Top 10 Tips for a Pumping Mama

There are several reasons you may need to pump breast milk for your baby. The reasons that generally come to mind are:

  • You’re going back to work.
  • You want or need to have a time period of greater than three hours away from your baby.
  • Your baby is having difficulty latching and you need an alternative in the mean time.
  • You prefer not to breastfeed but want your baby to reap the benefits of breastmilk.
  • The list could go on and on.

While everyone’s reasons for pumping may be different, there is one thing most mamas can probably agree on: Pumping is not the most fun thing in the world. However, after pretty much exclusively pumping for both of my boys (over a year and a half), I have a few tips that have made pumping easier for me.

1. Start early!

I know that when you first bring your small, cuddly, sleepy bundle of joy home from the hospital the last thing you want to even think about is pumping! Trust me, it’s worth it to start early. 

There are several benefits here:

  • The first benefit is that by pumping early you will increase your supply (there is a careful balance here because dealing with an oversupply can be very difficult too).
  • Second, you can begin creating a “stash” of milk that you will be able to use when you go out or head back to work so you don’t have to worry as much about producing enough every day for the next day.
  • Third, you are training your body how to respond to the pump and hopefully by beginning as early as possible you will eventually be able to produce better for the pump.

2. Use a double-electric or hospital-grade pump!

It is absolutely worth the money if you will be using the pump every day or if you will be using it long-term for pumping. I used my pump for both of my babies so when I consider all the money I saved not buying formula for both of them; it paid for itself time and time again. This makes such a huge difference and can save your sanity which is also worth something, right?!

3. Stay hydrated!

I can’t tell you what a difference this makes! If I am having a day with less than optimal output, I usually realize I haven’t had enough water. My hospital lactation nurse told me that if I wasn’t getting enough water, my milk was dehydrated and therefore I was dehydrating my baby; that spoke very loudly to me.

4. Pay attention to your diet!

Consider changing up your diet to see whether it makes a difference in production. – Some mamas have had success with: oatmeal, Mother’s Milk or Lactation Tea, and Lactation Cookies.

Make sure you have an adequate intake of veggies, fruits and proteins. I could absolutely see a decrease in output on days filled with pizza, high carb treats and other less than healthy options. Also, make sure you are eating enough. It’s easy to want to cut calories to lose that baby weight, but don’t cut too many!

Consider trying supplements such as Fenugreek, brewer’s yeast, Blessed Thistle, or red raspberry leaf tea (talk with a lactation specialist or doctor before trying any of these).

5. Have a specific routine you can follow!

This makes a big difference and I would venture to say it is a very personal routine. Before I headed back to work, I was really concerned about not being able to pump long-term because I knew there was no way I would be able to get away every 2-3 hours at work. I was able to get myself onto a routine in which I pumped three times per day: once in the morning, once at lunch, and once at night. This DOES NOT work for everyone! Find what works for you and your schedule and stick as closely to it as you can.

6. Get comfortable!

Make sure you wear clothing that isn’t going to make it difficult to get your flanges into the appropriate position; it is really awkward to need to undress just to pump. When I pump, I try to make sure to have a book, my computer, my cell phone, or some other means of entertainment to keep my mind off how much I am producing. It really helps me stay relaxed and, in fact, at night I use pumping time as my excuse to jump on Pinterest or whatever else I have been putting off all day.

Some people like to use a hands-free pumping bra. You can buy them online or at any store that sells maternity wear. I made my own by cutting two slits to make a small X shape into an old sports bra that had a clasp in the back.

7. Keep everything clean!

Medela has some amazing micro-steam bags that you can use in a microwave to keep your pump parts sanitized between thorough cleanings. These are amazing because you can use the same bag 20 times before it’s done and you can make sure that your parts are sterile even if you don’t have a chance to run them through the dishwasher or steam sanitizer at home. Make sure that when you do get home you take the chance to use a bottlebrush and soap to really get into all the nooks and crannies of the flanges. You shouldn’t need to clean the tubing unless milk gets in there (which can happen!).

8. Get organized!

It is important to create a system that works for you and your freezer situation. I really prefer to pump into bottles, even when I know I will be freezing the milk. I like the Lansinoh breast milk storage bags because they can hold more milk than most other bags and you can lay them flat to save room in your freezer. I always make sure to label the bag and I usually wait until I have about 8 bags and then put them all into a gallon-sized Ziplock and label the entire bag with the range of dates, number of bags, and range of ounces in each bag.

9. Keep an extra set of parts (flanges, membranes, tubes) or a manual pump in your car!

One of the worst things that can happen while pumping is that you get somewhere (i.e., work) and realize that you don’t have all of your parts (or even worse your pump) and you know you will explode if you don’t pump at some point during the day. I bought an inexpensive manual pump to keep in the car as well as an extra set of flanges, membranes and tubes for the days that everything is still sitting in the dishwasher. You will forget something at some point in your pumping career— I can almost guarantee it!

10. Set realistic expectations and try to curb frustrations!

Pumping takes time, energy, and dedication. You have to keep in mind that if you are pumping at work you will need to be sure your employer or co-workers understand that this is something you are committed to doing and that you need the time to make it work. Under the federal law, you are allowed a space (not in a bathroom) and appropriate length break(s) to make this work. For additional information and state specific laws, see here. Make sure that everyone around you is on the same page. Recognize ahead of time that pumping will require sacrifices but try to keep in mind that often times that’s just what we do (just a reminder that your kiddos really do take over your ENTIRE life!). It’s OK to stop pumping if it’s just not working schedule-wise, or is more frustrating than rewarding. You are an amazing mama no matter what choices you need to make for your sanity!

Go into this knowing that some days can be hard. Some days you might be a pumping queen and other days you may barely be able to produce a couple of ounces. Don’t give up after just a couple of bad days. The best advice I can give is to take it one day at a time. You probably won’t be doing this for more than a year. Try to stay positive and think about all the money you are saving, and the wonderful nutrition you are making for your little one!

Want more tips? Check out our Ten More Tips for Pumping Mamas.

36 Responses to Top 10 Tips for a Pumping Mama

  1. These are great tips! I pumped for a full year after I went back to work and it was no small task. I often think that mamas who pump have the added stress of seeing just how many ounces are coming out. And when that number waivers at all, we immediately worry that something is wrong. It sucks, but it’s reality.

    Another thing to consider… if a mama is not pumping exclusively (just for work or to build a small stash), some LCs recommend waiting to start pumping with regularity until 6 weeks postpartum for a variety of reasons. Always remember to consult an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) for any questions.

  2. I’ve almost exclusively pumped with all three of my children (I’m actually pumping right now!) and I 100% agree with everything here!

  3. How early can someone start pumping if they want to start a stash?

    • Vanessa -

      I think there are several different opinions on this, I know Alex mentioned that some Lactation Consultants recommend waiting until at least 6 weeks before pumping. It’s definitely a personal one because waiting 6 weeks never would have worked for me, I had to be back at work at 6 weeks (sadly!). I started pumping when both of my little ones were about 1 week old. I would always feed first and then pump after a full feeding. I generally had the best output in the morning, so I started only pumping once or twice a day after a morning and evening feeding. For me, it worked out wonderfully because I was able to increase my stash and increase my supply – I was able to respond easily to the pump by the time I had to go back to work.

      I started exclusively pumping when both of my boys were around 6 months, so for me pumping early on didn’t necessarily “take over” feeding from the breast as well. Again, it’s up to you! From my experience with the Lactation Consultants at Children’s Hospital Colorado, my understanding was that starting early can be very beneficial, many of the mamas these LCs work with need to start pumping at the hospital, so I don’t know that there are any hard a fast rules of how early is too early.

      • Hi Vanessa, Corey has pretty much said what I would say. I wish there was a cut and dry rule on pumping that worked for everyone. For me, I had to start pumping when my son was 1 week old because he was in the NICU. Once he was home, I would pump after nursing times a day. I must have pumped either too long or too often because I ended up with a very painful oversupply. My oversupply also led to an imbalance of foremilk and hindmilk, which made my son very gassy. An oversupply sounds great in theory, but it comes with its own set of issues.

        If you will be pumping exclusively, then I think pumping early is a good idea. If I could go back and do it again with nursing and pumping only at work, I think I would have stopped pumping after that 1st week, and waited a few weeks until we got a good latch going and a good routine. Then I would have started pumping slowly, like once a day, to build a stash. It would have been less stressful for sure. I also didn’t go back to work until my son was 12 weeks old, which helped!

        Best of luck!

  4. I’ll chime in too :) I built a stash early with both of my kiddos. Going out with my hubby and leaving the kids with sitter was important to me, as well as preparing for going back to work or just being able to leave to do errands and know that he could have a bottle.
    With B, he had a 7 p.m. bedtime early on (by 2 months), so I pumped once a day when I went to bed around 10 p.m. With my younger son, it’s working out better to feed him in the morning on one side and then to pump the other side. I’m able to bank about 3-4 oz. a day. Good luck!

  5. My daughter was a scheduled c.section three weeks early. I was a first time mom and a clueless one at that, she did not latch at all until the day she would have been 40 weeks. If I had been more informed, I would have started pumping regularly the day she was born, instead she had formula a lot during that time. The formula did NOT hurt my baby’s development one bit…but I would have liked her to have breastmilk only.

  6. I wish I had some these tips when I was breastfeeding and I wish I had a better pump.

  7. I started pumping almost as soon as I came home from the hospital, but as others said, it was after feeding. I went back to work at 8 weeks and pumped at work (and on weekends) for the whole first year. One thing I like to say that you don’t see too often on breastfeeding tips – if you’re lucky enough to be overly successful at pumping, look into breast milk donation. I don’t remember where I first heard about it, but ending up donating a lot of ounces and still had plenty for my girls. But if you do donate, you have to be careful about tip #4 – the place I donated to didn’t want anything if you’ve used supplements.

  8. I am going to be a first time mom and do intend to breastfeed and pump. You mentioned you usually wait until you have 8 bags full before you freeze them, in the mean time do you just store them in the fridge ? How long can bags of breast milk stay in the fridge before they go bad ?

    • Hi Nicole!

      I’m sorry, I realize that wasn’t very clear as I posted it. I generally would always freeze a bag of milk with 4-8 oz of milk in it. So as soon as I had a bag of 4+ ounces I would immediately label it and freeze it (always within 12 hours). Once I had 8 bags of frozen milk I would put them in a Ziplock bag and bring them down to the deep freezer in the basement that I used to store milk. If you don’t have a deep freezer I would still recommend storing 6-8 bags of frozen milk together in a gallon Ziplock bag because it is easier to keep your dates organized that way!

      Let me know if that makes any more sense. Feel free to let me know if you have any other questions!! Good luck mama :)

      • Oh and side note, I would always freeze milk as soon as possible if you aren’t going to use it within 1-2 days. Freshly pumped milk is good in the refrigerator for 3-5 days so if you will use it in that time it’s definitely better not to freeze as freezing destroys some of the antibodies. If you do plan to freeze, I would do it as soon as possible!

        KellyMom has some great storage and handling tips as well :)
        http://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/milkstorage/milkstorage/

        Hope this helps!

  9. Having a manual pump too is great advice! I always kept mine with me in case I ended up someplace and couldn’t use the electric pump. I’d also recommend talking to your employer BEFORE you go on maternity leave about time and space for pumping…they will be much more cooperative when you come back if you prepare them ahead of time :)

  10. I’m breastfeeding my seven week old son and need to start saving milk, I was trying to Pump every two hours but I wasn’t getting milk back in enough time to feed my son when he woke up if I start pumping three times a day how long should i pump for on each breast

    • Hi Amber! Thanks for the comment and congrats on the birth of your little boy! When I was working on building a stash while on maternity leave, I would pump for about 10 minutes (both breasts at once) roughly 1 hour after I nursed my son. I did this about 3 times a day. He typically nursed about every 3 hours, so for me that was enough time to be sure there was more milk once he was hungry again. Sometimes he would fall asleep after nursing on only one side or after just a couple of minutes on one side. When he did that, I tried my best to pump the side that he didn’t nurse much from right when he was done… sometimes that meant I pumped one side while he slept on my other arm. :-)

      In the beginning I was only getting an ounce or so total each time I pumped (if that!), but once I was doing it more often, basically telling my breasts to produce more milk than my son was drinking, I saw better output from the pump.

      Also, I saw better results if I pumped at night and in the mornings. For some reason prolactin levels (the protein that tells our bodies to make milk) are highest at night and right after we wake up in the morning. So I tried my best to pump in the mornings and at night when I could.

      Best of luck!!

  11. these are great tips. i have pumped for both of my first two babies and am pregnant with the third. these are all fantastic tips and great advice for moms. i also have the medela double electric breast pump and it has paid for itself (at least a couple of times!!) – well worth the money. and definitely having extra parts is essential to avoid that “near-exploding” experience of running to a drug store with leaky breasts!
    Another suggestion for some is that if they are blessed with an extra milk supply, they can donate their extra milk to the national milk bank registry. you must first get blood tests and then be approved, but it’s a great help. the breast mile\k goes to a national breast milk bank that is given to hospitals across the country for babies in the NICU. It also pays ($$) if you are able to provide them with a certain quantity within a certain period of time, which can pay for your pump..

    thanks again for the great article.
    Crystal

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  14. This is so helpful! Thank you for such a explicit post!

    http://www.aznannies.com

  15. Great advice! When my daughter was born, she was unable to latch correctly. After 3 weeks, I switched to exclusively pumping to feed and continued for 15 months. I loved pumping and it just became part of my daily routine. Some things that helped me express the most milk and maintain my supply was breast massage during my sessions. My LC suggested circle like massage starting at the outer part of the breast and work down towards the nipple. Continue this motion all around your breasts for the last 5 minutes of your session and it helps you get a lot of the hind milk. The supplements did not work for me when my supply would dip, plus my daughter didn’t like the taste of my milk when I used them. My LC and my pediatrician recommended drinking 1-3 cans a day of non-alcoholic beer. The yeast in beer helps with supply. Also, increase pumping sessions for an addition 5-10 minutes. This was my go to fix when my supply would get low. I’ve had varying opinions thrown at me about being an exclusively pumping mom, but all that mattered to me was that my daughter be exclusively fed breast milk. I’ve known a few struggling breast feeding mothers who didn’t know exclusively pumping was a viable option. So information like what is posted here is such a wonderful thing. It’s been 10 years since I was a pumping mother and I still miss it. I’m now working on my education and training so I can become a Lactation Consultant, that’s how much I still love it!

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  17. I wanna cry just reading this article. I had very little milk for either of my kids, despite doing everything in my power to make it happen. I had my first at the hospital, and they took her away from me when she developed Jaundice. At the time, they told me that formula was absolutely essential to overcome Jaundice (um, huge lie. I’m all for everyone choosing the birth and parenting path that’s right for them, but I don’t understand why so many people spread such ridiculous “info” at hospitals sometimes. why?), so by the time she was exclusively breastfeeding, she was impatient at having to work harder for her food. I continued to breastfeed and give her my milk through a bottle when necessary. I started my period again at 4 months and my supply just DROPPED. Like, GONE. I began taking all the supplements mentioned above, eating two bowls of oatmeal a day, and pumping around the clock. I still dried up, and from about four months on, my daughter drank formula. The second time around, with my son, my milk came in but again, it wasn’t much. I had researched the topic extensively this time around, and had given birth to him at home to try and keep intervention at a minimum. Funny part? He started getting a little jaundice within a few hours, but I continued to do what my midwife told me to and it cleared up perfectly in a day or two. No long sessions under the billy rueben lights, etc. I was feeling pretty good by this point. He was exclusively breastfeeding, and my lactation consultant said his latch was great. However, I still developed overly sore nipples. They cracked and looked as if they might actually fall off. A large chunk of one of them did, and I was unable to ever wear clothing or sleep with a blanket over my breasts due to the pain, so I went to exclusively pumping because it did less damage. I did great for a while, but still struggled to produce anywhere close to what most of you are talking of here. And then, at 8 weeks, my period came back. I had been pumping 7 times a day for 20 minutes or longer each time since he was born, and now I was working even harder. I again tried all the supplements and all the tricks I could pour over in books and on the internet, and I still dried up. I just went to formula a couple weeks ago and I’m really quite sad about it. Devastated. I can’t believe how much I was pumping. I was eating well, drinking enough, you name it. Everything. And still, I’d pump for even 30 minutes and all I’d produce was a half ounce, total, on both sides. It’s been really difficult for me. I had a great pump, a supportive husband, and I work from home because I’m self-employed, so I didn’t have the added stress of that. Sometimes things just don’t work the way they should. Anyone who is reading this who feels like they “made a mistake” or they “must have done something wrong” because it didn’t work for you…don’t kill yourself over it. You’re a wonderful mom for just caring that much! XOXO, Bekah

  18. How were you able to get into the routine of only pumping three times a day? I was lucky with my first baby and was able to exclusively breast feed and only pumped for his Daddy to get the bonding time. With this pregnancy I have a different job where I’m working 6-2 so I have no choice but to pump :/

    • Hi Melissa,
      I didn’t write this article, but I will jump in and say that I also only pumped 3 times a day at work. I wouldn’t have been able to pump any more than that since I teach and would not have had covered breaks at a consistent time. I pumped before my kids got there, during my special and during my lunch. My little guy was 6 months old though when I returned to work. Best of luck to you – pumping is no fun, but you’re in good company :)

  19. Just a reminder – do not start pumping BEFORE you deliver! This will induce labor and you can deliver a premie and may end up in the NICU.
    I started pumping once I got home from the hospital with all 3 pregnancies (twins!). Establish that milk supply and drink LOTS of Water!

  20. So be realistic, but show women a fridge full of more milk than many could ever dream of? Way to help set the realistic bar.

    • I’m sorry Christina that you feel that way. But a full fridge of milk IS some women’s reality. Unfortunately it’s a lot tougher for other mamas, but keep in mind this was a picture from a mama that exclusively pumped for her little ones AND had an over-supply. So this was HER reality!

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  22. What if you want to increase supply and you’re already at the six month mark? My baby has had breastmilk exclusively and we are just starting to introduce solids. But my supply has dipped so much since going back to work (at 14 weeks) that I’m really struggling. I was given a prescription for Reglan and that’s the only thing that has helped a bit… (And I tried it all!) how can I begin exclusively pumping now and really building a stash? (Everything I read says start at birth and that ship has sailed.

    • Hi Jenn, there’s no perfect answer for what you’re trying to do as the results are going to be different for every mama. It’s not uncommon for some mamas to see a decrease in milk supply when they go back to work since not all of our bodies respond perfectly to the pump. I know more than one mama who wasn’t able to pump more than an ounce at a time and yet they had plenty of milk when they nursed. Can you nurse more when you are home? How’s your pump itself? Could you benefit from renting a hospital-grade pump for a while? Since you’ve already tried everything else to up your supply, is there a way you can get some Domperidone? I’ve heard it can have good results in mamas but it’s not easy to get in the US.

      Most of all, lots of hugs and love to you. Pumping and working is hard all on its own. Adding supply issues to that and it’s the kind of worry that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Know that you’re not alone mama!

    • Hi Jenn – I returned to work the first time at the 9 month mark and wasn’t able to pump an ounce at a time (and this was after 8 months of pumping every night to build a freezer stash). My body just stopped responding to the pump – it’s like it knew I was going back to work and things were changing. My baby stopped caring as well, which is ultimately why we stopped…I couldn’t pump and he didn’t want to nurse. (I wrote about it here: http://www.mamasaywhat.com/self-weaning-before-a-year/) It sounds like since your baby is still interested that hopefully you can convince your body to do more. Some suggestions might be taking Fenugreek 3 times a day, drinking TONS of water, eating oatmeal for breakfast, having a dark beer, etc. I’d also check with a lactation consultant. Look into “power pumping” as well. Hang in there – pumping is no one’s favorite thing xoxo

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  24. Jenn- I understand the feeling of losing supply while pumping. Work and other stress definitely decreased my supply. I really noticed a dip when I dropped a pumping session when my baby was eating solids. Now, that I’m pregnant with my second and plan to pump for a year again, I won’t drop my pumping sessions as early. Would it be possible for you to add one during the day? Even a 5-10 minute pump may help your body make more later. I also drank Mother’s Milk Tea in the pic above every morning at work instead of coffee and I think that helped me. I hope I’m not repeating ideas you’ve already tried. Hopefully Alex and Mary Ellen’s tips will help you as well. I think one big thing that helped me relax and pump in a work setting is to read a magazine or a book. I’ve got the whole The Mortal Instruments series to help me pump at work for baby #2! Being able to relax is a big help for me. Good luck with pumping. Also, if you have to supplement with formula it is ok. I did and I don’t feel guilty that I couldn’t pump 100% of what my baby needed to eat. Whatever you end up doing is just fine. :)

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  26. Hi,
    Great tips, I am just not sure about leaving a pair of extra parts in the car… its very hot where I leave I would be afraid of them getting damaged … other than that great!

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