Nobody told me how to pump. Not even the lactation consultant I met with when was daughter was a newborn gave me tips when I asked nor were details described to me during a breastfeeding class I attending before she was born. Put the flanges on, turn your pump on and go right? Well, yes, in short. But there is more to it than that if you plan to sustain a long term pumping regime. Here are the things I wished somebody had told me before I went back to work and started pumping.
The Letdown Button
The little button next to the power dial is your let down button. I had no idea what this was for when I started. In fact, I was using it completely wrong and kept my pump on “let down mode” for my entire session. When you first turn your pump on, the suction is fast to cause a letdown of your milk. It automatically turns off after a short amount of time, but you can press this button to manually switch it over to “pump mode.” You do this as soon as you feel your let down (that tingly feeling in your breasts) or when you start to see milk flowing.
Getting a Letdown
Speaking of letdowns, how do you produce one without your baby? The only time I ever had troubles with getting a letdown was during my first week back to work. I was stressed and sad that I wasn’t nursing my baby. I know a lot of women struggle beyond this though. You’re best friend for getting a letdown is oxytocin. When you nurse your baby, this happy hormone causes your milk to start flowing. Stress is oxytocin’s enemy. When present, the hormones produce by being stressed, usually adrenaline, take over and may inhibit oxytocin from doing its job. Therefore, when it’s time to pump, relax! Ignore your deadlines, grab your phone or a book and chill out for a 30 minutes. Easier said than done, I know. Common, good advice will also tell you to flip through pictures of your baby to produce oxytocin. I say, step it up a notch and take a video of your baby nursing to watch while pumping. I have a video of Isla nursing around 2 months old that is so sweet and beautiful I cry almost every time I see it. Oxytocin overload! It helped me get into the flow of expressing milk at work and I still cherish the video. She no longer makes the same soft noises she used to and I love watching her little fists soften as she becomes full.
Quantities of Milk
The current recommendation is that your baby should drinking 1.5-2 oz for every hour you are away. That means you’ll need 12-16 oz for an 8 hour work day. From about 4-9 months, Isla was consuming about 14 ounces when I was away, so right in the middle. Now that she’s on solids, she will do about 10. There is a great calculator here on Kelly Mom for the exclusively breastfed baby.
How Often and When to Pump
This will obviously vary by how often you’re able to get into your Mother’s Room, your baby’s needs and your supply. Ideally though, Le Leche League suggests that expression should occur during every missed feeding. If your baby is nursing every 2 hours, pumping before work, let’s say 7:30, once in the morning at 9:30, over lunch at 11:30 or 12:00 and once in the afternoon at 1:30 or 2:00 would be sufficient. I was one of the women lucky enough to have supply larger than the needs of my baby though. I always fed her one side at a time because it was all she ever needed. Because of that, I am fine pumping once in the morning at 8:30 or 9 and once around 1:30. If I pump later than 2:00, I don’t have enough milk for bedtime when she eats the most. Be conscious of not pumping too late in the day for this exact reason. Most women can drop a pump session as their supply evens out. The morning pumping sessions tend to be the most important though because milk production is highest during the middle of night. This is because prolactin, the hormone responsible for making milk, is highest during the middle of the night. When the breasts are engorged, prolactin is at its lowest. Expressing the milk created during the night will singal your body to keep producing because once the milk is gone, prolactin production is triggered.
Lastly, make sure you take care of your pump and parts. Wash the parts that come in contact with milk on a daily basis with hot soapy water and make sure you use a nontoxic dish soap. The hoses do not need to be washed unless they get milky. You’re fine to just refrigerate parts between sessions rather than washing them every time. The membranes should be replaced whenever they are damaged, you feel like you’re losing suction or not getting as much as you used to, or at least every 3 months. Also, make sure your flanges fit correctly. There is a great article on finding proper fit here on Lactation Care.