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Pumping or expressing means using your hands or a breast pump to remove breast milk from your breasts. You can then store it in the fridge or freezer and feed it to your baby using a bottle - this is known as combination feeding.
Pumping can be helpful if:
It's recommended that you don't start using a breast pump until after your baby is born. Once your baby arrives, it's up to you when you start to use your breast pump!
If their little one is born full-term and is healthy, some parents get started with pumping right away and use their pump to kick-start their milk supply. Others may wait a few weeks to start pumping and storing breast milk so that they have plenty of time to settle into steady a breastfeeding routine with their new baby.
However, parents whose babies are born prematurely or who can't breastfeed directly for any reason are often advised to begin pumping within six hours of birth.
It can help to think of expressing breast milk as a supply and demand process. Put simply, the more you empty your breasts by expressing, the more milk your breasts will produce.
You should try to pump as often as your baby feeds. Frequent expressing as well as suckling from your baby will help your breast milk come in and evolve from highly concentrated colostrum to mature milk that's thinner and whiter in color.
At first, you can aim to pump at least eight to 10 times over 24 hours, feeding your little one every two to three hours, and fitting in one pumping session during the night when you're awake.
You'll find that your early pumping sessions will yield a small amount of milk. But don't worry, your baby only needs small feeds at first, because their stomach is still small - around the size of an apricot!
Around the one-week mark, a newborn baby's stomach holds about 1 - 2oz of milk, and they need to feed little and often.
At one month old, a baby's stomach is about the size of a large egg and can hold about 2 - 5 ounces of milk.
As their tummy and appetite grow, the amount of breast milk you're able to collect with each pump will gradually increase until you get into a steady routine of feeding and pumping.
Sometimes you may find that you're using your breast pump, and nothing is coming out. Don't worry if this happens now and then.
Even if you don't collect any milk on this occasion, the act of pumping on its own sends a signal to your boobs (and brain) to produce more milk.
Everyone's feeding journey is unique, but lots of parents find that their breast milk supply increases if they use their breast pump to express right after directly breastfeeding their baby. Pumping as often as your little one feeds helps your body understand the amount of milk your baby needs. It can also help to maintain skin-to-skin with your baby or look at a photo of them while you pump.
The more your boobs are emptied, the more cues you send to your body to make new breast milk, so some parents find a method known as 'power' or 'cluster pumping' helpful. It's a technique that mimics a baby's natural cluster feeds and involves a collection of short pumping sessions with breaks in between. Try a few cluster sessions over two or three days and you may notice an increase in your supply. Remember to stay hydrated and clean your pump after every use.
Each feeding journey is unique, and the frequency of pumping sessions and the amount of breast milk collected varies from one parent to the next. Try not to compare yourself to others and don't hesitate to reach out to a medical professional or a lactation consultant if you need support.
The number of pumping sessions needed to meet a baby's feeding demands can vary greatly, as can the amount of milk you produce in each session. So, try not to compare yourself to other pumping parents!
A good breast-pumping session can last anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes, but you'll find that each session will vary. However long you pump for, you should try to continue until the flow of your breast milk slows and your boobs feel comfortable and well-drained.
You may not notice a huge change in the amount of breast milk you collect over time, but breast milk is clever stuff. Its composition and calorie count change and adapt alongside your baby's development over time, so the same volume of milk is sufficient for a baby as they continue to grow.
It's worth bearing in mind that the number of pumping sessions you're able to do is more important than the total amount of time you spend pumping per session. So, even if you only have a few minutes spare to pump, it's all worth it!
If you've been exclusively breastfeeding but are thinking about going back to work soon, a breast pump will come in handy!
If you do want to use a pump, it's a good idea to start pumping two or three weeks before you head back. That way, you'll have plenty of time to build up a stockpile and get used to your pump, and your baby will have time to get to know their bottle.
Once you're back at work, you can replace any feeds you're missing with pumps to help maintain your baby's feeding schedule and keep your breast milk supply strong.
The amount of breast milk you choose to store in the refrigerator or freezer will ultimately depend on your schedule and lifestyle factors, like going back to work or spending some time away from your little one for whatever reason.
Once you're in tune with your baby's feeding schedule, you'll be a pro when it comes to knowing how much breast milk you need to keep in storage.
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