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Beginner’s Guide to Pumping

How To Breast Pump: Step By Step Guide For Beginners

Finding practical information on how to exclusively pump breast milk can be difficult.  Most women choose to directly nurse or use formula, so finding a friend who exclusively pumps (EP) to give advice is rare.  Add to that, most doctors and even lactation consultants are not trained for it.   Even worse, I have heard from many women that they have been given false information from professionals.

Fortunately, things are changing a bit.  More professionals are being open-minded and educating themselves and others.  More women are becoming more open with their breast-pumping experiences.  Now, you can find Facebook groups, blog posts, and even some lactation consultants that are giving out helpful information.

Today, I want to share the information I gathered through my personal experiences and through shared information in various online group chats or online sources.  This is a general overview.  I will be sharing more tips in upcoming posts.

(Please note that I am not a doctor, lactation consultant, or professional in any way.  I am merely providing information that was helpful to me while I was exclusively pumping.  Please use your own judgment and refer to your doctor or pediatrician before proceeding.)

How often to pump

When you are exclusively pumping, you are trying to mimic directly nursing a newborn.  In the beginning, you need to tell your body that you need more milk and often.  This means that you need to fully empty both breasts at every feeding and you need to be doing that around the clock.  As you establish your milk supply, you can start cutting back.  Just like a real baby would need more milk but less often as he ages, your body will adjust to pumping in the same way.

  • When trying to establish milk supply (around 32-36 oz per day), pump 9-10 times per day (including during the night) then follow the guidelines below
  • 8 times per day until baby is 2 months old
  • 7 times per day until baby is 4 months old
  • 6 times per day until baby is 6 months old
  • 5 times per day until baby is 8 months old
  • 4 times per day until baby is 1 year old

Please note that every person will be a bit different.  Some women can eliminate pumps faster and sooner than others without losing supply.  As a rule of thumb, your supply doesn’t regulate until about 3 months postpartum, and therefore, it is highly advised to keep a full-time pumping schedule until then.

How long to pump

This is going to vary widely.  Ultimately, you are trying to completely empty both breasts.  This helps stimulate production because it is telling your body to make more milk (because it thinks the baby is still hungry).  The more often your pump, the faster your body will try to refill your breasts, increasing your milk supply.

In the beginning, you won’t have as much milk and so you can pump for a less amount of time more frequently.  The longer you go between pumps, the longer you generally need to pump.  Empty breasts should be the determining factor on when to stop.

Pump for at least 15 minutes per breast each time (with the exception of power-pumping, then 10-12 minutes is okay).  As you build your supply, most people will go for 20-30 minutes per pump and 40-50 minutes at the first-morning pump.

Usually, the first morning pump will be the longest because you have gone so long without pumping.  In the beginning, I pumped for 30 minutes at this pump but eventually pumped for up to an hour once the baby started sleeping through the night (and supply was well established).

I don’t recommend pumping longer than an hour.  Your body is constantly producing more milk (so never completely empties.  I find that if it takes more than ten minutes before you see another let-down then your body is just emptying that extra output it just made.  (Don’t worry, you can tell when your breasts are mostly empty for the sake of ending a session, like a flatter (less full) breasts, how much milk is coming out, and how long it’s been since your let-down.)

Middle-of-the-night pumps (MONP) tend to be the hardest to wake up (or stay awake) for so I typically shortened them out of necessity.  Even if you can only manage 10 minutes, I would highly recommend doing it.  There is speculation that pumping in the early morning hours (2-5 AM) helps your body produce more milk.  Usually, I would pump while feeding the baby, since I had to be awake anyway.

How many let-downs you have will vary.  Often, you will not see a steady stream from start to finish but rather a heavy flow when you first let-down and then a slower or even no flow before your body will have another let-down.  This will go on until you empty.  Usually, I had about 3-4 in a typical 30-minute session.

Feeding baby

It can be hard to know how much to feed your baby when you are bottle feeding breast milk.  Breast milk is more easily digested than formula but better absorbed, meaning less milk more frequently.  Nursing moms typically don’t know how much their babies are being fed.  The formula comes with guidelines but they are typically too high compared to how much breast milk is needed.

How much should the baby be eating?

  • 7.5-pound baby, 2.5-3 ounces per feeding, 24 ounces total
  • 8-pound baby, 3.5-4 ounces per feeding, 26-28 ounces total
  • 9-pound baby,  4-5 ounces per feeding, 28-30 ounces total
  • 12-pound baby, 5 ounces per feeding (more after long night stretch), 32-36 ounces total

How often should a baby be eating?

This will vary but looking at the chart above for how often you should be pumping, you can get an idea of how often your baby should be eating since the point is to mimic a baby’s natural eating habits.  You can also go by how many ounces in a day your baby should be eating and adjust accordingly.

It may be helpful to feed whenever you are pumping.  This helps save time and keeps your pump schedule and baby’s feeding schedule the same for simplicity’s sake.

Storing breast milk

Personally, I found that freshly pumped breast milk could sit out for hours.  I often would pump just before bed and let it sit on my nightstand until the baby woke me up for his feeding.  If in doubt, I did the “sniff test”.  When milk turns rancid, you can tell. I was always concerned that I would not know if it had gone bad until I found an old bottle stuffed at the bottom of the diaper bag.  I got one whiff and that was all I needed to know the distinct smell.  This gave me peace of mind from then on.  Sometimes I would sniff the ounce or so left from the morning bottle when I did dishes at night.  To my surprise, it still smelled good, over 12 hours later!

Here are the guidelines that I followed:

  • Room temperature, 10 hours
  • Refrigerator, 1 week
  • Freezer (in the back or deep freezer), 1 year

Officially, the CDC has some clear guidelines that I find maybe a bit overzealous but if you are at all concerned, follow their advice.

To thaw frozen milk, I placed a bag in warm water or ran under hot water until about body temperature.

Helpful tips

  • Use a double electric pump.  It takes half the time and your hand won’t cramp up.
  • Buy a hands-free pumping bra!  Seriously.  It’s a game-changer!
  • Use the refrigerator trick for washing up pump parts. This is when you pump and then store your pump parts in a Ziplock bag in the refrigerator in between pumps.  At the end of the day, wash and sanitize all your parts.  {Note that recommendations from CDC state to wash after each use.  I chose to ignore that rule or else I would have quit altogether.}
  • Drink TONS of water.  A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces.  (Ex. 170 pounds = 85 ounces per day of water)
  • Eat more whole grains, like oatmeal to help keep up the supply.
  • Try to get at least a 5 hour stretch of sleep at night.  This is not always feasible with the variability of newborn sleep patterns but try.  This was a recommendation from my daughter’s pediatrician and I saw a significant difference in my mood (especially stress level) when I did.  This also helped with keeping supply up!
  • Find support.  I highly recommend some of the amazing EP Facebook groups.  Some are better than others so if one seems cattier and less supportive, find another.
  • Power pumping.  Use this to help increase supply.  This is where you will pump for shorter pumps, more frequently to try to mimic a baby during a growth spurt.  You would pump for 20 minutes, then take a break for 10 minutes, pump 10 minutes, break for 10, then pump for 10, for a total of 60 minutes. .  Generally, it would be a 20-minute pump, 5 minutes off, 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off, 10 minutes on, 5 off, 10 on for a total of ten minutes. You can break that up differently, which I did often to suit my needs.

If you would like some more advanced tips, I will be creating a new post soon!  Sign up for my email to get notified.

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