Pumping 101 for new moms

“I plan to breastfeed; do I need to purchase a pump?” I asked the same question when I was pregnant. I was told that pumping had multiple benefits, even if I planned to breastfeed. Here is some of the information I learned along the way that may help you get into the pumping groove.

Why should I be pumping?

There are many reasons why you, a new mom, will pump breast milk for your baby. If you:

  • Plan on going back to work soon after birth
  • Have a premature baby and want to keep your supply up with pumping
  • If baby has not mastered latching very well
  • Want to share the feeding load with your partner
  • Plan to be away from baby for longer periods of time
  • Have an oversupply of milk
  • Want to donate milk
  • Have mastitis or clogged milk ducts
  • Feel your breast milk may be contaminated with certain medications etc. so you may need to dispose of this milk.

The different types of breast pumps

So you’ve made a decision to pump, now you need to find the right pump for you and baby. Firstly, think about how often you are planning to pump for, what your budget is (if you aren’t getting a breast pump via your insurance), where you plan on pumping and if you prefer a manual or electric pump.

If you are planning to exclusively breastfeed then maybe a simple manual pump will work well for pumping occasionally. And if you plan on exclusively expressing your milk (or if you are returning to work) so you can feed baby with a bottle, then it’s worth investing in an electric pump, as they are more efficient.

There may be temptation to borrow a breast pump from your friend or family member. There are guidelines that suggest against this as it can lead to contamination. Some pumps unfortunately allow a small amount of milk to pass into the motor, causing bacteria to grow and therefore pass that bacteria onto other users. Also, ‘personal use’ breast pumps are really only designed to perform at full strength for a couple years or less. You may not even notice a poor functioning pump, and this in turn could affect your milk supply. It’s best to get your own new one.

Tips for pumping

Always make sure that all pump parts are clean before using and that your flange is the right size. Position the pump flanges so that your nipple is in the center, make sure you have a good seal around the edges. If your nipples bleed or you get bruising around your breasts, then you may need a different flange size or reduce the pumping level. If you are using an electric pump start off slowly for 10 minutes, while you get used to it.

Once you become a pumping pro you will pump for longer, but only pump as much as you need, as pumping too much can lead to engorgement and over supply problems. It’s best to gently increase your pumping sessions if you need to.

The best letdown trigger is of course your baby, and some mothers find that they express the most milk while pumping one breast and breastfeeding their baby on the other. You can also use manual pumps like the Haakaa that catch letdown.  Because losing even the smallest drop of breast milk is pretty heart breaking.

frozen breastmilk in plastic bags

Milk storage

Make sure you store breast milk in a sterilized container or in special milk storage bags:

  • In the fridge for up to 8 days at 39 degrees F or lower, you can buy refrigerator thermometers online. If you’re not sure of the fridge temperature, or if it’s higher than 39 degrees, use breast milk within 3 days.
  • In the freezer, up to 6 months if the temperature is -1 or lower.
  • Breast milk cooled in the fridge can be carried in a iced cool bag for up to 24 hours.

It is always best to store your breast milk in small quantities, around 2-4oz depending on the age of your baby. This will avoid waste. Also make sure to label each batch with the date and any specific information. That can include the name of your child if he/she goes to a daycare, or if you had any health issues at the time of pumping i.e. cold, flu etc. This information can come in handy as the milk you pumped during any illness will contain good antibodies for your baby later on.


If you are having any problems or finding it difficult and uncomfortable to pump, talk to your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant. You can also access support online and talk to other women in forums for their help and recommendations.