Top Tips for Breast Pump Beginners

Using a breast pump can take some practice, but we've got you covered with these 5 important things to know when getting your first breast pump.

When becoming a parent for the first time, it’s no secret that your life changes completely! You may have a lot of questions, especially about nursing, pumping, and feeding your baby with breast milk. It’s normal – and even expected! – to feel as though breastfeeding is a bit of mystery at first, but in time you’ll figure out how it all works. To start, here’s five things to consider right away when you get your first breast pump: 

1. Know When and How Long to Pump

Unless there are extenuating circumstances which require integration of pumping sooner (such as if your little one is in the NICU or he or she is not latching well), pumping should be introduced once a solid breastfeeding routine is established. Many moms find a combination of nursing and pumping helpful in the following situations:

  • Pumping can help you build a supply of stored milk in preparation for your return to work or time away from your baby.
  • It allows your partner or other caregivers the opportunity to feed and bond with your baby while you get a much-deserved break.
  • It can help relieve engorgement and prevent mastitis, a painful inflammation and infection of breast tissue.
  • Consistent pumping while at work or away from your baby can help you maintain ample milk production, even when you’re unable to feed him or her directly at your breast.

While we don't recommend that you begin pumping until your milk supply is well-established in the weeks following birth, we understand that there may be other reasons to begin pumping right after birth or before your milk supply is firmly established. In those situations, the Symphony PLUS® Breast Pump can help you initiate, build, and maintain your milk supply. Using Symphony PLUS® during this time (rather than a personal use breast pump) will help ensure you have a well-established milk supply, typically two to four weeks post-birth, before introducing your personal use pump. Once you’ve started pumping, plan to pump for at least 15 - 20 minutes per session, and for 1 - 2 minutes extra after the last drops of milk.

If you're getting ready to go back to work and want to build a supply of pumped milk for times when your baby is with another caretaker, try getting into the habit of pumping at regular intervals during the times you know you'll be away (such as between the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or between noon and 7 p.m.—whatever your usual work schedule may be). This will encourage your body to adapt to those pump times in advance, so you can continue providing your little one with breast milk even after you’re back at work.

2. Set Up Your Pump Before Your Due Date

Be sure to clarify the requirements for getting a breast pump through your insurance plan. Some insurance plans want you to be at a certain timeline in your pregnancy before ordering a breast pump, so it’s possible that it may not arrive before your baby. Try setting a calendar reminder in your phone to order your breast pump as soon as you’re able, so you don’t forget later – We know, there’s a lot to think about as your due date approaches!

Whether your breast pump arrives before or after your little one, take some time to familiarize yourself with it and set up your pumping space at home:

  • Follow the instruction manual that came with your pump when setting up. This will help you become familiar with the parts while learning how to assemble, clean, and use the pump. (Pro tip: You can find the official instruction manuals and helpful product videos for most Medela breast pumps on our website.) 
  • Understand your pump’s vacuum and suction settings and how they help you express milk, so you can discover what settings align best with your pumping preferences. 
  • Before using your breast pump, be sure to clean and sanitize it. You can place parts in the dishwasher if they are dishwasher safe. If not, leave your parts in boiling water for approximately five minutes and then let them air dry.
  • Accessorize! You’ll want to make sure you have all the breast pump accessories you’ll need, including nursing pads, a hands-free pumping bra, breast milk storage bags, lanolin for sensitive nipples, and more.

3. Make Sure You're Pumping Correctly

If you’re new to pumping, how can you know that you’re doing it right? Most importantly, pumping – and feeding – shouldn’t be painful. When you’re pumping correctly, you should feel a natural tugging sensation that may feel unusual but shouldn’t cause discomfort.

If you’re experiencing pain, try lowering the suction setting on your pump. You’ll also want to ensure you have the correct sized breast shield. Measure your nipple diameter to confirm you have the right breast shield fit for the most comfortable and productive pumping experience.

It’s completely normal to express only a few ounces the first several times you pump and to notice a variance in pumping volumes even after your milk supply – and nursing relationship – has been established. Give your body time to get used to the pumping process and be sure to pump and/or nurse at least every two to three hours. Remember, your milk is produced on a supply and demand basis! Rest assured that you'll soon be expressing enough for your baby's needs. If you have supply concerns or you are worried that your little one isn't getting enough milk, get in touch with a lactation consultant and your baby's pediatrician right away for professional support and solutions.

4. Set Your Milk Volume Expectations

It’s essential to make sure you fully empty both breasts before you finish a pumping session. In the first week, you may only express between 1 - 2 ounces when you pump. As your baby nurses and you continue to include pumping in your breastfeeding routine, milk expression when double-pumping can increase to as much as 8 – 10 ounces per session over the months ahead.

5. Thoroughly and Regularly Clean Your Pump

It is critical to regularly clean your pump to avoid bacteria growth. Most parts can be scrubbed by hand in hot, soapy water with a clean brush or sponge used exclusively for washing your breast pump parts. Make sure to rinse and air dry thoroughly before using them again. If your parts are dishwasher-safe, you can also wash them in a dishwasher with hot water and a heated drying cycle. It is also recommended to sanitize your pump parts once a day if your baby is younger than three months old.

You can find more information by referring to your breast pump's Instructions for Use or the CDC’s guidelines for cleaning your breast pump kit.

Pumping helps ensure that you always have a supply of your liquid gold ready to keep your little one happy and nourished – whether you’re nearby or away! Pumping may seem daunting at first, but know that you’ll get the hang of it and your pumping routine will become second nature in no time at all.

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