The first mechanical breast pump was patented in 1854. This fantastic invention has empowered mothers to provide their breast milk to babies in situations where at-breast feeding is not possible or inconvenient. In the last 167 years, we’ve learned a lot about breastfeeding and breast milk. Busy moms everywhere have inspired constant innovation, and we live in an age where many women choose long-term exclusive pumping as the method for feeding their babies.
Exclusively pumping has a set of challenges not always addressed by typical lactation resources. If you are considering this feeding plan, we want you to feel supported and well-informed about reaching your goal. If there is one tip we could give to all pumping moms, it is this:
Use your hands!
Most pumps are designed to require almost no work. This is great for making sure you can pump when you are tied up with paperwork at the office, helping big brother with homework, or finally eating dinner. Actively participating in the pumping process can make the device much more efficient, help prevent clogs or mastitis, and increase your milk production up to 100% more!
How do you do that? We have a simple method that will hopefully be easy to remember even with “mom brain”.
Here are the FIVE Ps of EXCLUSIVE PUMPING:
1. Properly fit your breast pump flange.
Most breast pumps include a 24mm flange, but studies show that 80% of women need a smaller size. A flange is the right size when, after the nipple swells during pumping for a few minutes, it is still centered in the flange tube without rubbing against the sides, and little or none of your areola is pulled in. If your nipple does not move properly in and out of the pump flange, your pumping session will not easily empty your breasts. A flange that is too small can cause pain and clogged milk ducts. A flange that is too loose will not have enough suction, which can cause decreased milk supply and possible mastitis infections.
2. Prepare yourself.
Get yourself in a comfortable position and RELAX. Make sure you have your snacks, TV remote, and all pumping supplies. When possible, use this preparation time to hold baby skin-to-skin on your chest. Smell her head, look into those big eyes, breathe in your sweet little one. Your body will notice. In fact, mothers who pump after holding baby skin-to-skin usually find the volume of milk expressed is much higher than when pumping without doing so.
3. Prime your breasts.
Use a moist heat compress (warm water on a washcloth is usually easiest) and massage to activate letdown and stimulate the breasts for lactation. Massage your breasts in a circular spiral starting from the outer edges of breast tissue toward your nipples.
4. Pump every three hours, even at night.
When pumping, it can be tempting to express milk with a less rigid schedule than is ideal. Emptying your breasts at least as frequently as every three hours is key to making sure your body knows that its job is fully nourishing a growing baby. Between the hours of 1 and 4am, it’s easy to ignore an alarm and sleep. Studies show, however, that this is the time where you get the most out of your work. Prolactin (our milk making hormone) levels are at their highest, and you’ll likely get the most output of any session through the day.
While pumping, use your fist for occasional massage with medium pressure in long strokes from outer edges of your breast toward your nipples. If you notice lumpy spots, make small circles with your thumb to loosen and release the clogged ducts.
Being consistent with this routine in the first three months is the key to ensuring a plentiful milk supply the entire time you plan to pump.
5. Pace your bottle feeding.
First, start with a low flow nipple. (Our favorite is the Dr. Brown’s narrow mouthed preemie sized nipple, even for older babies.) Hold baby in an upright position, and sit the bottle horizontally. This will slow the flow significantly and require your baby to draw out the milk on her own.
After a few sucks of milk, tip your bottle downward, and let the milk fall back away from baby’s mouth into the bottle again. This mimics the pattern of feeding at the breast and allows baby to feel full with less milk.
Using this method of bottle feeding is more time consuming, but it teaches your baby to control the process and quickly learn to recognize her full belly on her own. This makes sure that every drop of your hard-earned milk is used efficiently and may prevent belly issues like gas or excessive spitting up.
This may sound like a lot of steps at the beginning, but after a few days it can become a routine, you follow without giving much thought. We are confident that giving you and your baby more control in the process is the key to reaching your feeding goals. If you have questions about your pump, breastmilk, or other any other aspect of feeding breastmilk to your baby, never hesitate to seek out lactation support.
You can do this, Mama!
This article was written with expertise from Carol Black BSN, RN, IBCLC Lactation and Family Support nurse at Baptist Health Hardin.