Pumping sucks, both figuratively and literally. If I had to use only one word to describe expressing breast milk using a pump, it would be awkward. There are other words not far behindl: time consuming, challenging, rewarding, fat sucking, (although I know that’s not the case for everyone) and occasionally messy.
But seriously awkward. The first time my mom saw me walking around my kitchen attached to a breast pump, she nearly spit coffee everywhere. That inspired me to get kitchen window coverings, eventually. Hopefully before permenately scaring any of my neighbors or their kids. (Hey! Don't snoop in other people's windows!)
Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. Pumping isn’t for everyone. But, if you do breastfeed and you do pump, and you want it to suck less (just figuratively), I thought I'd share my tips. There is an entire industry built around breastfeeding, and it's not civil engineering, but maybe what helped me will help you.
Step 1. Choosing Equipment.
Pump: My first son was in NICU and I started pumping hours after he was born. I brought home the electric pump from the hospital and decided on the most expensive Medela Pump. I read pages of reviews, but ultimately went with the brand I’d already had successful useful and seemed to be the most popular. I wasn’t disappointed. I loved my pump and when it suddenly stopped working, Medela overnighted me a new one, no charge. (For reference, I used the Freestyle with my first and Pump in Style with my second. I liked and disliked different things about both) Expert Tip: Keep a manual pump around. They are cheap and excellent insurance. Plus, if you pump at work I can almost guarantee you will eventually own one because you will eventually forget the doohey-do-dad that makes the whole contraption work.
Hands Free Bra. Seriously a game changer. In the hospital, the nurse set me up with a breast pump (something I had not researched at all because I wasn't sure breastfeeding was going to be for me) and told me she'd be right back. Thirty minutes later, I sat in horror trying to figure out how to get the pump off, unable to push any buttons on the machine or the call button because I was holding the two flanges on. (In case you find yourself in the same siutation, you just take them off and turn it off, but in my defense, I was exhuasted, I had just had a baby who was in NICU and I had some weird device pulling at my nipples. I did not want to risk damaging anything...) A few days after getting home, I got a hands free bra and my life changed. Instead of sitting handcuffed to a chair developing creative way to keep my hands at my boobs, I was free to move around the world! (A little too free if you ask my mom, see above).
Step 2. Learning to Pump. It’s not a bad idea to sit down with someone who knows what they are doing (a nurse, LC, friend, or even your manual) and figure it out. Take the whole thing apart. Put the whole thing together. Figure out the names of the parts (or name them yourself if you prefer (Aren't you surprised to learn that doohey-do-dad is my made up word for one of the parts and not the technical word?). But know how many pieces there are. Count them and know how many there are. This will help immensely in the future!
Step 3: Keeping it clean. Figure out which parts of your pump needs cleaned, how often and how. This step is critical and if you are pumping with any regularity, washing pump parts is about to become a big part of your life. The number one tip for me to cut down my pumping time is a good system for keeping things clean. My best suggestion is to acquire more sets of pump parts. Once you have a plan for how often and where you will pump, you will know how many sets to acquire. I personally like to have three. You have a few options for cleaning your pump parts (my experience is limited to Medela, but I expect it’s similar with other models:
- Good Ol Soap and Water
- Boiling Water
- Milk Wipes
- Medela Soap
- Steam bags
For me, the best efficient plan (once I was back to work) was to start off in the morning pumping while I packed up everything else for the day. Wash (which is much easier if you do it right away) those parts and leave them to dry and then take a separate already cleaned and assembled set to work. Normally, pump twice a day at work, although I started at three and towards the end it leans towards one. I’d pump, wipe down my pump parts and store them in a second ice chest and reuse them until the end of the day. I’m not entirely sure this is recommended, but it worked great for me and I never had a problem. After the kids are alseep, it's morning routine reversed. I’d pump with the clean (and dry) set from the morning and get everything ready for the next day. Rinse, repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat and...
DRYING IS CRITICAL! A wet pump is an unhappy pump, so a drying rack that actually lets them dry is essential. In a pinch, you can hand dry them, but I find it’s time consuming and hate to do it.
Step 4: Getting organized. The key to success is to have a (flexible) plan and a system to stay organized.
4a. Make a schedule. Determine how often you need and want to pump. If you need to pump in the middle of the night, make a plan for how to have clean parts and everything you need accessible.
4b. Organize stuff. I like having extra sets of pump parts. The problem with this plan is there are lots of pieces in various stages of clean, dirty, wet, dry. It’s incredibly frustrating to pull out your pump at work and realize you forgot your flanges. (See tip on manual pump above!). One of my best friends in life is The List. This is a great application for a list. Because when you have a newborn, you’re tired and you're lucky if you remember your name, let alone what goes in your pump bag. Here’s my List. I recommend modifying yours. I keep one copy in my pump bag and on on the inside of my cabinet door.
4c. Store the goods. Storing milk was probably the area I improved at the most over time. At the end of each day, I combine the milk from that day into bottles for the next day. I use a dry erase marker to put the date on each bottle (way better than any of the other ways I found for keeping milk organized in the fridge) and store them with the oldest in front.
If there’s extra, I freeze it, making sure it's flat.
I stole this awesome idea for storing milk and it worked awesome for me, although I did have to replace the bag eventually. Just find a gift bag the same sized as your milk bags and cut a slit in the bottom. You put the new bags on top and can always use the oldest bag first.
Pumping isn’t my favorite part of any day, but having a plan and keeping things organized has helped me tremendously. Having a system helped me ensure I wasn't constantly at the mercy of forgotten or dirty parts, while making sure the milk was used or stored without getting pushed behind the jelly and forgotten until it was bad.