Pumping Breast Milk: How to Do It

Pumping (or “expressing”) breast milk allows busy moms to make sure their babies aren’t missing out on the benefits of breast milk. By setting up a supply of breast milk in the fridge or freezer, you can rest assured that your partner or another caregiver will be able to give your baby the best available nutrition. Let’s go through the facts on how to pump breast milk for storage.

Pumping breast milk by hand

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Learning to express breast milk by hand is a great skill for busy moms, and you may find it easier to do this rather than using a pump when you first try.

  • Step 1
    Prepare a clean, sterilized container to collect the milk.

  • Step 2
    To prevent injuring your nipples or breasts, make sure your nails are cut short. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water before you start, and wipe your nipples clean.

  • Step 3
    Cup one breast in your hand, just behind the areola (the dark part surrounding your nipple).

  • Step 4: Squeeze the area around the nipple gently, using your thumb and fingers to make a big letter “C” shape, and then release the pressure. Repeat the process rhythmically, and soon you should see drops of breast milk start to emerge.

  • Step 5
    Once the flow stops, move your fingers around to massage a different part of the breast or a different angle and repeat.

It may take a while to build up milk supply this way, but don’t give up: with practice you should be able to build up more of a flow. The trick is to be gentle and patient. Try to do this for about 15 to 30 minutes at a time, every few hours throughout the day.

Pumping breast milk with an actual pump

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Like hand-pumping, the trick here is not to put too much pressure on your breasts and nipples: just relax, and let your milk ducts do their job. It may be helpful to massage your breasts, periodically switch from one breast to the other, or slightly change the angle you’re pumping from. If you’re using an electric pump, make sure the suction isn’t turned up too high, or it could be uncomfortable.

The more often you pump, the more breast milk your body will make, so it’s good to get into the habit of pumping for 15 to 30 minutes every few hours. But if you’re not getting any milk released this way, don’t force it. Overdoing with either a manual or electric pump could hurt your nipples or milk ducts, so stop and take a rest if it doesn’t feel right.

Pumping breast milk for storage

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When you’re expressing breast milk, it’s a great way to build up your milk supply – but it’s important to store that supply safely to make sure your baby is getting the best nutrition available.

Specially-made milk storage bags that may attach to your choice of pump are popular options for moms on the go. Refrigerated breast milk will keep for 3 to 8 days, and can be frozen for 6 to 12 months. As long as you do it hygienically, this can help you build up a supply for well into the future.

Low supply when pumping breast milk: Is oxytocin the cause?

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Many moms who don’t have any trouble feeding their little ones from the breast find it’s much harder to express milk by pumping. The reason why? It seems to have a lot to do with your hormones. When your baby nurses, it stimulates nerves in the nipple, which causes the pituitary gland of your brain releases a burst of the “love hormone”, oxytocin.

Oxytocin is what gives you the warm fuzzies when you see, hear, and think about your baby – and importantly, it triggers the let-down reflex that releases milk from your breast. A breast pump isn’t nearly as cute as your baby, and doesn’t necessarily stimulate the nipples in the same way, so it may be harder for body to get the hint and release the oxytocin needed for milk let-down.

It can be frustrating if you’re not expressing as much as you want to store, but stress can actually make it harder for you to produce and release breast milk. Instead, try thinking of pumping as a moment for you to unwind. It may help to look at a picture or a video of your baby, or listen to music to help you relax and promote milk flow.

Pumping breast milk is a great skill for busy families

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Everybody (and every body!) is different when it comes to breastfeeding and breast-pumping, so what helps another mom express a healthy amount of breast milk might not necessarily work for you. But don’t lose heart if you’re having trouble at first.

Speak to your pediatrician or midwife to help you find a way to pump and store breast milk that works for you. Although it might be tricky to get the hang of pumping breast milk at first, many moms would agree that the health and developmental benefits that breast milk offer makes pumping worth it.