A pump can be a pretty intimidating contraption to look at the first time you take it out of the box. There are tubes and levers and flanges and dials—it looks a bit like a modern day torture device. (That part goes where now?) But just like most things in motherhood, once you get the hang of the process, it will become second nature in no time.
Get into gear
There are two options when it comes to pumps: manual and electric. Which one you use is up to you, and will depend on your lifestyle and how frequently you’ll be using it. Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA, author of Breastfeeding Solutions: Quick Tips for the Most Common Nursing Challenges advises, “If a mother plans to pump once a day or more often, she will usually benefit from using a double electric pump.” Manual pumps are a good occasional-use choice, but Mohrbacher notes, “[They can] get tiring with more regular pumping because they require muscle power from the operator.” The price difference is notable between the two as well, so keep that in mind as you budget for baby gear. Here’s the lowdown on each:
Manual pumps are straightforward, consisting of plastic flanges with levers on one side and bottles on the other. The key to success with any pump, but especially a manual one, is being able to recognize your body’s letdown reflex. The letdown reflex is the release of breast milk into the breast’s milk ducts. It takes practice to be able to recognize the sensation (some moms never “feel” it at all, but instead gauge their letdown visually) but it’s a necessary component of the pumping process in order for an adequate amount of milk to be collected. Many moms swear by photos or videos of their babies—or even recordings of their babies’ cries—stored on their phones as triggers to signal to their bodies it’s time to turn on the tap.
The charged choice
Most electric pumps come with bottles that attach to plastic flanges that in turn fit on your breasts. Flanges are available in various sizes to accommodate differences in breast size. The flanges are connected with tubing to the motor of the pump unit, which is what creates the suction action. Some pumps come with a “letdown” button or other dial feature that lets you control the speed at which the motor operates and are also adjustable in their intensity. This helps the pump mimic the natural sucking patterns of a baby to help maximize your output.
Lactation lead time
If you’re preparing to reenter the workforce after maternity leave, you might be wondering just how you’ll stockpile milk beforehand when you’re with your nursing baby all the time. Mohrbacher suggests taking advantage of the part of the day when your volume is at its highest so that baby can eat and you can also shore up your supply with a quick pumping session. “A good way to build up a stash is to pump about an hour after the first morning nursing,” she says. “Most women get more milk then than later in the day.” Start these sessions several weeks before you go back to work so that you’ll have a good reserve on hand.
Bottle-feeding by the numbers
If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, you may also feel clueless when it comes to the number of ounces your baby will need during the day while you’re away. But Mohrbacher assures that determining an amount is easier than you think. “After one month or so, breastfed babies consume about 30 ounces every 24 hours,” explains Mohrbacher. Also important to take into consideration when figuring out your baby’s bottle count is your baby’s sleeping versus eating patterns. “Another variable that will affect this calculation is whether the baby feeds around the clock (most breastfed babies do) or is sleeping through the night,” Mohrbacher reports. “For example, if a mother is away from her baby for eight hours during her workday—including travel time—and her baby breast- feeds during the night, he will probably need around 10 ounces during her workday. Eight hours is one-third of a 24-hour day and 10 ounces is one-third of 30 ounces. If her baby sleeps through the night, he may only be awake and feeding 16 hours per day, which means he may need closer to 15 ounces during her workday. In this case, eight hours is half of the hours he’s awake to feed and 15 ounces is half of 30 ounces.”
Maintaining the milk mine
Once you’ve started your pumping routine at work, you’ll want to pay attention to your output to make sure it keeps up with your baby’s demand. “Keep an eye on total daily milk removals—breastfeeds plus pumps,” Mohrbacher urges. “To maintain milk production long-term, women need to keep their daily number of milk removals at or above what I call their ‘magic number.’ This is the number of times required to keep their milk production steady.” Mohrbacher explains that for most mothers, this will be in the six to eight range, but it varies from woman to woman. “Many mothers who return to work pump often enough at work but over time, the number of times they breastfeed at home decreases. This lowers their daily total and causes their milk production to slow. Breastfeeding often at home will help keep milk production steady long term.”
There’s no doubt that pumping can be an arduous journey, with a learning curve and a dose of determination needed, but the reward is getting to feed your baby to your preference. And that’s certainly worth its weight in liquid gold.