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Pumping Breast Milk 101: Breastfeeding and Pumping Basics

Throughout your pregnancy you prepare for a lot of changes. Bringing a newborn into the world seems like a daunting task, but overtime, you’ll figure out what works best for you and your family. Pretty soon, you’ll have a schedule and things will start to seem less overwhelming. To help you maintain the calm and give you a break from nursing, it’s a good idea to consider breast pumping. Remember, all new moms are eligible to receive a breast pump through their insurance!

Breast pumping is a great way to supplement nursing as it provides your baby with the same essential nutrients and minerals they need to develop into a strong toddler. It also gives you a break every now and then along with the ability to return to work without having to deny your newborn breastmilk. However, as many new moms come to learn, breast pumping isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes some preparation and practice. In this article, we’ll go over all of the breastfeeding and pumping basics in a comprehensive guide to pumping breast milk 101.

Benefits of Breast Pumping

Before getting further into the logistics of breast pumping, it’s important to fully understand the benefits of doing so. A lot of women think that breast pumping will take away bonding time or cause nipple confusion, but that’s not necessarily true.

Breast pumping allows you to deliver breast milk at any time of the day, regardless of if you’re there or not. It improves your autonomy and allows you to go back to work, have a night out with friends, or simply split the workload between partners. Pumping also gives you an opportunity to build your milk supply and relieve engorgement. While nipple confusion is a possibility, there are plenty of ways to make sure that your baby will still latch and nurse.

When to Start Pumping

The next question many women have is when to start pumping, but there isn’t a straightforward answer. The answer really depends on you and your individual situation. Some women start to pump right after delivery while others wait a few weeks. If you have a baby who is premature or has special needs, your doctor will likely recommend that you start pumping immediately. You can also start pumping immediately if you want to get ahead on creating a breast milk supply. Pumping will not deter from breastfeeding as your body works on a supply and demand cycle.

If you want to wait a few weeks to start, that’s okay too. Newborns nurse a lot more frequently than a baby who is 4-6 weeks old so it can be difficult to find time to pump. Many new moms also cherish this time together, especially those who have a short maternity leave or need to return to work. If you plan to return to work, just make sure that you start breast pumping about two to three weeks beforehand to make sure that you have a good supply of milk at hand.

If you’re unsure about when to start pumping, talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant for advice that’s tailored to your circumstances.

How to Start Pumping

Whenever you do decide to start pumping, there are a few things that you should to do help increase the efficiency of your sessions and your comfort levels. First, make sure that you’re in a relaxed state—stress makes pumping difficult. Take a few deep breaths in a quiet room and try to clear your mind. Next, encourage letdown with a soft breast massage or a warm compress.

You’ll also need to make sure that you have a good seal between your breast pump and the nipple and areola. If your pump flanges are the wrong size, you’ll experience increasing levels of discomfort and your pump won’t be able to get an adequate amount of milk out. Make sure that the flange is centered before starting the pump.

Take the time to read all of the instructions about your breast pump, so you know exactly how to work it and which phases to use at what times. Electric pumps come with a variety of different speeds and intensities, so it might take a few tries to find the perfect settings. Start at a low suction and increase it once your milk starts to flow. From here, you can experiment with different speeds and intensities. Keep in mind that high, intense settings do not necessarily lead to more milk expressed.

Best Times to Pump

The best times to pump depend on your schedule, but a lot of women find that pumping in the morning, about an hour or so after your baby’s first session, leads to greater volumes of milk expelled. The main thing to keep in mind is that you want to create a schedule that you can follow daily. Pumping at the end of a feeding will ensure that both of your breasts are emptied completely so that your body receives the signal to produce more. Once you and your baby get on a feeding schedule, add a pumping session in between to help improve your milk production and build your supply.

Pumping Frequency and Duration

During each pumping session, make sure that you empty your breasts completely. Doing this will help send the signals needed to produce more. You will likely have longer pumping sessions when first starting, but after you get used to it and your body adapts, many women find that they can completely empty a breast in about 15 to 20 minutese. To make sure that you’re pumping to completion, pump for a minute or two after the last drop has left. This will also help you avoid engorgement.

How to Properly Store Breast Milk

If you’re pumping to build a breast milk supply, it’s imperative that you understand how to properly store the expelled breast milk. When stored improperly, the breast milk can become dangerous to your baby and should be thrown out, not used. There are hundreds of great products available online that will help you get the most out of your breast milk storage, but always make sure that you label the bag or bottle with the date. Breast milk can be kept for about six to 12 months in the freezer, so you’ll want to use your oldest milk first to make sure that you have a consistent supply that never goes bad.

Many breast pumps offer bottles or custom containers to be used with the pump. If you want to keep it simple, there are also great plastic bags designed for breast milk storage.

For the best results, freeze your breast milk in smaller quantities to allow for easy thawing. If you’re planning on refrigerating your breast milk, keep in mind that it is only safe for consumption for up to four days after it’s been pumped. If you don’t think you’ll use it within four days, put it in the freezer. If you pump at work or somewhere where you can’t immediately put your milk in the refrigerator or freezer, consider getting a breast milk cooler. While breast milk can stay fresh at room temperature for up to four hours, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for everything.

Cleaning Your Breast Pump

Finally, you’ll need to adequately clean and sanitize your breast pump between sessions. If you use a dirty breast pump, it will contaminate the milk and can cause serious health problems if your baby consumes it. Most breast pumps can be cleaned using hot water and soap. Make sure that you scrub all of the parts that came in contact with your body or your milk with a brush that is used only on your pump. Cross contamination is just as dangerous as a dirty pump. When you’re done cleaning, put them on a sanitized surface or clean towel to air dry and never put your pump away if it’s still wet or even just a little damp. Some breast pumps are also dishwasher safe. Be sure to read your manufacturer’s instructions to learn how to best clean your breast pump.


While nipple confusion is a possibility, there are plenty of ways to make sure that your baby will still latch and nurse.

Breastfeeding is a great way to bond with your baby and give them the nutrients they need, but you might not be able to be there for every feeding. Breast pumping allows you to give your baby what they need regardless of if you’re there or not. If you’re having trouble expelling milk, talk to your doctor about finding a lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist. Do some research on a pump that will work for you and remember that expecting mothers are eligible to receive an electric breast pump covered by their insurance provider.

If you have any tips or advice about breast pumping or want to share your experience with a lactation consultant, head over to our Facebook page today and leave a comment!