After my water unexpectedly broke at 23 weeks and I had my son at 24 weeks (he’s now 40 weeks!), I’ve been exclusively pumping for the last 16 weeks. I’ve got a second freezer full of breastmilk and at this point, I consider myself a pro at pumping.
I always thought I’d just breastfeed, and I still plan to when my son is out of the NICU, but the reality is that the best-laid plans often go awry. Shit happens, our kids won’t latch, they’re born early, they have a tongue tie, who knows. And then you have to pump. And that’s okay! In fact, that’s amazing. Because pumping is hard. It’s a process. It’s not just putting your kid on the boob – it’s assembling parts and being tethered to an actual pump, it’s cleaning and steaming those parts, it’s a lot of freaking work.
And it’s not the easiest thing in the world. It’s a learning process. So I thought it’d be a good idea to share my favorite helpful tips for pumping mamas.
#1: Your hospital will most likely provide you with free pumping parts.
I had actually planned a home birth, which obviously went out the window when I went into labor at 24 weeks. One benefit of giving birth in a hospital is that they do give you free stuff. You just have to know that you can ask for it. My hospital gave out entire bags of Medela pumping accessories.
This included several different size flanges, storage bottles, etc. And because my son has been in the NICU for 16 weeks, I’ve gotten several of these – no questions asked. My husband often gets them for me too. They just hand them over.
Most hospitals want you to breastfeed and want to help you in this endeavor. If you’re not sure if your hospital offers this, ask! They may offer other resources to you.
#2: Rent a hospital grade pump.
These suckers extract quite a bit more milk than a regular pump. Which is why they cost thousands of dollars. Some insurance companies will pay for this grade pump, some won’t. We rent ours for $75 a month.
#3: Pump eight times a day, every 2-3 hours, for twelve weeks.
Doing this helps establish your supply. It’s a total pain in the ass to be tethered to the pump 8 times a day. But it’s worth it!
#4: Get multiple pumping parts (again, your hospital can give you these).
This is huge! I have multiple flanges, connector thingies, and storage bottles for two big reasons:
1st – so I don’t have to constantly wash parts, especially if I’m running out the door. I can come home and use my second set of parts.
2nd – so you don’t have to get up (or make your husband get up) in the middle of the night to wash parts!
For example, I wake up at 1:45 am and 4:45 am for my middle of the night pumps. Instead of having Scott take the milk downstairs, I pour it into a storage bag and pop it in the cooler next to my bed. Then, for my 4:45 am pump time, I have a whole second set of pump parts to use. Then I just wash it all in the morning.
#5: Buy a second freezer.
I didn’t realize how much room breastmilk would take up in my freezer. Within a couple weeks, I realized we needed a second freezer. I bought the Midea freezer off of Amazon.
It comes in three different sizes and is incredibly reasonable in terms of price. I opted for the biggest freezer because I also want to store meat in it.
#6: Massage your boobs before pumping. Seriously. Do it. You’ll thank me when you don’t get a swollen duct (that shit hurts!).
Massaging your boobs helps loosen the milk and makes it more easily flow when you start pumping. Use some coconut oil, because your boobs will get dry! At least mine do.
#7: Pump between 1-5AM, when prolactin levels are at their highest.
Prolactin stimulates milk production, so when you pump during this time of night – you will produce more milk!
#8: Make your husband or partner help.
Scott helps me wash the parts, store the breastmilk, take it downstairs to our freezer, etc. It’s their kid too! Helping you is helping the baby! And it’s a great way for dad to get involved in the baby’s care.
#9: Bring a cooler to bed with you, along with milk storage bags and extra pumping parts.
See #4. When I first had Everett, my husband was taking my milk and the pump parts down twice in the middle of the night. Now, I just pop an ice pack in a cooler and put it next to my bed. When I wake up for my pumps, I dump the milk into a storage bag and put them in the cooler. Then just take them down to freeze in the morning.
#10: Drink a shit ton of water.
It not only helps you stay hydrated, it helps you produce more milk. Milk is mostly water, after all. Don’t get dehydrated.
#11: Eat well and eat lots of calories from healthy sources!
Eating well is obvious. If you’re not eating an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals, your breastmilk will lack those vitamins and minerals. Breastfeeding mamas need an additional 400-500 calories per day. Aim to get these calories from healthy sources, like grass-fed butter, coconut oil, avocados, olive oil, wild salmon, grass-fed beef, pastured eggs, etc.
#12: Consider incorporating herbs and supplements to boost your supply.
Because my son was premature, I was advised not to take anything with fennugreek (it can make premature babies pass blood in their stool but is considered safe for term babies). This limited what I could personally take, but I found some great products.
If your baby is at full term, here are some effective products to increase your supply:
Or, if your child was premature or you’d like options without fennugreek:
#13: Your nipples will get raw. Use nipple butter.
This will happen whether you’re pumping, breastfeeding or doing a combination of both. This one is my favorite:
#14: Talk to a lactation consultant, just about every hospital has one. Or talk to your midwife if you had a home birth.
Lactation consultants are incredibly helpful. Some are better than others, of course. Generally speaking though, they’re amazing. They are knowledgeable and there to help you and answer any questions you may have.
#15: Use the right size flanges! Get fitted for these suckers.
This is something the lactation consultant can help with!
#16: Buy a pumping bra!
I didn’t know what a pumping bra even was. I held my pumps up to my boobs for 15-20 minutes 8 times a day. My back hurt SO bad. These things are amazing, handy and so useful.
#17: If you don’t want to rent a hospital grade pump, try one of these.
#18: Your insurance will most likely cover a pump.
Call them. If they give you a hard time, have your OB write you a prescription for a pump. It’s free! Do it.
#19: Buy breastmilk storage bags.
I’ve found these to be the most convenient. I don’t love that they’re plastic, but they’re BPA and BSP free.
#20: Try some flanges that allow you to relax.
Sitting up and bending over while pumping is seriously bad for your back. Try these flanges, which allow you to sit back. This is particularly great for middle of the night pumps.
#21: Buy a manual breast pump.
I use this pump for when I’m out and about and just can’t get home but don’t want to skip a pump. You won’t get as much milk, but it’s better than skipping a pump.
#22: Keep taking your prenatal vitamins.
This is huge! Your body is now feeding another person! Nutrient deficiencies can easily develop. Not to mention that you want to keep giving your baby all the good stuff in prenatal vitamins that they were getting while you were pregnant. I use Innate Responce 3rd Trimester and post, which is specifically formulated for the third trimester and breastfeeding.
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