Why would I need to pump my breast milk?
The most common reasons to pump are to collect your milk so your baby can have it when you’re not around and to maintain your milk supply for when you’re together. This is important if you’re going back to work but want to continue nursing.
To get the hang of it, it’s a good idea to practice pumping for a few weeks before you need to rely on expressed breast milk for your baby. Just make sure that breastfeeding is well established before you give your baby the bottle.
Pumping also means you don’t have to be on call for every feeding when you’re at home. Your partner (or another helper) can feed your baby your milk from a bottle, allowing you to get more uninterrupted sleep or take a break from baby care. (Letting Dad take over some of the feedings also helps him bond with the baby!)
What kind of breast pump should I use?
Choosing the breast pump that’s right for you depends on how often you plan to use it and how much time you can devote to pumping. If you work full time and have to find time to pump during a busy workday, you’ll want to use a fully automatic pump so you can pump both breasts quickly at the same time. But if you only need to pump a few ounces occasionally, an inexpensive manual pump may do just fine.
When would I express milk by hand and how do I do it?
If you only need to express milk every once in a while – say, for a rare bottle-feeding – you may be able to get by with expressing by hand, although it might take a bit of practice to get it down.
Hand expressing a little breast milk can help soothe engorgement and plugged ducts. And if you have sore, cracked nipples, you might want to express a bit of breast milk by hand after each nursing session to rub over them and soothe them.
Many women find that expressing milk by hand is time-consuming, though, so it isn’t usually feasible if you need to express a larger amount of milk regularly.
It helps to have someone demonstrate this for you, but here’s a step-by-step:
- Wash your hands before you start.
- You may find it helpful to massage your breasts a bit or apply a warm towel before expressing.
- Sit up and lean forward – gravity helps!
- Place your thumb and index finger on each side of the breast, about an inch or so behind the areola, forming a C with your hand.
- Press your fingers back toward your chest wall and then gently together. (You want to compress the area under the areola, not the nipple itself.) Use a rolling motion rather than pulling or yanking. You may need to experiment a bit to find the right spot – when you do, you’ll squirt milk.
- Rotate your fingers around the areola (starting on top and bottom and moving to the sides, for example) as you continue to milk each breast. At first you may only get a few drops. That’s okay – you’ll get more with practice.
- Collect milk in any clean container with a wide mouth.
What about storing breast milk?
You can also use a plastic bag made especially for storing milk. Fill the container three-quarters full if it’s going in the freezer, to allow for expansion.
For convenience, store the milk in the amounts that you normally use at a feeding. (If your baby typically takes 3 ounces, then store in 3-ounce portions.)
Remember to write the date on the bottle or bag before putting it in the refrigerator or freezerso you’ll know when you pumped it. (You’ll want to use the oldest milk first.) Don’t combine fresh milk and frozen milk (by topping off a frozen container with some fresh milk, for example).
You may be surprised to see what breast milk looks like. It’s normal for the fat to separate and float to the top, and sometimes the milk has a bluish hue, especially early on. (Your milk color may also be affected by your diet or medications.) Don’t shake the milk. Instead, gently swirl it to mix the fat back in.
Your milk shouldn’t smell or taste sour, but after thawing milk sometimes has a slightly soapy smell from the change in the fats. This is perfectly fine.
The process of freezing destroys some of the antibodies in the milk, so don’t freeze it unless you have to. But frozen breast milk is still healthier and offers more protection from disease than formula does.
How long can I store breast milk?
There are different opinions on how long breast milk stays fresh once it’s left your body.
- Fresh breast milk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says milk can be kept at room temperature for six to eight hours, though it’s best to refrigerate it immediately. Use fresh, refrigerated milk within five days. (Store it in the back of the main part of the refrigerator.)
- Frozen breast milk. In the freezer compartment of a refrigerator (5 degrees F), milk can be frozen for two weeks. If there’s a freezer compartment with separate doors (0 degrees F), it can be stored for three to six months. And in a chest or upright deep freezer (-4 degrees F), it will be good for six to 12 months.
(Use the lower numbers – three months and six months – for best quality. At the higher end, the milk is still safe, but the quality will be a bit lower.)
Once you’ve thawed frozen milk, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. If it’s at room temperature, use it within one hour. (If you haven’t used it in that time, you’ll have to throw it away, since you can’t refreeze it.) If you need to transport milk, keep it cold until just before using.
Some health professionals recommend throwing out any milk that’s left in your baby’s bottle after a feeding, though others may tell you it’s okay to save a bottle of partially consumed breast milk as long as you refrigerate it right away and use it within four hours.
How do I thaw frozen breast milk?
To thaw frozen milk, hold the bag or bottle under warm water until it’s a comfortable temperature or let it defrost in the refrigerator overnight. Don’t use the microwave for defrosting or warming, because it kills the nutrients in breast milk and hot spots can develop.
What can I do if I’m having trouble pumping?
For many women, the most difficult thing about pumping is finding the time to fit it into their schedule during the workday or finding a comfortable, private space to do it in. But pumping doesn’t come easily for everyone. Here are some reasons you may be having trouble getting much milk out and some tips for what to do about it:
- You may be pumping too soon. You won’t get much milk out of your breasts if you or your baby has recently done a good job of draining them. Don’t stress about exactly when is the optimum time to pump, but take note if you’re having trouble.
- You may need to change the settings on your pump. It can be hard to get enough milk if the suction pressure is too low or the cycling speed is too fast. In some cases, your pump may not provide the right pumping pattern for you no matter how you adjust it. The most advanced pumps now come with a reprogrammable setting card that you can send back to the manufacturer for adjustment.
- You may not be using a very good breast pump. Some women have trouble getting enough milk out if they’re using a manual pump or an electric one that doesn’t work very well (after about a year of use the battery may be worn out). You’ll get the best results from a high-quality, electric double pump.
- You may be using shields (phalanges) that are too small for your nipples. This is a common problem because most pumps come with phalanges that are designed for women with small nipples. If your phalange is too small and your nipples swell up once you start to pump, you won’t be able to get as much milk out of your breasts.
Many breast pump companies now make breast phalanges in larger sizes. Make sure you’re using the size that’s right for you.
- You may not be producing very much milk. There are many reasons for this, including not nursing often enough and not staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Some medications, like decongestants or estrogens, can also inhibit milk supply.
- You may be having trouble with the letdown of your milk. Try to relax and get yourself comfortable while pumping. (Some women like to look at a picture of their baby, close their eyes and think of their baby, or even listen to a recording of their baby’s coos or gurgles.) You might also try gently massaging your breasts or using warm compresses on them before pumping.