Breastfeeding and pumping: Making the transition

You’ve made the choice to breastfeed … AWESOME! You’re starting to feel like you and your baby are getting the hang of it… WONDERFUL! And now you might be wondering about feeding breastmilk when you need to be away from your little one. “How do I do it?” “When do I start?” “What should I be using?” might be some questions that come to mind when thinking about breastfeeding and pumping.

Most moms find that there comes a time when they need to express or pump to be away from their babies, but this can vary widely from mom to mom. Breastfeeding is an opportunity for bonding with baby, while pumping gives you the opportunity to still provide your baby breastmilk, even when YOU might not be available.

Mom and baby

Breastfeeding and pumping: How can I do both?

It’s best to start exclusively with breastfeeding. Babies should not receive pacifiers or bottle feedings until breastfeeding is well established. It can take up to a month before moms are feeling really confident that their baby is doing well with latching and feeding. When introducing mom’s milk in a bottle, some babies take easily to feeding from the bottle, while others take a little more time to get use to it.

If you’re going back to work, you’ll want to start pumping or hand expressing milk a few weeks before your first day away and also introducing your milk in a bottle once per day around that same time. Pumping is a new feeling for your breasts and can take some getting used to. Pumping should NOT be painful, just like breastfeeding. If you are having pain with pumping, you should seek the assistance of a lactation consultant to help trouble shoot what you can do to pump comfortably.

Sometimes it can be hard for a mom to “warm up” to the pump. Using hand expression and/or breast massage, looking at a picture of your baby, or even having something that smells like your baby may all help with this challenge. You may be surprised to find out that as long as you continue to breastfeed while you are with your baby and pump while you’re away at work, you don’t need a freezer full of milk when you go back to work. When you begin pumping in advance, you have the chance to build up enough supply before going back to work. This can best be accomplished by pumping each time AFTER your baby has breastfed.

After your baby has fed you probably won’t get very much milk when pumping… but that is okay! You are making sure that your baby is getting what he/she needs first. The milk from each pumping session adds up, and by the time you are back to work, you will have enough milk stored to feed while you are separated for at least that first day… and remember you will be pumping at work, so this works out perfectly! Also keep in mind that during the first six months, babies usually only need 1 ounce of breastmilk for every one hour that they are separated from their mom. So if you work an 8-hour shift, you only need to leave 8-10 ounces of milk for feedings. Those 8-10 ounces should be divided so that each bottle your baby gets has around 3-3½ ounces of breastmilk.

If you’re staying home, you have more flexibility. When you’re with your baby, nursing is usually easier than having to pump and feed, store your milk and wash bottles. You probably won’t feel the need to pump much, if at all though some moms prefer to pump and feed their pumped milk instead of breastfeeding. Regardless of your choice, pumping allows the opportunity to provide your baby breastmilk, but the opportunity to be away and not worry that you may be missing a feeding.

Tips for choosing a pump

If you’re pumping multiple times a day, it’s more than worth it to get a double electric pump because you can pump both breasts at the same time — saving a lot of time and this can get you more milk overall. Think about the features you really need. Consider sound, portability, weight, breast shield options and ease of cleaning. Also find out what pumps your medical insurance will cover… you may be pleasantly surprised by their answer!

For all moms, it is important to know how to and to practice hand expressing your milk. Being able to hand express your milk can empower you because you will feel prepared to feed no matter the situation. If the power’s out and you need to pump, or you’re on a road trip and everyone’s strapped in, hand expression can be a life saver! If you have never been taught hand expression, ask a lactation consultant about learning this very important skill.

Breastfeeding can be challenging, but it does get easier — and it’s SO worth it! With time and practice, you and your baby will fall into a routine. If you experience struggles, always remember that you can reach out to your pediatrician, a local lactation consultant, or breastfeeding support groups (like Reid Health’s Milk Matters or your local Le Leche League). There may be more support in your community than you realize. We want to help you succeed in reaching your breastfeeding goals!

Image source: Flickr

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