If you’re a new mom and nursing for the first time, pumping can seem downright daunting. But with a little planning and know-how, it’s easy to master the art of pumping—and to find the time to do it. Here, expert answers to the most common questions about expressing breast milk.
Q: What type of pump do I need?
A: If you will be working full-time, look for a double electric pump or one that expresses both breasts at once. “These are typically more efficient,” says Shari Criso, M.S.N., R.N., a certified nurse-midwife and board-certified lactation consultant in Flanders, New Jersey.
Beyond that, Criso recommends that you look for three key features in a breast pump: adjustable speed and suction, so you can customize your pumping to what is most comfortable for you; a closed system, meaning one that prevents milk from backing up into the pump parts or tubing; and multiple-size flanges that either come with the pump or are available for purchase (the flange is the “dome” that fits over your breast; if it doesn’t fit well, you may not be able to express milk effectively and it could be painful). If you won’t be returning to work but still want to pump occasionally, Criso says you have the option of using any type of pump, whether that’s a manual, single electric or double electric model.
Related: How to Use a Breast Pump—Properly
Q: When should I start pumping?
A: Criso recommends pumping very small amounts—about 1⁄2 ounce—every day beginning about one week after delivery. You can then feed your baby that milk with a bottle at the beginning of one nursing session and finish the feeding at your breast. Doing so will get your baby accustomed to taking a bottle. “Up until about six weeks postpartum, you’re establishing your milk supply and you have just enough to feed your baby,” she explains. Criso adds that many babies will reject the bottle if you wait four to six weeks to introduce it, which is often recommended.
After the six-week mark, you can begin pumping greater amounts—often 2 to 4 ounces. The best time to pump is often first thing in the morning, as many women have ample milk to both nurse and pump. But keep in mind, you need to continue giving your baby a bottle— Criso recommends once a day, even if only an ounce or so—or she may reject the bottle altogether.
Q: I’m returning to work full-time. What should my pumping schedule be during the day?
A: “Your overall goal should be that your breasts are emptied at least seven times in 24 hours, whether by nursing or pumping,” says Kathleen Huggins, R.N., M.S., I.B.C.L.C., a board-certified lactation consultant in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and the co-author of Nursing Mother, Working Mother (Harvard Common Press). Huggins says you should aim for every 2½ to three hours at work, or as many times as your baby will likely take a bottle throughout the day. “Be sure not to pump right before going home,” she adds. “You want enough milk that you can plop down with your baby and have him get a full meal.” Huggins also recommends nursing your baby several times in the evening and right before heading out the door in the morning.
Q: How should I store my milk?
A: Use milk storage bags or bottles made specifically for breast milk. “Zipstyle bags or other plastic containers are not airtight, leakproof or sterile,” says Criso. Whether you use bags or bottles, she recommends storing your milk in different quantities—2 ounces, 3 ounces, 4 ounces—so that you can use the amount your baby typically takes at any given feeding without wasting any of your liquid gold.
If you want to have smaller quantities on hand (such as if your baby wants a bit more after taking a full bottle), Criso recommends a product called Sensible Lines Milk Trays ($22, amazon.com), which allow you to store milk in 1-ounce tubes. “Just pull out the number you need and drop them right into your bottle,” she says.
Huggins says you can store your milk safely for 72 hours at the back of your fridge at a temperature of 34° F to 40° F; for three months in a standard freezer between 5° F and 15° F; and for 12 months in a deep freezer at 0° F.
Q: What if I can't afford a breast pump?
A: While breast pumps can be pricey, the good news is that the Affordable Care Act now mandates that a woman’s health care insurance cover lactation services. The flip side, according to lactation consultant Kathleen Huggins, R.N., M.S., I.B.C.L.C., is that while insurance companies must cover breast pumps for either purchase or rent, there is no control over the quality of pump they offer. “Call your insurance company and find out what pump they cover, then check with a lactation consultant to make sure it’s high quality,” she advises. “If not, you might be better off paying for it yourself.”