Are you looking for advice on how to use a breast pump? Maybe you’ve tried out your new pump and concerned you’re not getting any milk, or you want to know that basics before buying a breast pump. It can all be very confusing, especially if you’ve never used a breast pump before. Don’t worry Mama Milk have you covered, in this article we’ll discuss:
- What to expect
- When to use a pump
- How to prepare
- How to use your breast pump
- Tips to relax
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What to Expect from a Breast Pump
The first time you use a breast pump it’s common to collect only a few drops of milk, or nothing at all. This might make you think you’re doing something wrong or that the breast pump is faulty. Using a breast pump is a new parent skill you need to learn, just like changing a nappy. Once you get the hang of the rhythm and pattern of a successful session you’ll be a pro in no time.
Your motto with a new pump should be ‘practice makes perfect’. The first few times you use your pump should be about familiarising yourself with how it works and not how much milk you’re getting.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you’re struggling ask for a helping hand from family, friends or breastfeeding support worker who have experience of using breast pumps.
When to Start Expressing Milk
As recommended above it’s important you are familiar with your pump and confident with using it. With this in mind you should practice using the pump in advance of when you need to start expressing milk. We recommend doing this at least a few days to a week before you need a full bottle of milk. That way if you don’t get a lot of milk in one pump, you can add all the small volumes from each session.
It’s best to do this for around 5-10 minutes a day and build up pump session overtime. This may not always be possible depending on your reasons for using a pump. We highly recommend it if you are pumping for the odd day out or returning to work, to identify any problems while using.
The best time of day to pump is quiet distraction free time. This leads to less frustration and interruptions which can effect milk flow. Have something to eat and drink beforehand as hunger and dehydration can affect how much milk you collect.
Breast Pump Preparation
1. Read the manual. Whether you’re using a manual or electric breast pump each brand will have different features. Having a good read of the manual will help you familiarise yourself with all the features. The manual will also help you assemble to pump correctly, as this can make a different to the pumps performance.
2. Clean the pump. It’s important to clean and sterilise all parts of the pump even before first use. Your breast milk should be as sterile as possible to prevent any bacteria getting into baby’s tummy.
3. Reset suction. To prevent damage to your breasts it’s important to start on a low suction and build up to a comfortable setting.
4. Correct fit. The plastic cup which you place your breast into should be comfortable to use when expressing. Your nipple should move free back and forth without pinching or large gaps. Some brands make larger and smaller breast shield sizes if required.
5. Create a vacuum. We recommend slightly wetting the skin on your breast before pumping. This help the shield stick to the skin and create a tight vacuum, offering a better pump.
How to use a Breast Pump
1. Wash your hands. Remember you are trying to keep the milk as sterilise as possible. If you have no access to soap and water, alcohol gel is a great substitute.
2. Help the flow. Great methods to get your breast milk flowing are gentle breast massage and heat therapy such as warmed breast pads or face cloths. Try this for 5 minutes before you start to use the pump.
3. Mimic your baby. When your baby feeds it starts with short quick sucks to stimulate the milk, then switches to long, slow sucks when the milk flows. If you copy this pattern with your pump you will get more milk during a pump session.
4. Get Comfy. You’ll know from your practice with the pump, which settings feel best for you. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking highest setting gets most milk. The most comfortable setting for you will get most milk.
5. Put your feet up. The more relaxed you are the more milk will flow. Check out our tips to help you relax below.
6. Pain is not gain. If you feel pain when pumping stop immediately. You can readjust the breast shield or suction setting and try again. If the pain continues you should ask a professional breastfeeding advisor for help. Poor pumping technique can cause irreversible damage to your breast tissue.
7. Wash up. Once your session is over, store your breast milk in the place most suitable for how quickly you need to use. Wash and sterilise are the part and store ready for next use.
How to help your Let Down Reflex
Learning to relax whilst expressing milk is the single most important factor to collecting as much milk as possible. If you don’t relax your brain won’t trigger the ‘let down reflex’ which release your milk. Here are our top tips to help you relax when pumping.
1. Find a comfortable place. A nice comfy chair in a warm, distraction free with everything at hand is best. For more ideas on how to do this check out our article on how to set up your own expressing nest.
2. Privacy. If you feel someone is going to walk in the room at any second you won’t be able to relax. Choose room with a locked door is you have guests. If this isn’t possible a well place shawl and back facing the door can prevent any embarrassment for both parties.
3. Pass the time. Whether it be your phone, TV or a magazine use the time to chill for half an hour. You’ll be so distracted you won’t need to watch the collection bottle.
4. Keep busy. If you’re they type who can’t stay still for too long the thought of doing nothing whilst you express can make you anxious. We suggest buying a hand free expressing bra and a portable breast pump, that way you can still do chores or work whilst you pump.
5. Think of baby. Your brain releases a happy hormone (oxytocin) when you think of your baby. If baby isn’t around whilst you express, a photo, sound recording, baby’s scent or visualisation can help increase your milk flow.