reduce.
So when your breasts are engorged and you pump continually to get relief, you just told your body that you have a litter of children to feed and to continue to make even more milk. Not only will you continue to have an abundant (not to mention annoying) oversupply of milk but engorgement can also lead to other issues like clog ducts and in some cases mastitis (a painful infection in your breast)- ouch.
When is it Best to Start Pumping?
When your baby is a little older (a few weeks is best) you can start adding a pump session or two.
Start out by adding one pump session at the same time each day. In the beginning, you likely won’t pump very much. This is because you are adding an additional “feeding” and your body needs time to adjust to make more milk. Also, if your baby is still very small, they don’t drink a lot at each feeding.
So don’t be discouraged if it seems like you aren’t getting enough.
Keep at it and your body will respond. Starting to pump this way helps get you comfortable using the pump and practice makes perfect!
How Often do I Pump?
Now that we have covered how to start pumping and how our body responds to supply and demand, let’s talk about how often you should pump. The honest answer is – it depends…
It depends on why you are pumping and what your goal is. The general rule to follow is that you should pump as often as your baby feeds. If you miss breastfeeding for any feedings (baby was given a bottle instead), then you need to replace that feeding by pumping.
Again, if you skip a feeding by not nursing or pumping, then you are telling your body that baby doesn’t need that feeding anymore and your supply will start to drop. Not ideal. So, make sure to pump every time baby would typically nurse.
So for example, let’s say baby wakes up at 8 am each day. Try getting up at 6 am to pump and use that extra milk to freeze, then nurse baby when she wakes up as normal. Then, if your baby goes to bed at 8 pm, pump again at 9 pm.
You’ve now added two additional feedings daily to freeze and start building a stash of milk.
See our Working & Pumping section on more tips and information on returning to work.
How Long should I Pump? And how do I pump more breast milk?
One thing to consider before we get into this answer is that in general babies are much more efficient at pulling milk out of the breast than a pump is. There is a difference in how long newborn nurses versus a 9-month-old, however.
As baby gets older, she will become even more efficient and nursing sessions will get shorter.
So the point is, don’t use how long your baby nurses as an indicator of how long you need to pump for. A newborn could spend an hour or more at the breast at times and you certainly don’t want to be pumping for an hour!
Typically you should plan to pump for around 15-20 minutes. It’s best to pump at least that long but you can also pump until dry (meaning no more milk is flowing) if you are still pulling down a lot of milk after that time frame.
What is a milk let down?
When your baby begins to nurse, the nerves in your breasts send signals to release the milk in your milk ducts, this is referred to as your milk letting down.
You can hear the change in your baby’s swallowing after your milk lets down. They begin to swallow very quickly and more shallow. As the nursing session continues the milk flow slows and baby will be taking deeper swallows and drinking slightly slower.
You can use your pump to mimic this pattern to be more efficient during your pumping sessions. There are some pumps on the market that have a “let down” feature and follow this pattern automatically. But you can control it yourself if needed.
In the beginning, use a faster speed with slightly lighter suction to mimic a hungry baby, then after the initial milk let down, change the speed to a slower setting and the suction to a slightly more intense setting to mimic the deeper swallows of a baby.
But don’t think you need to practically have your nipples sucked off to get more milk. More intense suction does not equal more milk so take it easy!
You should pump enough to replace what baby would have eaten at that feeding.
Ways to Keep Breast Milk Supply Up
There are a few key things that you can do to ensure a healthy supply of breast milk.
- Don’t Skip Feedings – We covered this already, but do not skip feedings. That signals your body to produce less milk. Always pump in place of a missed nursing session.
- Eat a Balanced Diet – Though you don’t need to get into counting calories, but if you are keeping a record, studies have shown that most women who took in 1800-2200 calories per day maintained an abundant milk supply. Mothers with 1500-1800 calorie intake while breastfeeding, may have supply issues as well as mothers who have a sudden drop in calories like with dieting. But on average 300-500 is the number of extra calories needed while breastfeeding.
- Reduce Stress – Stress can certainly diminish your supply and cause a host of other issues within your body. Try to find ways to reduce your stress. Staying active is a great stress reducer! Look for Mommy and Me workout groups in your area for example. Great way to lower stress, improve your self-esteem, meet new mommy friends and spend time with your little Peanut!
- Natural Remedies – There are many remedies on the market today that can help boost your milk supply. For example, eat oatmeal every day or drink a few cups a day of Mother’s Milk Tea.
Don’t be Afraid to Get Support
We have a fantastic section dedicated to common issues associated with breastfeeding and pumping. You can find it under the Pumping Issues page. It is full of great information but if you ever find yourself unable to resolve an issue you are facing, then don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional in your area for help.
No two people, babies, bodies, or situations are the same. Always consult your doctor and ensure you get professional help if required.
Some great resources to find breastfeeding support are:
- La Leche League – They have peer counseling over the phone as well as support groups in most areas.
- Your Hospital – Typically while you are in the hospital after giving birth, a Lactation Consultant will visit you or at the very least will be available if you request one. We highly recommend that you do try to see one before you leave the hospital. They typically will give you information to take home on how to contact them once you are home should you have any questions or issues. Keep this information and use it! If you lost it or never received it, simply call your hospital and ask if they have a Lactation Consultant that you can speak with.
- ILCA- International Lactation Consultant Association – The ILCA site has a search feature to help you find private and hospital based LC’s in your area.
- Breastfeeding Support Groups – A great way to get support is to join a breastfeeding peer support group in your area. Check with your cities website or other activity sites for local listings.
Want more information on Pumping & Breastfeeding? Here are some additional Pumping Basics Articles:
Hopefully, you found this “back to basics” guide helpful! If you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them here. We would love to hear from you!
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