Congratulations! You’ve made it through those first few weeks with your newborn and he’s thriving on your breast milk. You’ve established your good milk supply during those important first two weeks by nursing your baby at least 8 to 12 times in 24 hours and sometimes even more often than that. You and your baby have gotten to know each other quite well as you’ve learned how to breastfeed together. Now your mind has turned to thoughts of you or someone else being able to offer your baby a bottle of your expressed breast milk.
Although the idea of breast pumping has been around for a very long time, the apparatus for doing so has changed quite dramatically over recent years. This even includes small, interchangeable computer chips in the more sophisticated, hospital-grade electric pumps. These high-tech pumps have been a blessing for the many moms who’ve given birth prematurely and had to pump to supply their tiny infants with precious colostrum and then breast milk. However, not all moms who want to express their milk with a pump require all the “bells and whistles” to do the job. There are several reputable companies who make efficient, high-quality breast pumps. These are the same companies from which hospitals rent or purchase their pumps. Look for pumps made by these companies and usually you won’t go wrong with your pump. If you’re looking for a pump just to express an occasional bottle then a single electric pump may be enough. If you’re planning on returning to work and pumping more regularly to provide milk for your baby as well as maintain your supply then a good double electric pump is what you’ll probably want to purchase. If you have questions regarding the best pump for your personal use talk to a lactation consultant who can guide you in the right direction.
It’s usually a good idea to wait until your baby is at least 3 weeks old before initiating pumping and storing your milk. This will give you ample time to establish a good milk supply as well as feel confident about it. There is no one particular time that’s more correct than another for pumping. Your own specific circumstances will dictate when you pump. Many moms notice that they have more milk during the morning hours. This is due to the normal fluctuations in their milk-making hormone. If this is the case, then perhaps pumping one hour after a morning feeding will work for you. Another option is pumping one breast while your baby is nursing on the other. The baby’s suckling can actually help you to express more milk with the pump as the baby elicits your let-down reflex. This releases the milk while he’s at your breast. If your baby takes a 4-hour nap around the same time each day you can pump at least one time during that period. Some moms pump right before they go to bed or in the middle of the night if they wake up with full breasts. Finally, try to pump at work in place of nursing to help maintain your milk supply and provide for the next day’s bottles while you’re away. No matter when you pump it should not be painful. If problems arise with pumping be sure to call a lactation consultant for help. Often times a simple adjustment of the pump or pump parts can alleviate the difficulty.
Many moms new to pumping wonder how much milk they will be able to express. Several factors can determine the amount of milk obtained. Things such as the time of day you’re pumping, how soon after nursing your baby you pump, the amount of sleep or rest you are getting, your diet, your level of relaxation when pumping and importantly, your baby’s age and strength of sucking can be reflected in the amount of milk you’re able to express. One thing to remember is that a 7 pound infant isn’t going to require as much milk as a 10 pound baby. As your baby grows your body adjusts your milk supply to meet those increased needs. This means that initially you may only be able to pump 2 or 3 ounces at a time because this is all your baby needs. If you need reassurance about this call a lactation consultant. She can help you determine the right amount of milk needed according to your baby’s weight.
Once milk is pumped its proper storage is important. Milk can be stored in glass or plastic bottles as well as milk storage bags, which are designed especially for this. Freshly expressed breast milk can be kept at room temperature lower than 78 degrees for 6 to 8 hours and breast milk in the refrigerator is good for up to 8 days. Store it in the back of the refrigerator, which is the coldest part. After 8 days unused milk should be discarded. If pumping at work you can store your milk in a small cooler using ice packs and then refrigerate or freeze the milk when you return home. When freezing breast milk, get it into the freezer within 24 hours after pumping. Once cooled, freshly pumped milk can be added to frozen milk. Breast milk is good in a refrigerator freezer for up to 3 months and up to 6 months in a deep freezer. Always time and date your pumped milk so that you use the oldest milk first. To thaw breast milk keep it overnight in the refrigerator or hold it under warm running water. Thawed milk can be refrigerated for 24 hours but never refrozen. Never defrost or warm milk in a microwave and as always, if you have any concerns or questions please call your lactation consultant.
Congratulations again! You’re now successfully pumping and storing your precious breast milk for your baby!