Every breastfeeding mama knows that more likely than not, she’ll need to pump at some point.1
Whether you’re gearing up to go back to the office (or working from home but sending your baby to daycare), going out for a much-needed night out, traveling without your baby, or trying to boost your breastmilk supply by activating your body’s supply-and-demand process, breastfeeding doesn’t always involve your little one.
No matter what your reason for pumping, we’ve got some breast pumping tips to make the process as smooth as possible.
When and why you might pump
There are many scenarios that might have you reaching for your breast pump.
- Your maternity leave is ending, and either you’re heading back to the office, or you’re working from home but sending your baby to daycare or a relative so you can focus on your job.
- You’re going out for a longer stretch of weekend errands or a fun night out (you deserve it, mama!), and your baby is exclusively breastfed. You need breastmilk on hand for whoever is watching the baby, and you’ll likely need to pump while you’re away to keep your milk supply up and ease any discomfort when your breasts fill up.
- You have a business trip or event out of town and aren’t bringing your little one. (Some women breastfeed for over a year – it’s bound to be a possibility!)
- Your baby has consistently struggled to latch and get enough breastmilk by nursing or is unable to nurse for another reason, but you still want to feed them breastmilk, so you’re exclusively pumping.
- You’re trying to boost your breastmilk supply by signaling to your body that it needs to produce more milk.2
Whatever your reason, a breast pump can offer an opportunity to continue your breastfeeding journey even when you don’t have the chance to nurse consistently.
Breast pumping tips
Breast pumping can be a clunky, uncomfortable, and time-consuming task if you don’t take care to set yourself up for success. But with a few quick tips, you can make pumping more than just tolerable – you might even find it to be a semi-pleasant part of your routine.
Here are some of our favorite pumping hacks:
- First thing’s first: Choose the right pump for you.3 There’s a lot to consider, including price, which pumps your health insurance plan covers4, electric vs. manual operation, portability, comfort, how often you plan to pump, and whether the sound matters to you (some pumps are louder than others).
Think about where and when you will be pumping to determine what combination of factors will work best for you. If you will be traveling or going to the office, portability might be a key factor. You might want to find a smaller pump that fits comfortably into a bag and doesn’t weigh too much.
If you have a long commute and are considering pumping while you drive, you might look for a breast pump with an option to hook up to a car via an adapter or that operates by battery. It should definitely be hands-free and have the ability to make it through your entire drive so you aren’t worrying about spilling or running out of power.
You might also want to consider having an extra pump handy, keeping a manual pump in your diaper bag or purse for unexpected engorgement, and having key backup parts available – not just in case something breaks or goes missing, but also to give you the occasional reprieve from constant cleaning and sanitizing.
- Invest in a good pumping bra. The last thing you want to do when you have the forced (relative) break of pumping is to have to hold the flange to your breast. A comfortable hands-free pumping bra allows you to pump both sides at once to save you time and frees up your hands to do other things.
If you’re feeling productive, you can use your pumping sessions to check emails or wash dishes. If you want to rest (you certainly deserve to!), you can scroll through your phone, read a book or magazine, do some online shopping, eat, or simply relax knowing you’re more or less stuck and might as well enjoy it.
Either way, a comfortable pumping bra can hold the flanges in place for you so you don’t have to.
- Use pumping lube for a smoother experience. While you don’t have to worry about a shallow latch or getting bitten when pumping, you’re not totally in the clear of minor pains. The plastic flange of a breast pump can rub and leave you feeling a little sore. Using pumping lubricant reduces friction to make pumping more comfortable.
Too late to prevent achy nipples? A safe nipple balm can offer soothing relief after the fact.
Another thing to consider: breast shield size. The breast shield, or flange, is the part of the pump that covers your nipple to express milk from your breast. The shield creates a seal around your areola to allow for the suction necessary for your pump to work.
A flange that is too small for your breasts can exacerbate chaffing issues or even cause pain. The flange of your pump should fit snuggly enough to create a seal for proper suction, but it should allow your nipple to sit centered in the flange and move freely during pumping without rubbing against the sides.5
- Set up a comfortable pumping station: If you’re going to be pumping fairly regularly, a pumping station can make a big difference in turning what could feel like a drag into a mini escape.
Find a private space (this could be the nursery or somewhere else with a door), and make sure you have a comfortable place to sit and pillows to prop yourself up depending on what works best for you. Be sure you position your pump near an outlet, even if it’s battery-operated. The last thing you need is to run out of power when your breasts are ready to burst.
Keep water and some healthy snacks handy, and arm yourself with entertainment, like books, magazines, or a tablet. A tablet and/or cell phone charger is a good idea, too.
If you have older children, it might be helpful to keep a small bin of toys for them nearby in case they find you.
You’ll also want a washcloth in your station in case of accidental spillage, as well as a backup shirt. If you’re not already wearing a pumping bra, keep one with your pump. We also recommend having a stack of nursing pads ready for after you’re done.
One more note: If your baby isn’t nearby when you’re pumping, keep a photo of them in your station (or at least on your phone). Some moms find they get more milk out of a pumping session when they can see their baby, as you need oxytocin (the hormone released when you feel love for someone) to have a let-down.6,10
- Stick to a schedule: Try to keep a consistent pumping/nursing schedule to keep your milk supply up. Your exact schedule depends on whether you’re exclusively pumping or supplementing, how old your baby is, or whether your supply seems to be dropping, but the general rule of thumb for a newborn is to feed them about every three hours.7
If you’re away from home for a longer period of time, you might want to keep nursing pads and a hand pump with you in case of leaking or uncomfortable engorgement.
- Entertain the kids: If this is not your first child, and your older kids are home when you need to pump, find ways to keep them entertained while you’re tied up.
We already mentioned keeping a box of special toys handy in case they come to you, but you can also set them up with an activity, books, or a little bit of screen time to allow you to relax and get optimal breastmilk flow.
- Stimulate the flow: Speaking of flow, you can help get the milk going by taking a couple of steps at the start of each pumping session. This is especially useful if you have a harder time with let-down.
Applying some heat to your breasts before starting – through gentle massage, a warm washcloth, or warm compresses – can improve the flow of milk and stimulate let-down.8
- Keep your pump pieces clean: Perhaps the most tedious part of pumping is cleaning up after, but it’s important to keeping your pump working properly and preventing buildup of breastmilk.
Once you’ve taken care of storing your breastmilk, you’ll want to clean up your pumping area and then take apart your pump pieces to inspect, clean, and disinfect all removable parts.9 Rinse off any breastmilk right away, and then use a wash basin to scrub each piece with a brush that you only use for pump pieces and baby bottles. Then rinse and air dry completely. (Follow your manufacturer’s instructions regarding whether you can use a dishwasher.)
- Boost your supply: Get the most out of your pumping sessions by using a lactation support drink mix to help boost your breastmilk supply. You can also check out our previous blog post on increasing milk supply here.
Another tip some moms use to boost supply is to slip a baby sock over each bottle they are pumping into so they can’t see the milk gathering. If your breastmilk supply stresses you out, in can interfere with the release of oxytocin necessary for a strong let-down, which can have an adverse effect on your supply. Hiding your progress can help alleviate that stress.10
- Store your breastmilk properly: If you are building up a breastmilk supply, you’ll want to pour the milk from the bottles that attach to your pump into breastmilk storage bags.
Be sure to label the bags before adding milk, noting the date and amount. (Some moms also like to note whether the milk was pumped in the morning or evening, as the makeup of your breastmilk changes slightly throughout the day and may have an impact on your baby’s circadian rhythms.11) Then store them in the freezer, lying them flat until they’ve frozen to conserve space. Once they’ve frozen, you can add them to the rest of your stored supply as if they’re file folders – standing up, with the oldest milk in front and the newest milk in back.
Another helpful tip: Be sure to fill a few bags to only one or two ounces so you have the option for a top-off when your baby isn’t quite satisfied by one bottle but doesn’t need a full second one.
Pumping is part of the breastfeeding journey, but it doesn’t have to be unpleasant. With a little bit of preparation and care, it can give you a chance to rest while doing something beautiful for your sweet babe.
1Journal of Perinatology: Which breast pump for which mother: and evidence-based approach to individualizing breast pump technology
2Children’s Health: How to increase milk supply when pumping
3Healthline: The Best Breast Pumps for 2022 – and How to Choose One
4HealthCare.gov: Breastfeeding benefits
5Babylist: What are Breast Shields & Why is Finding the Right Size so Important?
6KidsHealth: Breastfeeding FAQs: Pumping
7Healthline: A Complete Guide to Pumping Breast Milk for Your Baby
8VeryWell Family: How to Increase Breast Milk Supply by Pumping
9Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How to Keep Your Breast Pump Clean
10Today: This viral pumping hack is helping moms make more milk
11Today’s Parent: Giving your baby morning breastmilk at bedtime might be ruining his sleep