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Sunday, January 7, 2018

the pumping process: a how-to for new moms or a reminder for seasoned mommas

I just finished pumping for another 13 month stretch with my third child. The pride at what an accomplishment that can be is something I'll never forget. I doubt anyone who has not pumped a day in his life would understand what a big thing this is, but certainly a mom who has pumped even one single day can relate.

My pumping journey has been all over the place. With my first son, he did not latch so we nursed for about 5 days and then I exclusively pumped for an entire year. That is nuts, as I look back and think about what a huge commitment that was; I'm most proud of that year. With my second, I prepared for pumping and nursing not to go well, and she surprised me- champion nurser I called her. It was a wonderful nursing experience. But because with #1 I was so used to pumping, I pumped frequently with my second and nursed only a few times a day, being so used to bottles it didn't bother me. With my third, he was again an amazing nurser and so we nursed more often than not. I pumped a few times a day and enjoyed nursing the most with this final baby, realizing how fleeting these moments are.

All three times I pumped at work, a difficult experience but one you can survive, I swear. So, I feel like an expert at pumping, I'll admit. It's an odd thing to be an expert at, but I've seen it, felt it and done it all I think as far as pumping goes. I hope these tips are helpful to you in your journey, however it works out.

You will want to start by getting the best breast pump you can find. Insurances are offering these now, free, for most, and that's an amazing thing. I did not have that option with my first two. The small Medela box insurance one is great, you will just need a bag to put it in. I used that one at home. I was given a backpack Medela pump from my sister-in-law and that was my favorite for going to work. It didn't look like anything but a backpack, was easy to carry, lightweight and worked great.

I know some say don't use a used pump, but I used two used pumps for over a year each and they were great. I bought all new tubing (Amazon, like $10-20!) and cones, cups, pump parts. The only thing used was the machine, which no milk goes through, so it's fine, in my opinion.

Here are a few things you'll want when setting up a pumping station.

  • Pumps- If you can manage having two, that's even better. I had one and then a friend lent me one with my third, it was a lifesaver so I could leave one pump set up at home, and take one to work on Monday, leave it there till Friday instead of taking it back and forth each day (pain!). 
  • Comfortable chair or spot to sit. In my old house, that was our living room couch with pillows on my back. In my new house, it was a rocking chair with pillow and ottoman to put the pump on. You will need something for your back so you aren't leaning over.
  • Burp cloths or towels- I put these under my bra so nothing leaked onto my clothing. 
  • Hands-free pumping bra- I used the Medela ones, they are a lifesaver. You will want one at home, one at work. 
  • Medela pump parts and bottles, covers- You will want plenty of these, at least eight in my opinion. You need four in the cooler to keep them stable, (see pic above), two in your pump bag, and of course a few will be at home. Keep extra yellow covers in your pump bag at all times in case you forget. You will want two sets of pump cone parts (one at home, one for work). 
  • Cooler and freezer ice pack- A must for work, but also just if traveling for the day.
  • Dr. Brown's bottles- These fit onto the pump parts from Medela, and they are larger for pumping first thing in the morning more output, as well as transporting to daycare.
  • Extra membranes- These are the small white plastic pieces that go inside the pump cone parts that you pump into. If they tear, even slightly (had this happen one time in three years of pumping, but it was awful!) then you can't pump. Have backup membranes in the pump at all times.
  • Lansinoh freezer bags- You will want lots of these at home. I loved them. Target brand I've heard is great, too. Medela work awesome, just more expensive. 
  • Ziplock bags or containers to stand up milk in freezer- Whatever works for you, I put my milk bags into ziplock bags and had a chest freezer. Others lay them flat into a tupperware plastic container. Whatever is easy for you.
  • Car adapter- these are fairly inexpensive. You will want these for on the go road trips or places where you lose electricity. A battery backup is helpful too for the pump for if you lose power.
  • Water and snacks- MUST HAVES. Get a big water bottle. Pumping is harder than nursing for most people. It takes a lot of energy and it's hard to keep up with what your child needs. Make sure you're hydrated. I had the rule of thumb that whatever came out of me (5 oz, 9 oz etc of breastmilk) I needed at least that, if not double, going back into me ASAP to replenish for the next pump/nurse session. 
The only difference from home to work is that you will need to make sure your pump station or area in your office or work place is sufficient, comfortable (as comfy as you can possibly get pumping at work! ug!) and secure (locked!) and covered (window poster needed perhaps). I put a do not disturb sign on the outside of my door, too, to remind people I'm busy in here, don't come in, even if it's locked. On your first few days to work, get there a few minutes early so you can observe your space, figure out your system of what will work best for you to pump easily and comfortably. 

So how do you pump? Make sure you start by getting a lesson while in the hospital, even if you don't anticipate needing to pump, get the lesson! It's hard at first. Or at least have a friend show you, even over their clothes, it's helpful to have some info from someone who knows how it works. 

Fit the cups to your breasts as best as you can figure out how to, sometimes you need to move them around to work better. Turn the power up slowly until it feels comfortable to you. 

A timeframe for pumping varies for women. For most it's every 2 hours in the beginning, getting to every 3 hours or so by about 12 weeks. Going longer is OK but uncomfortable and won't keep up your supply. The time of pumping varies also. My sister can produce 8 oz in about 5 minutes, whereas I would take probably 45 minutes to do that. A rule of thumb is pumping about 15-20 minutes every pump session after 12 weeks. In the beginning it'll take you longer, closer to 30 minutes to get the hang of it. 

  • Carefully remove the pump from the hands-free bra. 
  • Tip backward a bit to get every drop of milk. This is why a burp cloth or towel is helpful under the bra to catch any spill. 
  • Unhook from tubing. 
  • Carefully unscrew the top of the pump cones and combine milk into one bottle. Put yellow cover on top. Put into cooler ice pack bag or fridge. 
  • Rinse equipment under warm water and soap. Once a day scrub and really wash cleaner. Boil once a week in the beginning and as needed as time goes on. Some people put the pump parts in the fridge during the day, wash at night. Whatever works for you. A study did come out the past year though encouraging women to really use soap every time you pump. I never did that, just rinsed hot water each time, then washed thoroughly with soap at night, but the new recommendation is to really use soap.
It's a process! I would freeze milk about twice a week, every 3 days or so. I would combine milk from any sessions. I know some people have different ideas about this, but this worked for me. In the beginning I froze in increments of 2-4 oz. By 12 weeks my babies typically ate 4 oz every couple of hours. 

Hope this helps a little. It's a process you have to learn by doing, I think. Ask questions, talk to moms who have been there, and figure things out as you go along. Be CAREFUL not to spill the liquid gold as they call breastmilk, it's so valuable. You are working hard to produce it, be careful! 

Good luck! 


  1. Angela - I just went back to work on Friday. My little girl is 13 weeks. I’m a little overwhelmed by the pumping at work situation but know it will get easier as i go on. This was really helpful! Thank you!!!

    1. Thank you, so glad it helped a little. I remember how overwhelming it is just going back to work. I swear by week two you'll be in some type of routine, and it gets better each month! Hang in there. Feel free to ask me questions!