I’ve donated 350,000 oz. of breast milk—here are my best pumping tips
Thanks to hyperlactation syndrome, I’ve been pumping for 8 years—though not by choice.
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It’s never too early to learn about pumping and never too late to start or support your pumping journey. Pumping can look different to everyone—it can be an empowering option for autonomy, a medical necessity, a bridge to feed your little one while you are away, and the freedom to leave your little one with all they need for a date night or trip.
I’m the Director of Lactation Services at BabyBuddha, mother of three, and I have been pumping for over eight years—though not by choice. I have a rare medical condition called hyperlactation syndrome, where my body produces excess milk-making hormones, which means I produce an excess milk supply. I currently produce around 200 ounces of milk/day and pump approximately 6 to 8 times/day. This volume of milk is far from the norm—I donate my extra liquid gold to little ones worldwide (350,000 ounces and counting!)—but I mention it to convey that I have a lot of pumping experience and want to share my expertise. In fact, I hold the Guinness World Record for the largest donation of breast milk by an individual.
Here are my best pumping tips to help make your own pumping routine a little easier.
Tips for exclusively pumping
Let’s look at some guidelines if you are exclusively pumping to help with pump session planning.
If you are just starting out, it’s important to establish your milk supply and work closely with a lactation professional who supports your personal goals. Your healthcare provider or baby’s pediatrician may be able to make a recommendation.
The first 12 weeks postpartum, your body is working hard with natural hormones to initiate and control milk production. The body works off a supply and demand routine—where the demand is coming from hand expression or pumping, and the body is using the hormones released from that stimulation to supply the milk.
Typically, within the first 12 weeks, you want to pump every 2 to 3 hours during the day and 1 to 2 middle of the night sessions. This mimics a typical feeding schedule for a newborn, and a good rule of thumb would be to have a pumping session for every feed your baby takes in a day.
Related: Exclusively pumping is still breastfeeding, mama—and here are 5 ways to make it easier
When to pump throughout the day
When trying to determine when to pump, I usually recommend that a pumping session takes place either during or after a feeding for the baby.
Pumping during a feeding may take more practice at first, but it is possible and allows you to multitask while spending time with your little one.
After a feeding is also an ideal time because your baby is full and may be asleep, so you can get set up and pump knowing your little one is doing well. You can then take the milk from that pumping session to set up the baby’s next meal.
It can be incredibly helpful to reduce stress by implementing this method and staying ahead of a hungry baby—anything to reduce stress is helpful for your milk supply and overall well being.
Related: To my wife who is exclusively pumping: I am in awe of you
Tips for non-exclusive pumping
If you are pumping occasionally for needs such as date nights or maintaining your supply while at work and your body responds really well to nursing, but not as well with a pump, do not panic! This can absolutely be normal. A pump is essentially a fake baby and our bodies know the difference.
A few things that can be helpful during pump sessions (in addition to the tips for exclusively pumping above) are to watch videos of your baby during pump sessions or have pictures to look at in your pump bag. These can trigger the oxytocin release needed for milk production and letdowns.
Additional stimulation can be helpful during sessions; the two most effective ways are by hands-on massage and adding vibration with lactation massagers.
With every routine, flexibility is of utmost importance. Motherhood is a rollercoaster of changes, so remember to be kind to yourself as you navigate settling into a new routine.
Related: To the mama with low milk supply: You are resilient and more than enough
Pumping equipment and tools
The equipment you use for pumping can optimize and elevate your pumping routine as well. It can mean the difference between being plugged into an outlet, unable to move without stopping a session, or being able to multitask on the go.
Consider a portable pump: When I first started pumping eight years ago, there weren’t many mobile pump options and none that were as strong or reliable as the plug-in offerings. I was stuck with what felt like a ball-and-chain. Now, there’s an incredible mobile pump option that changed my life completely: the BabyBuddha Portable Breast Pump. It’s smaller than a smartphone, lightweight and quiet, which means I’ve been able to watch movies in the theater, go to concerts, and even walk around Disney World with my family without worrying about messing up my schedule, missing a pumping session, or being tethered to a wall.
Check your flanges: Making sure your flange sizing is correct is highly important. A lactation consultant can help assess if you’re using the proper size.
Keep in mind that flange sizing changes throughout your journey. You might be a larger size right after giving birth, and then need to size down the further postpartum you get. Flange sizing should be assessed anytime there are issues with nipple damage, milk supply, or any other changes that pop up.
Use lubricants to chafing and chapping: Once you’ve checked to make sure you’re using the proper flange size, to make pumping more comfortable, I recommend using a pumping lubricant, such as organic lanolin-free nipple cream, or coconut oil within the flange to help reduce friction and allow for smoother milk removal.
A little goes a long way: Apply to the nipple itself, and/or the inside of the flange tunnel. Try to avoid the areola or flange bell. If you’re experiencing pain with pumping, do seek out an assessment from a lactation professional to help assess your situation before it develops into something more serious.
Related: To the donor milk moms of the world—you are my hero
3 pumping pro tips
- Always try to set yourself up for success by preparing for the next feed or assembling clean pumping parts so they are ready to grab and go
- Remember to plug in your pump after a session or two so it’s fully charged for the next use as well
- Keep a pumping caddy or station stocked with water and snacks for nursing as well as with your pumping equipment for an on-the-go session
Above all, love your journey, no matter what it looks like—it is yours and it is beautiful.
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