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Pumping: when, how and why

April 13, 2011

I remember when my sister first pulled out her backpack-style breastpump, strapped on her bustier and the pump cups and turned the machine on- all while she was giving me some sisterly advice. To her, it was like nothing was going on…to me, it was like: Woah! what are all those tubes and how is that working?!

We laughed about it, but that’s the way we are as sisters- nothing is private, and we laugh at our indiscretions.  But, I asked her, “Seriously; how do you do this pumping thing?”

She showed me all the tubes, suction cups, dials and storage packs. It seemed totally daunting, and even more so when I pulled my own breast pump out 1 year later. What had she told me again?!

I found this great article on Baby Center that explains when, how and why to pump. It pretty much describes everything. You can also visit a breastfeeding circle, support group, lactation consultant in Brooklyn- see our list here. (Yummy Mummy, a breastfeeding specialty store in Manhattan offers breast pump rentals and the owner and lactation educator, Amanda Cole, will  answer breastfeeding-related questions in the store or on the phone every day.)

Now, I just need help on weaning! Any advice?

Here are some of the highlights from the article:

Why would I need to pump my breast milk?

The most common reason to pump is to collect your milk so your baby can have it when you’re not around, and to maintain your milk supply for when you’re together. This is essential if you’re going back to work but want to continue nursing.

Pumping also means you don’t have to be on call for every feeding when you’re at home. Your partner (or another helper) can feed your baby your milk from a bottle, allowing you to get more uninterrupted sleep or take a break from baby care. (Letting Dad take over some of the feedings also helps him bond with your baby!)

You may also use a breast pump to stimulate your milk production and increase your supply, to collect milk to feed a premature baby or one who can’t latch on to your breast, or to relieve the pain and pressure of engorged breasts.

How do I use a breast pump?

To use an electric pump, you put a breast cup or shield over your breast, turn the machine on, and let it do the work of suctioning your milk into an attached container. Manual pumps also use a breast cup or shield, but you extract the milk by operating a squeeze mechanism or pulling a plunger with your hand rather than relying on a motor. It usually takes ten to 15 minutes to pump both breasts with a good electric pump and up to 45 minutes with a hand pump.

How do I store breast milk?

It’s best to put breast milk in plastic or glass feeding bottles with secure caps to seal in freshness. You can also use plastic bags made especially for storing milk or disposable baby bottle liners (although they may break more easily because the plastic is thin). Remember to write the date on the bottle or bag before putting it in the refrigerator or freezer so you’ll know when you pumped it. You may be surprised to see what breast milk looks like. It’s normal for the fat to separate and float to the top, and sometimes the milk has a bluish hue.

Use fresh, refrigerated milk within 72 hours. Milk can last at least three months in the freezer of a double door fridge. or three to six months if you have it in a stand-alone freezer set no higher than zero degrees Fahrenheit. Once you’ve thawed frozen milk, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. (If you haven’t used it in that time, you’ll have to throw it away, since you can’t refreeze it.) The process of freezing destroys some of the antibodies in the milk, so don’t freeze it unless you have to. But frozen breast milk is still healthier and offers more protection from disease than formula does.

To thaw frozen milk, place the bottle or bag in a bowl of warm water and run it under warm tap water, or defrost it in the refrigerator overnight. Don’t use the microwave for defrosting or warming because it kills the nutrients in breast milk. Most health professionals recommend throwing out any milk that’s left in your baby’s bottle after a feeding, though some may tell you it’s okay to save a bottle of partially drunk breast milk as long as you refrigerate it right away and use it within four hours.