Breast Pumping 101: An ultimate how-to guide

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I already talked on here about how to establish breastfeeding with your child. (If you missed it, check it out here.) But another big topic around feeding your child is breast pumping. Pumping can be convenient for you as the Mom, giving you a break to be able to do things and making yourself able to pass off your baby. It also is helpful if you can’t get your baby to properly latch, or if you have a strong letdown. It lets you enjoy an alcoholic drink without you worrying about if there is any left in your breastmilk, and allows you to relieve the pressure of engorged breasts or mastitis.

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How to choose the right breast pump for you:

This is 100% personal. Different pumps work great for different people. First, let’s look at the two main types of breast pumps.

Manual:

Manual breast pumps are pumps that you physically pump with your hands to produce milk. Some require the use of both your hands and some only one.
They are perfect for moms who only want to pump just occasionally, whether it is for a bottle, or to relieve engorgement. If you are looking to pump regularly, an electric may be a better option for you.

Recommended manual breast pumps:

Medela Harmony:

I am a firm believer in Medela products! I find them all SO good! This one is no exception. What I love is that there aren’t a crazy amount of parts, which makes cleaning the pump after use so much easier! It is small and easy to toss in your bag. The handle is also pretty comfortable for use.

Avent Isis pump:

Why I love this one is because Avent has its own bottle system! When you use this pump, just attach an Avent bottle that comes with it, unscrew it when you’re done, and throw on an Avent nipple, and feed it right to your little one! It is so convenient, weighs under a pound, and is dishwasher safe!

Electric pumps:

Contrary to manual pumps, electric pumps utilize either a plug-in, or batteries to stimulate the breast to pump milk. They are a great solution if you plan on pumping regularly for your baby. You can get either single pumps, that cover one breast at the time, or double, that covers both, so you empty the breasts at the same time. This kind is perfect if you have twins, or if you are exclusively pumping.

Recommended electric pumps:

Medela Swing single pump

I use this one personally and LOVE it. It’s very small and easy to toss in a bag. It only consists of four parts including the bottle, so it is super easy to clean. You can also get separate nipples that attach to their bottles. It can also be used by plugging it in or using batteries.

Spectra S1 Double pump

This one is awesome because like the Medela swing, it is a closed system (which we will go into detail about later) and is RECHARGEABLE. That is perfect for travel or work! The fact that it is a double pump means you are twice as effective, emptying both breasts at the same time!

So, you’ve decided between manual or electric, now what?

Decide if you want an OPEN or CLOSED system:

An open system means that your breast milk goes from the breast, through a hose to your bottle. A closed system uses a vacuum-like suction from a hose that DOES NOT touch your milk, instead, it drips down through a flange to the bottle.

Open VS closed: If you are getting a pump second hand, make sure it is a closed system. Why? In an open system breast pump, it is possible for milk to drip out into the motor, causing mold and bacteria growth and transmit viruses. In a closed system, there is a barrier in place to prevent the milk from going into the motor, protecting against these kinds of growths.

The main things that you want to figure out to purchase a pump are the three mentioned above. Manual or electric, single or double, and open or closed. Keep in mind that if you will be mostly pumping at home, plug-in ones are much faster than battery operated, and you don’t need to keep buying batteries. On the other hand, if you will be using it out and about, battery operated ones are great so you aren’t trying to find outlets. If you want one for both, consider a pump that allows for both.

Pumping 101:

Now that you have purchased your pump, now you want to begin pumping right?

Stop: If you are still pregnant, DO NOT try to pump milk. It can cause early contractions and labour!

If your baby is already here, great!

Components of your pump:

Every pump has the same main parts:

A breast shield:

This little guy is what goes around your nipple and breast. Choosing the right shield is SUPER important. If it is the wrong size, you will not properly be able to express milk.

A picture of breast pump nipple shield

Connectors:

This is what connects the breast shield to the membrane and bottle. One end is pushed into the shield, the other has the screw in for the bottle.

picture of pump connectors

Bottles:

Obviously you need something to catch the milk! These attach to your connectors.

Flanges/Membranes

These are in a closed system to help create a barrier for the milk.

Hose

In an open system, it brings the milk from your breast shield to your bottles, in a closed, it brings air through your breast shield to create the vacuum.

Breast pump motor:

This is what powers your pump. In a manual system, instead of a motor, you will have a handle you squeeze to stimulate the pump.

Note: All brands of pump parts may look differently than these.

How to use your breast pump:

  1. Make sure all parts are sanitized, and put together properly and either plugged in or with batteries.
  2. Place the shield over your breast, with your nipple in the center.
  3. Turn your pump on, or start hand expressing.
  4. Allow the pump to stimulate the breast at first. Once letdown happens, you will see milk start to collect in the bottle.
  5. After a while, your breast may stop producing milk. This is normal. Once you have collected your milk, turn the pump off, and either feed your milk to the baby, or put it in the fridge or freezer.

How do I know I have the right nipple shield size?

Using a tape, measure the diameter of your nipple in MM not including the areola. Take this size, and find the size chart of your model breast pump and see what your size nipple will be. This is the size you need to buy.

How do I clean my pump parts?

You first want to look at your instructions, and see if any parts are dishwasher safe. If so, stick em in! The heat can sanitize your parts.
If it isn’t dishwasher safe, disassemble your breast pump, and wash them all in hot, soapy water.
After they are washed, put them in a clean bowl, and pour boiling hot water over all the parts, totally submerging them. This will kill off any bacteria.
You can also use a bottle cleaner brush to clean out the flanges and membranes.

When do I replace my pump parts?

The white flap membranes need to be replaced every two weeks to two months, depending on how much you use your pump.
The valves every two or three months.
The hose/tubing should be replaced if there is condensation in your closed system. This is because the moisture can damage your motor.
Breast shields should be replaced every six months.

This of course doesn’t include if any parts break down or crack in between.

How to properly store your expressed breast milk:

Nothing is worse than accidentally drinking some spoiled milk, isn’t there? This is true for breastmilk, and it can be dangerous to your little baby. This makes it so important to learn how to store your milk, and when to toss it.

Breast Milk is okay left on the counter for up to six hours.
In a fridge for up to 4-8 days. Make sure to store it in the BACK of the fridge, as that is the coolest spot to keep it fresh.
A fridge or upright freezer for up to four months.
A deep freeze/chest freezer for up to twelve months.

If at any point you totally thaw milk, you never refreeze it. If you take it out of the freezer, and before it completely thaws you decide to put it back, that is okay. Also NEVER put your milk in the microwave to give it to your baby, because it doesn’t always heat evenly and can scald. Always warm it in a proper bottle warmer, or warm water.

In addition, if your baby does not finish their milk bottle, you CAN put it back in the fridge, however, because the milk mixes with the baby’s saliva, it needs to be consumed with an hour or else bacteria can grow.
You can also mix breast milk with formula if you choose.

What is some must-haves for breast pumping?

  • A comfortable chair, since it can take a while.
  • Lots of water. You need to replenish with lots of water to keep up your supply.
  • A haakaa. I cannot oversell this enough. It is one of the best things I was gifted! It catches the let down of the breast you aren’t nursing or pumping from, so you don’t waste any of the liquid gold!
  • Extra membranes, because they rip easy.
  • Bottle nipples, that way you can easily feed your baby after.
  • Milk storage bags. These are perfect for the freezer!
  • Nursing liners for your bra. Trust me, the let down can be strong!

Breast pumping FAQ’s:

My milk smells soapy. Is it gone bad?
Not necessarily. You will know if it is spoiled because of the smell. It if smells soapy, or metallic, it is because it is high in an enzyme called lipase. This enzyme helps digest fat. If the baby happens to refuse the milk that smells like this, you can scald it before freezing.

My milk has fat on the top after being in the fridge. Do I need to throw it out?
No! The fat separated from the milk. To fix this, just swirl your bottle around.

Why is my breast milk blue?
Breast milk comes as “foremilk,” thin, watery milk that comes in at the start of a session to quench your babies thirst. Because it is thinner, it can look watery or blue. If it looks blue in the bottle, chances are it is because it contains more foremilk that it does “hindmilk,” thicker, fattier milk that comes at the end of the feeding to help baby gain weight.

Being able to pump milk can be a freedom for moms. Sometimes it means that you can pass off your baby while you nap. Sometimes, especially in America, it means you can go back to work. For me, it means I can have a whiskey while writing this blog post for you.

Do you like pumping? What do you enjoy and what do you hate? What is your best pumping tips? Comment below!

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17 thoughts on “Breast Pumping 101: An ultimate how-to guide

  1. This is a very detailed break down of great pumps! I wish I had this type of information when I began my pumping journey with our youngest.

  2. Wow this is so informative! I have the Spectra and I absolutely love it. It is much more gentle than the Medela which I appreciated. I am always looking up storage info for breastmilk so this is very useful!

  3. It can be so confusing figuring out what pump to purchase with so many options available! Thanks for your suggestions, it makes shopping easier.

  4. What a thorough breakdown! Breast pumping was such a chore for me, but I actually liked manual pumping over the auto. It never took as long and I could do it anywhere. Such a helpful post, thanks for sharing!

  5. I definitely was not prepared for pumping when I was nursing. My lack of knowledge of how and when to use a pump let to some miserable weeks of overproduction and sore nipples from constant leaking. I finally met with a lactation specialist who informed me and helped fix the mess I was in! This is definitely an overlooked topic when preparing for a new baby.

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