If you’ve never pumped breast milk before, it might seem a bit daunting at first. Going back to work on top of that can be even more overwhelming.
The good news is that there are more resources now than ever before for those who choose to pump breast milk. And today’s advanced pumping equipment means more efficient pumps, more options for you to choose from, and quicker pumping times.
Benefits of Pumping at Work
When you pump breast milk you can continue to provide your milk to your baby, keeping them healthy. In addition, pumping helps you maintain your milk supply and allows you to store milk to use when you are away for feedings.
When Is the Best Time to Start Pumping?
This depends entirely on you and your situation. Some parents begin pumping right after their baby is born if they cannot breastfeed directly for any reason. For healthy, full-term babies, breastfeeding is typically well-established about 4-6 weeks after birth. If your baby breastfeeds well, pumping before this is not needed unless you will return to work before this time.
For those who are going back to work, it’s helpful to start preparing by beginning to pump about 2-3 weeks beforehand. This will give you time to figure out the most comfortable and efficient way to pump, and to create a small supply of stored breast milk for when you are away.
Tips for When You’re Ready to Start Pumping
Before You Start Pumping
- Choose a pump wisely. A good pump can express milk quickly and efficiently, so you can limit the time you spend pumping. And whether you pump often or not, you’ll want a breast pump that you like. Some insurance plans cover the cost of a breast pump. Milk collectors, milk savers, or milk suction devices are not recommended.
- Get familiar with your pump. Read the instructions carefully ahead of time. Take a look in advance at how all of the parts work together. This should help you avoid getting frustrated the first time you use your pump.
- Make sure the breast pump flange is a good fit. The flange is the funnel shaped part of the breast pump that comes in contact with your breast. If yours doesn’t fit well, it could create problems. Check the pump manufacturer’s instructions and fitting videos, or with a lactation consultant, if you think you might need a different flange.
- Consider a hands-free pumping bra. These bras are designed to hold your breast pump parts in place while you express breast milk. A pumping bra isn’t a necessity, but some parents like how it frees up your hands to do other things while you pump.
- Gather the supplies you’ll need while you’re pumping. Having things together before you start can make for an easier time pumping. Common items some like to have nearby include phone, water bottle, nipple cream, burp cloths, breast milk storage bags and cooler, healthy snacks, something to read, and something that reminds you of your baby.
Before You Go Back to Work
- Pump when it works well for you. You could start pumping once a day, and increase the amount based on how it’s working.
- Find a rhythm that works for you and your baby. It’s best to choose a time of day for pumping when your breasts have more “leftovers” after a breastfeed. This is usually earlier in the day.
- How much is enough? Base the amount of milk you store on your baby’s needs.
- For full-term infants not in a hospital setting, filling a freezer is not needed and should not be your goal.
- Have a goal of storing what your baby will need the first day you will be gone. For example, what you pump on day one will be fed on day two. This helps ensure your baby gets the freshest milk possible while you are away, without the pressure of “using up” older milk.
- Talk with a lactation specialist or your baby’s doctor about how much milk you really need to have.
- Too much pumping can lead to oversupply, plugged milk ducts, and mastitis.
- Find out more about your pumping rights. Federal Labor Laws require employers to provide pumping time for employees. Call your employer before you return to work to discuss your plans and how pumping will fit into your work time. There are resources for employers, too.
Pumping When You’re at Work
- Choose a quiet place where you can relax. When you are away from your baby, many parents find it helps to think about, look at pictures, or watch videos of their baby. This can help stimulate milk expression.
- Create a schedule that works well for you. Pump about as often as your baby would normally breastfeed. This is usually every 2-3 hours. Late to a session? Don’t worry; pump as soon as you can and again at your next normal pumping time.
- Set aside 20-30 minutes to pump. Allow about 15 minutes total for milk expression (pumping both breasts at the same time), plus time to get set up before and clean up afterward. Don’t pump too long for each session; when the milk stops flowing, then stop pumping.
- Breastfeed your baby directly at the breast when you are home. Your baby will help keep your milk supply at the level they need. A baby who eats effectively at the breast can get more when they feed than a pump does.
- Reach out for help if you’re struggling. If you have any problems or health concerns when you start adding pumping to your breastfeeding routine, talk to a lactation specialist or someone knowledgeable about breastfeeding.
Every woman’s journey with breastfeeding and using a breast pump is different. Fortunately, there are many resources for getting help. These Breastfeeding Resources for Patients and Families from the Cincinnati Children’s Center for Breastfeeding Medicine offer a wide variety of topics on both breastfeeding and using a breast pump. We wish you well as you get started on your journey!