2,658 – Yes, I actually calculated and that’s how many times I’ve pumped so far. And you don’t do something 2,658 times without messing up, getting better, and learning a few helpful tips and shortcuts along the way. I’m happy to share 10 tips that I’ve learned over the past 14 months of being an exclusive pumper. I hope that this list helps to make your pumping sessions, and ultimately your life, easier.
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1. Keep your pump parts in the refrigerator
When I first started pumping, the most frustrating thing was having to wash all of my pump parts eight times a day. The pieces are small and intricate and there are so many of them. My pump uses ten pieces (2 each – flanges, connectors, valves, membranes, and bottles).
10 pieces x 8 washes per day = 80
I was literally washing 80 pieces a day. No wonder I was going crazy. It took me way too long to figure out that I needed to just store the pieces in the refrigerator between pumping sessions. But once I did, pumping became nine times easier. After each pumping session, I pour the milk from one bottle into the other and then rinse out the empty bottle, flanges and connectors (leaving the valves and membranes attached). Then, everything goes in the fridge and is waiting for me when I’m ready to pump again. After my last pumping session of the night, I give everything a good wash and set it to air dry.
2. Have a good bottle washing brush
Even though now you’re only going to be washing the parts once a day, it still should be as efficient as possible. A good bottle washing brush is a must when it comes to these tiny pump parts. The Tot Bottle Brush by OXO is perfect for washing pump parts because it has a small brush that fits right inside of the handle. This little brush is the perfect size for getting into all of the crevasses of your valves and connectors so that you never miss a spot. It’s so much easier than trying to get a big brush or a dishtowel into those hard to clean areas. And if you really want to make your life easier, skip the regular dish rack and get one that’s made especially for bottles and small parts. The Boon drying rack is a game-changer.
3. Use lanolin cream on the flange
Whether you’re breastfeeding via latching or exclusive pumping, you may have used lanolin cream to relieve cracked nipples. But, using lanolin cream on your pump can make the pumping experience much smoother. See what I did there?
Most pumps have suction ranges from 20 to 80 cycles per minute. That means your nipple is being pulled 300 to 1,200 times per pumping session. I’ve tried a few different brands of lanolin cream, and Medela’s is my favorite. Rub a small amount on the flange before you start pumping to ease the friction and help your skin glide through. Thank me later.
4. Label with a dry erase marker
If you’ve got more than one bottle of milk in the fridge, you need to label it. Right now, I’m pumping about three days ahead of what Atlas is drinking. There are usually eight bottles of milk in my refrigerator at any given moment. Even though I line the bottles up and keep the newest in the back, everything looks the same and it would be impossible to remember what was what without a labeling system. The easiest way to label is to just write the date on top with a dry erase marker. Knowing the date is helpful for keeping up with expiration dates, and tracking your child’s reactions to the foods that you eat.
5. Put the milk away before you do ANYTHING else
Don’t check your phone. Don’t go to the bathroom. Nothing. You will get distracted, and the milk will be left out on the counter. Again, talking from experience. Luckily, I’ve never left milk out longer than an hour before realizing it, because I would have been so hurt if I left it to go bad on the counter. They say don’t cry over spilled milk. But, if it’s just sitting there and I have to pour it out because it went bad, I’m definitely crying.
6. Start hand assisted pumping
If you’re not doing hand assisted pumping, you could be leaving up to an ounce of milk behind per breast. Not only are you missing out on milk for that particular session, but your body will assume that the leftover milk was not needed, and start to produce less over time. Hand assisted pumping will help you to ensure that you’re emptying your breasts completely. Once you see that milk is no longer being expressed by the pump alone, use your hands to squeeze and massage your breasts. I like to use one hand to apply pressure and the heel of my other hand to massage in a downward motion (from the milk duct towards the nipple).
7. Have more than one pumping bra
You probably already have a pumping bra. But do yourself a favor and get another one. There will come a time when you’re ready to pump and your bra is in the washing machine and hasn’t dried yet. Or maybe, it’s just lost and you don’t have the energy to look for it. Yes, both have happened to me. Having a spare is 100% necessary.
8. Get extra bottles and membranes
Also necessary, extra bottles and membranes. Those 5 ounce bottles fill up quickly, and only having two or three means you’re either washing all the time or putting your milk in “creative” containers. Having extra bottles just makes your life easier. Go for the 8 ounce size so that you can pour the milk from one side into the other and consolidate space in the refrigerator.
Membranes are those tiny white circles that seem insignificant but can actually make or break your pumping session. There was a time when I thought my pump no longer worked. I freaked out and was about to run out to buy a new one. Turns out, my membrane had a small tear in it, which completely ruined the suction. New membranes were a $6 fix instead of a $250 one. Now, I always keep extra membranes around, and inspect and change them often.
9. Keep everything in the same spot
There is nothing more frustrating than sitting down to pump and realizing that you’re missing something. Pick a certain area in the house where you can sit and pump every time. Keep everything that you need to pump (besides your refrigerated pump parts) right next to that spot. That means your pump, pumping bra, and lanolin cream all need to be there. Running around the house half dressed looking for things isn’t fun, it’s annoying. Trust me.
10. Know when it’s time to replace your parts
Understand that your pump is a machine and machines need maintenance. Pump parts wear out, causing a decrease in performance. Check the manufacturer’s website to find out how often your pump parts need to be replaced. Remember that if you are exclusively pumping, your parts will need to be replaced more often than the recommendation since it is based on a lower frequency of use.
If you notice a sudden decrease in your pump’s performance, inspect your parts. If nothing visually appears to be broken or worn out, start with the least expensive replacement item (likely membranes) and go from there.
Bonus – Go with the flow
As an exclusive pumper, I have seen every ounce of my milk from the very beginning. I know when my supply is up, and I know when it drops, even slightly. For the longest time, my emotions would rise and fall with my supply. I celebrated the good days and I was super hard on myself when I wasn’t doing as well. I finally stopped being so harsh and told myself that what I’m doing is amazing. Do I still notice when my supply drops? Absolutely. But I don’t make myself feel bad about it. I do what I need to do to get it back up, and keep it moving.
Breastfeeding is an incredible act of love for your child. It’s also hard work. You may have pumped 12 ounces this session. Celebrate that. Maybe you pumped 2 ounces. Celebrate that. Be kind to yourself.
How has your pumping experience been? Leave a comment below to let me know. Feel free to ask any questions that you have about pumping in the comments. If you would like to discuss your question privately, send me a direct message on Instagram.