At one time or another, a breastfeeding mother may find that she needs to use a breast pump. If mom and baby are separated for any reason, whether baby has to stay in the NICU or mom has to go to work, a nursing mom will have to pump if she wants to continue feeding her baby breast milk. Some women pump to build up their supply or alleviate engorgement. In all of these scenarios lactation consultants can help. There's a lot of advice out there, but there are important things your lactation consultant wants you to know about pumping.
When I had my first baby, I was fortunate to have lactation consultants in my community that were very supportive of mothers that used a breast pump occasionally and exclusively. Early on I concluded that exclusive breastfeeding was not conducive to our lifestyle and decided that pumping was going to be integral if not imperative to our lives if I wanted to continue to feed my baby breast milk.
Just as breastfeeding mothers can experiences challenges or bumps in the road, so can mothers who pump. Romper asked certified lactation consultants what they feel is most important for pumping mamas to know. Here are eight important things to keep in mind when pumping from the experts.
1. Mother's Body Needs To Adjust To Pumping
"Pumping is mechanical and breastfeeding is natural," Sharon Birdseye, a registered nurse and registered lactation consultant at Lactation Consultants of Atlanta tells Romper. "The body has to adjust to the pump it's using."
She suggests that mothers should try to take their focus away from the pump and try to focus on their baby. They can do that by recording their baby's voice or cries, having a picture of their baby with them, or just trying to relax and possibly listening to some music.
2. Less Is More Sometimes
According to Kelly Mom, too-high suction settings or too-slow cycling settings can cause nipple pain or damage. And Birdseye agrees. "More suction doesn’t mean more milk output," she says. "Pressure of too much suction can actually inhibit milk release, rather than enhance it."
She adds that sometimes moms tempted to crank up the speed on their pumps because they have limited time due to work and life obligations, but automatically going to the highest setting isn't the most efficient way to pump. It also may be really harmful to the overall process.
3. Hospital Grade Pumps Are The Most Efficient
There are two different categories of pumps available to breastfeeding mothers. One is the professional-grade pump, or personal use pump, which is either electric or battery operated, small, and light weight. The other is a hospital grade pump which is pretty powerful, heavy duty, and way more expensive than a personal use pump. But they are worth it.
"Professional grade pumps don't necessarily work as good as hospital grade pumps," Birdseye says. "Hospital grade pumps can provide a greater level of efficiency and comfort."
Thankfully, many hospitals rent them to mothers who don't want to cough up thousands of dollars. There are pros and cons to both, that can vary person to person based on their lifestyle, but Birdseye believes hospital grade pumps are the way to go if you want to produce the most amount of milk in a shorter amount of time and with the most ease.
4. Proper Fitting Equipment Is Paramount
"How the pump parts fit the breast and support the breast, for maximum drainage, is very important," Stephanie Wagner, registered nurse and registered lactation consultant, tells Romper. She explains that the flange, or the part of the pump that supports a mom's nipple and areola during pumping comes in various sizes, shapes, and styles. A mom should make sure that the flange fit is good not just to be comfortable, but to allow for the most efficient milk removal in the breast.
"I think moms should have an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant observe them pumping, at least once, to make sure they have the best fit and technique in place," Wagner says.
5. How Much You Pump, Is NOT Your Supply
"I always want moms to know that pumping, or the amount of milk a mom gets out with a pump, is often not indicative of full milk supply in the breasts," Wagner says.
She explains that the way the breasts release milk into a pump can be quite different than the way they release to a baby latched to the breast. Some women's breasts release easily into the pump, and others don't. She uses the example that some women can get a whole meal for a baby in one pumping session and others might have to pump a few times to get one meal for a baby. Don't be discouraged though, Wagner says there are tricks and techniques that can help a mother's body release more efficiently
"Pumping, for a mom, can be a very different skill set than learning to feed her baby at her breast," Wagner says. "And that is OK."
6. Low Supply Is Real, But Most Often It Can Be Fixed
Low supply is a very real thing. Many women experience it temporarily, and some permanently.
I had a breast biopsy surgery on my right breast before I became pregnant with my first child. That breast notably lagged behind in supply compared to the other. For me personally, I found it too difficult and challenging for our life so I opted to exclusively pump for several months before I moved on to exclusive formula feeding.
The point is - it happens, but according to Kelly Mom, for some women low milk supply can be fixed and increased using a few techniques like nursing or pumping more frequently, using a supply and demand cycle instead of scheduling your baby's feedings, and using a galactagogue, which is a supplement that increases lactation.
7. It's OK To Ask People For Help
Pumping takes a lot of work and can be quite time consuming so now is the time to ask for help. Ask your friends, family, your partner to pitch in with pumping. The Baby Chick, an online motherhood community and lifestyle brand, had feasible suggestions including ask your partner to make you a meal while you're pumping, ask someone to clean your breast pump parts and equipment, and ask someone to watch your older children while pumping. Beyond asking for domestic help, the site also suggested that if a mom is unsure if they're pumping properly or in the most efficient way, they should seek help from a certified lactation consultant.
8. There Is No Shame In Pumping
None. There should absolutely be no shame for women who pump occasionally or pump exclusively.
The website Exclusive Pumping suggested that women who pump should find a support system so they can be informed and feel comfortable in their decision to pump. The site also mentioned that finding a lactation consultant that won't judge you or make you feel guilty for pumping is key to your pumping success.
Every mom is trying to do the best she can, and sometimes that means we need to seek reinforcement from a tribe or community. There are plenty of breast pumping online communities and groups that mothers can join to feel validated, empowered, and most of all supported.