First off, if I get any of these things wrong, my girls Nichelle Clark, IBCLC of SonShine and Rainbows Lactation or Katy Linda, IBCLC of The Rumina Center are allowed to fire me up in the comments. (That's DMVese for "tease mercilessly, while attempting to correct.") These two ladies are who I go to when I need help pumping. You can also book them for support if you live in the south Hampton Roads/ Chesapeake or Baltimore metro areas.
*[DISCLAIMER]: I am not a paid spokesperson for any of the brands featured in this post, and my views are mine alone. I did receive the Motif Luna pump as a tester, I am not compensated by any brands represented in this post or their affiliates. This setup is what worked best for me, and I can only encourage you to set up a system that works for you and your household. Photos are for illustrative purposes. Guidelines posted within are just that, guides, and not laws, and best suited for healthy term infants. Families of NICU grads, preemies and other immunocompromised infants should seek information from their own lactation care and healthcare providers. The information in this blog should not be taken as medical advice.*
So, you got your [hopefully free] pump from your insurance. You are all excited to put it together and become the milk master/ deity you were born to be, right? Eh, slow down lovebugs. There are some basic rules to pumping, as well as things to consider when adding pumping into your routine or considering the exclusive pumper life. In addition, I'll walk you through my home setup and baby collection.
1. Take a Prenatal Breastfeeding Class (and potentially a Back to Work/ Pumping Class)
I cannot stress this one enough. You'll never know what you don't know, and I've led enough prenatals to see how much folks really DON'T know about breast/ chestfeeding. As good natured and sweet it is to assume that since it's natural, you won't need help or anticipatory guidance, it often sets us up for challenges. Make sure you understand the basics of how lactation works. Like *why* babies eat a lot, how many times you need to empty to maintain a good supply, how to gauge your baby is getting enough, common problems in the early days, etc. While hospital and other inpatient supports are nice, they don't have time to troubleshoot every issue you may have, and some things aren't seen in the first 1-4 days. If you have underlying health concerns, you especially should seek professional support before baby arrives to ensure you have a plan in place. These basic principles will be the same whether you choose to exclusively pump, or nurse directly. Check back in a few weeks before returning to work to learn how to use your pump (if you haven't tried), create a general pumping schedule, and get any applicable storage and feeding questions answered.
2. Read Your Manual
Please. Many common issues could be solved if this happened. The number one thing I find is pumping parents don't replace the soft parts when they should... and it says which ones right in the manual! (Hint: its always the valves). The manual will also go over how to properly assemble, clean, and troubleshoot your pump. YouTube is great to shore up any questions you may have, but I always recommend reading the manual for yourself first. Still stumped? Call your LC.
3. Get Set Up
In a previous post, I talk about care stations. Similar process here. Keep your pumping items together if possible. I have three setups in my situation:
Try to keep your bottle and pumping parts/ accessories separate from your general dishes and away from the sink surface. A great, cheap/ free way to do this is use one of the hospital basins. Fill it with hot soapy water and wash when you have time. Read your manuals to learn if items are dishwasher safe (usually hard plastic parts are, silicone may not be). Washing means actively scrubbing with a cloth, brush, or appropriate cleaning tool, so even if you soak make sure you're checking crevices, corners, etc. I tended to hand wash my parts, and let them air dry on a rack. If you use a rack or drying mat, also ensure you periodically wash/ sanitize that surface too.
Pump parts, bottles, and reusable storage can also usually be washed on the top rack of the dishwasher, small parts can be placed in a caddy like pictured above to prevent being lost in the dishwasher. I like to run the sanitize cycle to give me extra peace of mind, but that's optional.
For home storage I had a big keepsake box that I stored all my spare accessories in. You can use anything that will be airtight (like a Sterilite bin) or at least well protected. I liked using regular storage bags to sort out my pump parts by make, but if you only have 1 pump you can skip this. It just made it more organized for me and helped keep unused, clean parts clean. Other stuff included pacifiers, nipple shields, extra milk storage bags, extra storage bottles, bottle nipples, etc. It helped minimize the risk of things getting thrown out, kids treating my things like toys, and made it easy to inventory stuff like duckbill vales and bags, which need to be replaced.
Similar to the storage box at home, I utilized a 2- bag method for my pump kit- clean parts in one bag, dirty parts in another. At my job we had a kitchenette, so I didn't transport dish soap or cleaning tools, but it you don't have that readily available it may be good to have. I did keep quick clean wipes by Medela on hand, because I did occasionally pump in my car commuting or between visits. I also kept the wall charger and a 12v car charger on hand. If you spend a lot of time in a vehicle, these would be my "must haves". Also nice to have but not required: single serve olive oil packs (for flange lubrication), snacks (because obviously!), nursing cover, pumping bra attachment/ bustier.
4. Pump, Pump, Pump It Up!
First-- refer back to number 1 and 2. I've seen some pretty extensive damage done because folks are just winging it. Learn your pump. While that Pinterest graphic may be great for a lot of people, it could be not so great for you. Start low and slow. High suction does NOT equal more milk. On many newer model pumps, there's two modes- massage/ letdown and expression. It's important to learn the difference between the two- the massage mode is usually much faster to help get your milk flowing. (just know on the Spectra models it starts in expression mode, read more here about Spectra's backwards controls).
5. Have Backup
Sometimes best laid plans go awry. Maybe you forgot your power adapter at home, maybe there's no electricity at all. Then what?
A manual should be a staple in every pumping parent's arsenal. Like I said before, you never know when a power failure may occur or you may be somewhere remote. Manuals are cheap, portable, lightweight, and get the job done. Some folks may even find they respond better to a manual pump than an electric. Utilizing hands- on pumping with a manual helps maximize output.
Hand expression, like its cousin the manual pump, is grossly underrated. So many practical applications!! Struggling to get colostrum in a sleepy baby? Hand express! Full from engorgement? Hand express! Clogged duct? Hand express! Forgot your pump? Stranded on a desert island? You guessed it- hand express!
Milk should be stored in appropriate food grade and airtight containers. This includes milk storage bags, collection bottles, reusable water bottles, or glass mason jars. This does NOT include ziploc bags.
In an emergency I suppose you could empty a water or soda bottle but lets try not to make that a habit, lol. Storage guidelines will vary widely by source, with peer led organizations being the most relaxed, and the CDC being the most conservative. Here's a couple to read through:
TLDR; FOR TERM INFANTS- Fresh milk is safe at room temp for about 4 hours at ambient 72 degrees, up to a week in the refrigerator, up to 3/4 months in an attached freezer, up to 12 months in a deep freezer.
7. When in Doubt, Ask a Lactation Professional
If you have questions or concerns about pump output, creating a pump routine, getting a good fit, or balancing recommendations for preterm or immunocompromised infant- don't be afraid to ask for help from a qualified professional. An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is one of many people qualified to help with pumping issues; however there are many certified breastfeeding specialists (CBS), and certified lactation counselors (CLC's) that are more than capable to troubleshoot with you.
Bonus: Accessories! (Nice to have, but definitely not required)
*(This section contains affiliate links. Affiliate links are no cost to you but help puts a little change in my pocket should you click and shop. :-)
Kindred Bravely Sublime Nursing/Pumping Bra- (never used this one, but I love the original KB Sublime bras so gotta be a win in my book.)
This is not a comprehensive list, just some items that helped me get through 25 cumulative months of pumping. Feel free to share what pump accessories you HAD to have or what helped make your pump journey successful in the comment section! Till next time!