Pumping breast milk

I often get asked many different questions by my breastfeeding mums about pumping breast milk.

exclusively pumping breast milk

The questions I get asked the most are:

Should I be exclusively pumping breast milk ?

When is a good time to pump breast  milk?

How do I pump breast milk?

How long should I expect to pump for?

How long is breast milk good for after pumping?

How many calories does pumping breast milk burn?

I also get asked:

how many ounces of breast milk should I be pumping
how much breast milk per pumping session
how much breast milk should a new born drink when pumping
how much breast milk should I be pumping at 1 week
how much breast milk should I be pumping at 2 weeks
how much breast milk should I be pumping for a new born

They also ask me about how to store pumped milk and how to use frozen breast milk. So this page is all about pumping breast milk and I hope it answers most of the questions I usually get asked.

When to pump breast milk

If you are planning on breastfeeding for many weeks then it’s a good idea to get breastfeeding established first before you begin to pump.

Waiting for 2 or 3 weeks while both you and your baby learn how to breastfeed is advised before you begin to pump. Once you have both learnt how to breastfeed then you can begin to pump a little so that you can store your milk or take a break from feeding. This allows dad or a helper to feed baby while you get some longer spells of rest.

When you first start pumping it’s good to pump just a little before a feed to get the hang of what you are doing and how it feels. If you pump about 2 oz of milk before you feed then not only will this get you use to pumping but it will also help to increase your milk supply.

As breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis, the more you stimulate your breasts to produce milk, the more they will make, so be very careful how much you pump as you could begin to overproduce milk and then suffer from engorgement or blocked milk ducts due to your breasts not being drained at each feed. This is very important to remember if you are a lucky mum who makes plenty of milk and always seems to have a little in reserve.

If you are planning a journey out and are going to leave your baby at home for their next feed or do not feel comfortable breastfeeding in public and will bottle feed while out, then pumping just before you leave is the easiest way to get the milk they will need.

Then, once you get home, when you pump again you can store the pumped milk in the fridge or freezer.

This way you have given yourself some time out and you have not missed a feed.

A good guide as to how much to pump in this situation so that you don’t over pump and reduce the milk for baby’s next feed is to pump the amount of milk that baby took from the bottle while you where out.

If you find yourself getting home at the same time as baby’s next feed then feed baby first and if you still feel uncomfortably full from either breast once baby has fed then pump any extra to store.

Many of my mums get very tired at about 9.30pm so a great time to pump and allow your partner to do a feed is about 9.15pm. This then allows you to go to bed early and get some extra sleep while dad does the late evening feed.

Pumping breast milk and returning to work

Many mums want to learn how to pump so that they can return to work but still provide their baby with breast milk. If this is your goal then make sure that you have been pumping for a few weeks and that it works well for you before beginning work.

I have had a few longer jobs where mum has breast fed and then wanted to return to work part time but keep breastfeeding going.

If your working life is going to be very busy and you are only going to have small windows of time to pump then it’s best if you invest in a good electric double pump. This means that you can pump both breasts together and this saves lots of time.

While you are at work, pumping when you would have normally fed your baby at home helps to keep your milk supply the same as what your baby needs, and pumping a similar volume of milk to match what baby is drinking will also help to keep your supply the same.

Many work places do offer fridges for you to store your pumped milk during the day so that you can keep it cold until you get home and then either use it the following day to feed baby or pop in the freezer.

How to pump breast milk

Pumps use suction to get the milk from your breasts and it can feel quite different from nursing your baby. It should not feel painful in anyway however.

  1. The best way to pump breast milk is to get yourself calm and comfortable in a well supporting chair so you can relax.
  2. Make sure you have your pump plugged in and some tissues to hand to wipe any drips.
  3. Massage your breasts to help with the let down reflex. Use soft but firm circular movements moving around the breast. If you have a slow let down you can also use a warm compress at this stage to help get milk flowing.
  4. Carefully place each breast pump cup over each breast. Make sure that your nipple is central to the middle of the cup funnel. Then turn on your pump. Start with the lowest suction and quick suck actions. This setting is aimed at mimicking what your baby does at the beginning of each feed to help with your let down.
  5. Once you can see milk coming from your breast then you can turn up the suction and turn down the speed so the pumping action becomes slower with a longer sucking action.
  6. If you are lucky to have good milk flow then pumping may only take 10 minutes. If your flow is a little slower then you may need to pump for up to 20 minutes or until your milk flow slows or stops.

How long should I pump

The amount of time you choose to pump for will vary from person to person.

Some mums will want to return to work but will pump often to keep their supply going for a set number of weeks or even months. Some will return to work but decide they still want to provide some breast milk, but baby’s diet can now have some formula introduced as well as breast milk. This means they may pump less often or for shorter amounts of time.

The length of time you pump for can also be determined by how long it takes you to produce the milk.

I have had some mums who pump for only 10 minutes and produce full feeds for their baby, some who can keep breastfeeding going with pumping but also know that their baby does a much better job at extracting milk from the breast and some mums who’s bodies just don’t seem to react as well to a pump and need to give themselves longer to pump to produce the milk needed for full feeds.

Being guided by your own commitments and how easy you find it to produce milk for baby is your best key to decide how long you wish to pump for.

Storing breast milk

If you are pumping for the next feed then you can leave the milk on the counter work top until the next feed but I like to be safe and always get my mums into the habit of storing all pumped milk in the fridge or freeze it straight away.

This way you minimise any possible bacteria growth that may begin before baby feeds.

If you are pumping within half an hour of baby’s feed then it’s fine to leave out. If it’s going to be any longer than 30 minutes I get mum to pop it in the fridge and then we just briefly warm when the milk is needed.

These timings are much shorter than what is suggested by many other baby experts but I like to be super cautious when it comes to feeding baby and milk hygiene.

Storing breast milk is very easy. You can store it in your fridge in the bottle that you are going to feed baby from or leave it in the bag or bottle you have pumped into. Then you simply put the required amount of milk into a bottle and warm before you feed baby.

Breast milk can be stored in a fridge for 48 hours but I ideally like to use it within 24 hours.

Frozen breast milk can be stored in your freezer for 2 months. You can freeze it in breast milk freezer bags. It’s best to store breast milk in smaller amounts of up to 4 oz. This makes defrosting them much quicker when they are needed. Its also a good idea to write the date and amount on each bag, this way you know how much is in each bag and how old they are.

Breast milk changes over time to match what your baby needs so it’s wise to use it within 1 month and if you are pumping regularly use older frozen milk first and freeze newly pumped milk. This way your milk will mainly match what baby needs and will get used within a month or two.

Using stored or frozen breast milk

When you choose to use stored or frozen breast milk it’s very easy to prepare ready to feed baby.

Fridge stored breast milk

Fridge stored breast milk can be warmed in the bottle you are going to feed baby from. The best way to do this is to stand the bottle in some just boiled water for a few minutes until it’s blood temperature.

Leave the bottle in the water for a few minutes, then shake it well using a circular motion. This helps to mix the milk in the bottle, avoids any hot spots and lessens the chances of bubbles forming in the milk.

Test the temperature of the milk on the inside of your wrist. When you drop the milk onto your wrist you should feel nothing. This means that it’s blood temperature which is perfect for baby.

If it feels a little cool then pop it back into the hot water for another two minutes and then shake and test again.

If you think it’s too warm then leave it to stand for two minutes and test the temperature on your wrist again. If it’s still very warm you can briefly run the bottle under a cool tap but make sure the lid is tightly on and no tap water touches the teat of the bottle.

Freezer stored breast milk

Freezer stored breast milk can either be left out on the work top counter to defrost at room temperature or left in the fridge over night to defrost. And then heated in the bottle as shown above.

If you have forgotten to get the milk out of the freezer then it can be warmed and defrosted at the same time in the breast milk storage bags that your breast pump maker provides.

Simply pop the bag of breast milk into some pre boiled hot but not boiling water until it’s defrosted and again blood temperature. Then transfer to the feeding bottle ready for baby to drink.

Always remember to test the temperature of the milk on the inside of your wrist just before you give to baby. It should feel skin temperature and feel neither hot or cold.

Do I need to pump my breast milk

If you are enjoying breastfeeding, are not planning on returning to work and do not feel the need to grab extra sleep from time to time then no, you don’t have to pump at all. It is worth having a hand held breast pump to hand just in case you do ever need to pump or would like to gain some extra sleep.

Pumping to increase your milk supply

If you are pumping to get your milk supply going or to increase your milk production then I encourage my mums to put baby to the breast for 20 minutes at each feed. If we need to top up baby we bottle feed and mum continues to pump until baby has finished feeding.

It can take some mums many weeks to get their milk supply going and putting baby to the breast to feed often is the best way to get things going. If you have a very low milk flow or your baby get tired quickly at the breast then your midwife, health visitor or doctor may suggest that you also pump after feeding. In this situation any form of stimulation is good and should help your body’s milk production.

Pumping to decrease your milk supply

Decreasing your milk supply should be done gradually and over at least a week. It also depends if you wish too stop breastfeeding completely or just drop some feeds.

If you are just dropping some feeds then breastfeed the feeds you wish to keep and at the feeds you wish to drop pump off just enough milk to make you feel comfortable. Don’t drain your breasts. This way will begin to tell your body that it does not need to make milk at certain feeds and over a few days will start to make less. Once you begin to feel comfortable at the dropped feeds then pump less and less until you have stopped pumping.

If you wish too stop breastfeeding completely then switch baby to bottle feeding using either breast milk, formula or a mix of both to start with and only pump at each feed. Begin to lower the time or amount you make at each pumping and do so gradually over several days. This will lessen your chance of developing blocked milk ducts and the discomfort you may feel should be very minimal.

Some books do suggest that you can go cold turkey and just stop but I would not recommend this as it can be very painful and if you are producing good amounts of breast milk will heighten your chance of developing mastitis.

Pumping with a premature baby

If your baby has been born early but you really wanted to breastfeed then you still can, if you begin to pump early enough.

Pumping while your baby is in special care can give mums of premature infants the positive feeling of doing something good for their baby while they get to grips with the situation they find themselves in.

Babies who spend time in special care and who get some breast milk per day are also more likely to suffer less from different types of infection. Their stay is often also reduced by several days and they have a much lower chance of being re admitted once they have left hospital.

I had a mum of very premature twin girls who was desperate to do something positive and was told by the nurse looking after her babies that the best thing she could do was to pump milk for them. So she did. Every 4 hours, day and night until they where ready to leave hospital.

When I went to start work for her, she told me she had stored a little breast milk in the freezer that she wanted to give to the girls and then by the end of my time there she wanted them switched to formula.

When I opened her freezer to see what she had made I was greeted with a full to the brim freezer full of breast milk which lasted for the whole month of my booking.

Although she wasn’t able to physically breastfeed her girls as much as she wanted she was able to provide them with breast milk and gave them a fantastic start.

I hope that my pumping breast milk page has answered your questions and that you can continue to give your baby breast milk for many weeks to come.

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