As an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I work with many mothers who have questions about the necessity of a breast pump, how often they need to pump and many other pumping logistics. As with everything breastfeeding-related, there is no one right answer and no one right way to do things. Listening to your heart and head and doing what is best for you and your family is the key to having a meaningful and joyous breastfeeding journey.
The following are some of the more common answers to queries that I receive about pumping in my prenatal classes and postnatal home and clinic visits. I hope this helps provide some guidance while you navigate this topic.
How much milk should I be able to pump?
First, it’s important to remember that how much you can pump is no indication of how much your baby is getting from the breast or how much milk you are actually producing. Some mothers who are able to exclusively breastfeed twins are able to pump very little despite their more-than-sufficient supply. Other mothers may have babies who are not latching and feeding well on the breast but can pump more than those babies consume over a 24-hour period.
If you feel your baby is not breastfeeding well, it is vitally important to get good, qualified help. Look for an IBCLC in your area who can help you with latching your baby onto the breast with no pain and good transfer of milk. A good IBCLC should teach you to visually know the difference between a suck (baby not getting milk) and a drink (baby getting milk and swallowing) so you can tell that your little one is getting enough at the breast.
What type of pump should I buy?
Except in special circumstances, I recommend not purchasing a pump before you give birth. There are so many wonderful options on the market that can best meet the needs of each unique breastfeeding experience, but often we only know the nature of these needs once the baby is born.
If your baby isn’t latching well:
Should you leave the hospital with a baby who is not latching on the breast, it is advised you rent a hospital-grade pump to best protect the milk supply. You can rent these pumps directly from a hospital, surgical supply store, or even a local high-end maternity boutique. They are incredibly powerful pumps that are more effective than double pumps that you would purchase for home use.
Pumping should occur each time the baby feeds in order to maximize supply. Babies will be more likely to want to latch onto a breast that is full of milk as a robust milk supply is a crucial ingredient in coaxing a baby back to the breast. The key in this scenario is to get help from an experienced IBCLC in order to help determine why baby is not latching. There could be issues with oral anatomy, a disorganized sucking pattern, birth trauma and other concerns that an IBCLC will be qualified to help you with.
If you have low milk supply:
Along the same lines, if you find yourself experiencing low milk supply, either a hospital grade pump or a good double pump will be helpful to help increase the supply. Pumping after feeds to remove residual milk should help to increase the supply, but it is important to remember that this should only be a short-term solution. A continuous cycle of feeding and pumping can be exhausting and often unsustainable. Again, good support is crucial in order to find out the reason why milk supply is low or why it has decreased and how to best remedy this concern.
One other tool to mention for mothers with low milk supply is the product, Milkies Milk Savers. These are small, flexible containers that can fit within a bra to collect milk from one side while mama is feeding baby on the other. While not practical for use outside the home and not necessary for a mother with a full milk supply, the product can help mothers experiencing low supply by catching every last drop of precious breastmilk to give to baby when needed.
If you’re going back to work:
In a scenario where you may be going back to work early but still want to maintain a breastfeeding relationship, a great way is to pump at work at the times that baby would be feeding elsewhere. A double electric pump is an efficient way to get the milk required for baby. Ideally, milk pump over the course of the day would be given to baby the following day as it is the freshest and most age-appropriate milk. All you need is pumping for a maximum of 15 minutes. Purchasing a hands-free nursing bra can make this even easier.
If pumping is only occasional:
Finally, you may find that, once breastfeeding is well established, pumping only becomes an occasional necessity. The odd bachelorette party, hair cut or date night. A single electric or even handheld pump may be sufficient in this case. In this case, we would want to pump for 10-15 minutes per side but since pumping is not as frequent and urgent, the additional time spent pumping is not too arduous. Mama could pump on the day of the event or for a few days before the event and leave that breastmilk for baby.
When should I pump?
We only ever want to pump right after a feed. It’s ideal that baby gets a full feed and the residual milk is removed, even if it isn’t much at each pump. The best time to pump to try to gather a store of milk would be after the first feed of the day. Our milk supply is at its highest in the morning and therefore baby will go on and drink all they need and the breast will still have milk leftover for pumping.
If mama needs to build a storage of milk for any reason, then pumping at the same time every day is helpful. The brain will get the message that additional milk is required at this time every day.
Many mothers go through their entire breastfeeding experience without needing to pump. But many others pump out of necessity or choice. I hope that I have answered your questions and am happy to answer any others you may have. Don’t hesitate to ask a question here or reach out! Happy Breastfeeding.
Taya is a International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in the Toronto area. She is passionate about prenatal breastfeeding education and sees mothers at home, the hospital and in a clinic setting postpartum to help them to reach their breastfeeding goals. She also teaches pre and postnatal pilates and really can’t get enough of babies! She has two daughters, whom she wishes were still babies! Alas, they are growing up too quickly!