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Pumping Breast Milk 101: Your Guide to Pumping & Storing

As you decide on what your breastfeeding journey looks like, it’s never too early to start planning for pumping. It may seem small, but your pump could extend your breast milk supply and your ability to have your partner do some feedings. Freedom! Your breast pump will help keep things flowing and help prevent engorgement by getting out those last milk drops and getting them into storage. Fridge? Freezer?

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You’re probably asking yourself how you should start, how often you should pump, what to know about pumping at work, and, well, how does a breast pump work?

We got you covered. This is Pumping Breast Milk 101

When should you start pumping breast milk?

Deciding when to start pumping depends on your experience with the baby and outside obligations like work. If you have time to breastfeed, it’s recommended not to start pumping for the first four to eight weeks. Keep the latch and keep the baby suckling. Part of the reason is that baby has a natural rhythm that stimulates your milk supply (unlike a pump) and can get more milk out of your breast than a pump. The baby is doing work! 

There are some reasons a new mom might want to pump earlier. Some include:

  • A premature baby who is unable to breastfeed.
  • Baby is losing weight (can’t get enough milk from your breast).
  • Going back to work. In this case, start pumping milk three weeks before returning to the office. 

Read More: Breastfeeding Plan For Working Moms: Pumping at the Office

How often should you pump?

If you’re starting to give your baby bottles with pumped milk, ensure you’re pumping alongside those feedings. This ensures your body still gets the message to produce more milk (and still produce milk). 

When returning to work, you’ll get into the routine of pumping twice a day. You’ll want to find a good time spacing between breastfeeding your little one and when you start to pump. That baby of yours will get easily frustrated if it finds your breasts to have low volume. Try to pump after you you’ve just completed a breastfeeding session. 

Read More: 6 Breastfeeding Secrets Every New Mom Should Know

If you can, try to pump every three hours at work. This is based on how much your baby consumes while you’re away. If you expect your baby to feed more, try to work in those pumping sessions. There is no way around it, this is time-consuming and exhausting. In the end, if your body allows it – the benefits for your baby are worth it. 

How much milk will I pump (and need to pump)?

For most babies, you’ll produce about a liter of milk daily. However, how much you’ll end up pumping depends on your milk supply and your baby’s age (and weight). 

Your body will determine how much you’ll be able to supply. Some moms can pump between 2.5 - 6.5 ounces on top of their normal breastfeeding production, while others can barely keep up. Anything you produce is a win – remember that. 

Read More: Six Common Breastfeeding Worries for New Moms

Aim for always pumping until your breasts feel empty. If in doubt, wait about two minutes after seeing the last drop come out. Your typical pumping session will be between 15 to 30 minutes. 

How long does your breast milk last?

Storage is so important if you plan to be successful at pumping. Obviously, you won’t always have a freezer handy, so planning ahead on usage and storage will help you create an optimal feeding schedule. 

  • Breast milk left out on a counter will last six to eight hours. 
  • Breast milk stored in the fridge will last about five days. 
  • Breast milk stored in a freezer will last about six months. 

It’s worth noting that if your breast milk goes from the freezer (or fridge) to the table, you gotta use it. There is no putting it back in storage if it’s been sitting for a while. It’s liquid gold and should be treated so! 

Unless your partner is towing a freezer at all times, you will want to invest in solid containers with tight lids. Breast milk storage bags are fine but can easily break without proper experience with them. Start with containers and move to bags as you feel comfortable filling them and storing them.

How do you use a breast pump?

Before you begin, if pumping feels painful or uncomfortable, you should stop. The pump could have an issue, flanges could be the wrong size, or even the suction level might be too high. If pain continues even after correcting those issues, seek out a lactation expert to help. 

Now, you’re ready to start this breast-pumping journey. 

  • Start with ensuring your hands are properly cleaned and your breast pump equipment is clean.

  • Next, place your flange over your breast tissue and ensure it opens around your nipple. It’d be centered around your nipple if you did it correctly.
  • Holding your breast pump, place your thumb on top of the flange. With your other finger flat on the bottom of the flange. Be firm but not too hard.

  • Depending on your breast pump, properly set the dials. We recommend starting at low suction and quick speed. Once your flow is steady, you can increase suction and lower the speed. The calibrating process should be about one to three minutes.

  • Start your pumping session. Depending on your supply, your session could last between 15 to 30 minutes. Once you feel your breast is emptied, give yourself 2 minutes after the last drop to ensure you’ve got it all.

  • Gently break the flange suction. Carefully remove the two bottles of liquid gold (breast milk) from each side of the flange. Place both on a flat surface. Unplug your pump and cover your bottles. Move to the fridge (or freezer), depending on your storage plan.

  • Properly clean your pump fully. We recommend doing this after all sessions to make your next easier. 

Eventually, you’re going to have your nursing journey come to an end. Don’t go cold turkey! Weaning can take time and depend on how often you are pumping before deciding to stop. 

Once you decide to wean, you will want to reduce your pumping sessions and the time each session takes. You can start with shaving off each session a few minutes and gradually weaning to having fewer individual sessions. 

Expect the weaning process to take anywhere from one week to two weeks. 

If you have more questions, our Customer Obsession Team is here to help! Join our Facebook Group for other Pink Stork customers who share their journeys, ask questions, and give truly experienced advice.

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We recommend our Total Lactation and Lactation Sweets for your nursing journey. For DHA support, consider our DHA or Total Postnatal + DHA.