I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with pumping.
I hate that it’s disruptive to my work day, feels a tad uncomfortable, and is overall just awkward sometimes.
Some days I abhor pumping so strongly that I swear I won’t do it another day. Other days—usually the ones when I’m proudly organizing my freezer stash of milk—I declare my Medela pump the champion of working moms everywhere.
Most days, however, I fall somewhere in the middle, seeing pumping as something I begrudgingly accept for the sake of providing my infant with “liquid gold.”
I’ve found that pumping is a lot more tolerable when done properly, with certain best practices in place to enhance the experience and get the most bang for your buck (errrr, the most ounces for your pumping session).
Here are more than 30 tips I’ve gathered—from other mamas as well as myself—for pumping success. Most of them apply whether you’re both breastfeeding and pumping or pumping exclusively.
The Big List of Tips for Pumping Success
1. If you plan on pumping even somewhat regularly, get yourself a good pump. Lots of moms struggle to express much milk using a manual pump, and electric pumps are just so much easier and faster. An electric double breast pump will save you even more time.
2. It’s still a good idea to keep a small manual pump in the car in case you forget your electric pump one day (GASP!). That will save you either a trip back home or a very painful day.
3. If you’ll be expressing breast milk at work, know your pumping rights. Most employers are legally obligated to offer you time and a private space to pump during your baby’s first year (and a bathroom doesn’t count). Learn more about your protections here.
4. If you’re breasting and pumping (as opposed to exclusively pumping), nurse your baby often when you’re together. Our bodies generally respond better to our babies than to pumps, so nursing often will help keep your milk supply up.
5. At the beginning of each pumping session, look at photos of your baby to encourage letdown. Better yet, record a video of your baby crying and play it when you start pumping. The milk will be flowing in no time!
6. Some moms find it helpful to know what their baby is doing when they’re pumping. Call your baby’s caretaker to see how the day is going or ask them to text you a photo shortly before you pump. It can give you the same hormonal response you get when you’re nursing.
7. You can also try a few minutes of breast massage before you pump to help encourage letdown.
8. If you’re currently on maternity leave and want to build up a small stash of milk before you return to work, consider pumping early in the morning, as this is when many moms (but not all) have the most milk.
9. In terms of when you should pump, try to do it throughout the day as close to your baby’s feeding schedule as possible—at least every 3-4 hours.
10. Along the same lines, try your best to stick to a regular pumping schedule to help regulate your milk supply. On especially busy days, still sneak in a pumping session if you can—even if it’s shorter than usual (say, 15 minutes instead of your usual 20).
11. Similarly, if you’re pumping at work, put your sessions directly on your calendar (marked as private, if you want). That way you won’t forget to pump (yes, it happens!) and other people won’t schedule meetings during your pumping times.
12. Get yourself a hands-free pumping bra. I look at photos of my baby girl until my milk starts flowing, but after that my hands are free to read a book or break out my laptop to get some work done. (Indeed, I’ve written some of this blog post while pumping!) I use the Simple Wishes Hands-Free Breastpump Bra and love it!
13. RELAX. Stress can hinder your milk letdown. So try your best to find a comfy spot and position in which to pump. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths or play some calming music to help get rid of those stress hormones.
14. Along the same lines, resist the urge to watch the bottles! I know how tempting it can be to stare at them, obsessing over how quickly or efficiently they’re filling up. But it won’t help! Just like a watched pot never boils, a watched milk bottle doesn’t fill up—because it’s tough to relax when you’re watching it compulsively. If you can’t resist the urge, throw a blanket or nursing cover over the bottles.
15. Whether you’re pumping, breastfeeding directly, or both, be sure to drink lots and lots of water. Dehydration is quite common among nursing moms, and it can affect how much milk you’re able to pump.
16. Similarly, make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet. Your protein needs are higher when you’re breastfeeding—just like they are while you’re pregnant—and getting an inadequate amount of protein can impact the amount of milk you express. Here’s a big list of pregnancy snacks that are equally beneficial while breastfeeding!
17. Know the safe handling and storage guidelines for human milk. There are lots of helpful charts available—like this one or this one or this one. Print one out and stick it on your refrigerator for easy reference. (And get yourself some good breastmilk storage bags to make your milk extra easy to store.)
18. Set everything up before you start. That includes a cloth or towel to use when you’re finished, to avoid getting milk all over your clothes while you’re disassembling your pump.
19. Remember that strong suction does not necessarily mean more milk. The best thing to do is go with the lowest setting that works for your body.
20. Similarly, be aware that different flange/breastshield sizes exist. The ones that come with your pump may or may not be the right ones for you, and using the wrong size flange/breastshield could impact how much milk you’re able to express. Medela offers some helpful tips on choosing a correctly-fitted breastshield.
21. Is your output decreasing? In many cases it’s because you need to replace your pump parts. Parts wear out after 3-6 months, especially if they’re being used frequently.
22. If that’s not the problem, try throwing in a few power pumping sessions, which involve pumping for less time but more frequently. They can bring your output level back up.
23. If you’re worried about your milk supply in general, remember that the amount of milk you pump isn’t actually a good measure of your supply. Learn more about the connection between pumping and supply—plus get lots of spot-on info on the causes of low supply and how to deal with it—on KellyMom.
24. If you’re pumping at work, keep an extra shirt in your desk or bag in case you spill milk on the one you’re wearing (it happens!) or you’re late for a pumping session and leak.
25. Similarly, keep a light cardigan in your pumping bag or area in case you get chilly while pumping. It is tough to relax when you’ve got goosebumps!
26. Wear pumping-friendly outfits. Generally two-piece ensembles or dresses with lower, stretchier tops that you can pull down will give you easier access to your breasts for pumping.
27. Some moms like to take along an extra set of pump parts each day, that way you don’t have to spend time washing them at work.
28. Remind yourself why you’re pumping as often as you need to. Staying motivated can be tough! Make a list of the reasons pumping is important to you (nutrition benefits for your baby, maintaining the breastfeeding relationship when you are together, saving money, etc.) and keep it in your pump bag for encouragement.
29. Reach out for support. Find fellow moms who have been through the pumping experience to whom you can turn with questions or frustrations. If you can find someone supportive at your place of employment, that’s especially helpful.
30. Similarly, don’t be afraid to call a lactation consultant at any point in the process. They can be incredibly helpful with both breastfeeding and pumping.
31. When you decide to stop pumping, be smart about it. Doing it gradually is key to preventing plugged ducts, mastitis, and other problems.