How often should you pump breast milk?
Whether you're returning to work or just need to be away from your baby for a few hours, pumping breast milk lets you continue breastfeeding while someone else feeds your baby.
Pumping can seem complicated, but you can create an effective routine that works for you and your baby.
How often you need to pump depends on how long you'll be away from your baby. Pump as often as your baby nurses. For newborns, this may be every 2 to 3 hours. Older babies may go longer between nursing sessions. If you're not producing enough milk to keep up with what your baby is eating while you're away, add another pumping session.
Pump milk for about 15 minutes from each breast. This will empty your breasts. If you're using a single pump, pumping will take around 30 minutes.
A double pump can cut this time in half, so it may be a worthwhile investment if you're going back to work full-time.
What's the best type of breast pump?
There are two main types of breast pumps. The best pump for you depends on how often you use it.
Manual pumps are small and hand-held. You squeeze a handle or lever to create suction. Some manual pumps use a bulb similar to a bicycle horn to create suction. But, these are difficult to clean and aren't recommended.
Manual pumps are good if you only pump sometimes and want to buy the cheapest option. But they take the longest to pump and are the most difficult to use.
Electric pumps use a motorized pump to create suction. They are either battery-operated or corded. If you're going to pump on a regular basis, an electric pump is preferred. They're automatic and more efficient.
But electric pumps are expensive -- costing around $150 to $300. In some cases, they may be covered by your insurance.
A double electric pump will pump both breasts at once and cut down your pumping time.
You can rent hospital-grade pumps, which are designed differently than consumer pumps. You shouldn't share consumer pumps because milk can flow into the mechanical parts. Hospital-grade pumps are closed systems and designed to be used by more than one person.
How to pump effectively
Pumping can be more difficult than nursing because your baby isn't there to stimulate your let-down reflex. This happens when your baby stimulates your nipples and causes your body to release hormones that eject milk into your milk ducts.
Stress, frustration, and embarrassment all interfere with your let-down reflex — which makes pumping difficult. To make milk pumping easier, you should:
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to pump
- Sit and relax before you start pumping
- Don't worry about how much milk you're producing
- Look at a picture of your baby or hold something of your baby's when you start pumping
- Play a recording of your baby crying to stimulate your let-down reflex
- Position and seal the breast shields on your pump
Safely storing pumped breast milk
Make sure your milk supply is stored correctly to keep it fresh and safe. Do the following:
- Store breast milk in storage bags, or food-grade plastic or glass containers
- Avoid #7 plastics since they may have BPA — a harmful chemical — in them
- Don't store breast milk in disposable bottle liners or bags
- Label your milk with the date it was pumped
- Don't store milk in the door of your refrigerator or freezer since it may spoil due to temperature changes
- Freeze milk immediately if you won't be using it within 4 days
Freshly pumped milk can be stored at room temperature for 4 hours, in the refrigerator for 4 days, and in the freezer for 6 to 12 months. It can also be stored in an insulated cooler for up to 24 hours if you're traveling.
Thawing and using stored breast milk
Make sure your baby gets all the benefits of your stored breast milk by following these guidelines for safely thawing and using your milk supply:
- Thawed breast milk can't be refrozen
- Once thawed, your milk can be kept at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours or in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours
- Use the oldest milk first
- Don't use the microwave to thaw or heat up breast milk because it can break down nutrients and result in hot spots that can burn your baby
- Gently swirl your milk to mix the fatty parts back in that may have separated
- Thaw your milk by holding the bag under running water, setting it in a bowl of warm water, or placing it in the refrigerator
- Test the temperature of your milk by putting a drop of it on your wrist — It should be warm, not hot
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): " Proper Storage and Preparation of Breast Milk," "Pumping Breast Milk."
KidsHealth: "Breastfeeding FAQs: Pumping."
La Leche League International: "Pumping Milk."
U.S. Food & Drug Administration: "Types of Breast Pumps."
WIC Breastfeeding Support: "Storing and Thawing Breast Milk."
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