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    Home ›› Breast pumping 101: When to start pumping and how to express milk

    Home ›› Breast pumping 101: When to start pumping and how to express milk

    Breast pumping 101: When to start pumping and how to express milk


    Reading time: 11 mins.


    Even when you can’t be with your baby, you can still ensure they have nutritious breast milk to drink by using a breast pump. If you’re not sure how or when to start pumping, don’t worry. In this guide we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about expressing milk including:


    • How to express milk
    • The benefits of pumping milk for your baby
    • Tips for breast pumping away from home
    • How to maintain your milk supply
    • How to store breast milk safely

    Why do mums choose to start expressing milk?


    Breast pumping may seem a little daunting at first, especially for a first-time mum. There are, however, many benefits to choosing to express your breastmilk for you and for your baby. Several reasons you may wish to start breast pumping include1:


    • If your baby is premature or requires special care.
    • To help you to relieve engorged breasts.
    • If you have been thinking about combination feeding with formula.
    • If you simply want more flexibility around feeding time.
    • If you wish to share the responsibility with a partner.
    • When you want to increase your milk supply.
    • To allow you to return to work, as won’t be there to breastfeed every meal.

    When to start pumping: An easy guide


    Most specialists recommend you wait until your baby has been breastfeeding for 4-6 weeks 2 before expressing milk. However, there can be circumstances when you need to know how to pump breast milk earlier than that. Here are several tips for when to start pumping:


    • Most women start expressing milk after around six weeks. Your breastfeeding routine is usually well established by this point. This allows time for you to pump breast milk in between feeds.
    • If you are returning to work or study, you should aim to start expressing a few weeks before you return. Establishing a good routine of pumping milk, as well as building up a stash in your freezer is a fantastic way to ensure you can provide the milk your baby needs while you are away.
    • You can start within hours of birthing your child. Some mums find expressing milk useful in the beginning, especially if their baby is having trouble latching. Expressing helps to get the milk flowing and makes it easier for your baby to latch on by softening the areola.
    • You should start withing two hours of birth if your baby is admitted to the neonatal unit.3 This will help to establish your milk supply and allow you to provide the hospital with the all-important colostrum.
    • Starting within hours of birth can help you get into a routine. It can also be useful to learn how to pump breast milk early on, so you can share feeding shifts come night-time.
    • Another option is to start within a few days of giving birth. In cases when your breasts are producing more milk than your baby can drink, as this can cause engorgement.


    Tip: Shortly after birth, your breasts go through a two- to four-day adjustment period. The increased blood flow and fluids helps to stimulate milk production but can also cause your breasts to become firm and uncomfortable if you cannot drain them entirely of milk. Expressing milk can help to relieve engorgement and prevent mastitis.


    • In some cases, you can even start pumping milk whilst still pregnant.4 This includes if you have certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes; or know you have a multiple pregnancy or planned caesarean.


    Disclaimer: Please note, this advice does not replace that of a medical professional. You should always talk to your midwife or GP before starting to express milk during pregnancy and ensure you do not do so earlier than the 36th week of your pregnancy.

    Your guide to pumping milk: Fun facts you need to know


    There are two options when it comes to expressing milk: some mums learn how to hand express milk, but many find that using a breast pump is the easiest solution. Here are a few key facts you need to know about expressing or pumping milk:


    • How much milk you’ll be pumping can depend on a number of factors. For example, how recently you last breastfed, how frequently you pump, and how relaxed you are. Additionally, the way you express milk (whether by hand or using a breast pump) will affect the amount you are able to express.


    Tip: Different breast pumps may function slightly differently, so do read the instruction manual – and remember, it may take a minute or two of pumping before your milk starts flowing, so don’t panic if you don’t see milk right away!


    • The time of day can affect your milk supply. This is especially true if you have chosen to begin expressing milk after your breastfeeding routine has been fully established.


    Tip: If you want to learn how to increase your milk supply when pumping, try to pump until your breasts are fully emptied, each time. Every woman is different, and timings will vary – but the more frequently you pump, the better.


    • You need to give your breasts time to refill. If you want to combine expressing milk with breastfeeding, leave at least an hour between pumping and your next breastfeeding session.
    • Make sure your breasts are full emptied. When breastfeeding, take as long as you need to make sure your baby is satisfied. When your baby is full, you can then ensure your breasts are fully emptied by using a breast pump. Safely store any extra milk for bottle feeding later.

    How to express milk: 5 simple steps


    Whether you’re expressing milk at home to prepare for a night feed or using a breast pump at work, use the following advice to get the most out of your breast pumping journey:


    1. Plan ahead. If you know that you’ll be away from your baby, bring a breast pump into your daily routine a few weeks beforehand. You’ll start to build a supply of milk for your baby and get used to using a breast pump.

    2. Equip yourself. Oxytocin is the hormone that causes the breast to secrete milk. The hormone can be triggered in a few different ways, including seeing your baby. Many mums find it can help to have a photo of their baby on hand if they’re expressing milk away from home.

      Tip: It’s worth considering the use of breast pads to protect your clothing from milk after you’ve finished expressing.

    3. Find a comfortable place. The more comfortable you are, the easier and more successful using a breast pump will be. Find a quiet space and add any personal touches like lighting or music. Look for supportive seating and sit upright, as it’s easier to get your milk flowing this way.

    4. Read the instructions. There are several different types of pumps that you can choose from and there are different benefits to each. They all work in slightly different ways, so do your research and always read the instructions that come with your breast pump before you start pumping.

    5. Pump as many times as you would feed. To maintain your milk supply, be sure to pump milk at least as many times as you would normally feed. So, if you would normally feed your baby three times during the time you’re away, make sure you’re pumping milk at least three times instead.

    What is the best breast pump for expressing milk?


    With so many options available, it can feel like a minefield when you’re choosing a breast pump for expressing milk. It will be down to personal preference, but here are some tips to bear in mind when looking at options for using a breast pump:


    • When choosing a breast pump, look for something that’s designed to help you feel comfortable and keep your lifestyle in mind.
    • If you need something that will let you express milk quickly, an electric breast pump is the obvious option.
    • If you prefer a pump that’s designed for on-the-go use, a manual breast pump could be the choice for you. They are light and can fit in your handbag and allow you the flexibility to express as little or as often as you need. Manual isn’t as fast as electric, but you can take it everywhere!

    Which bottle should I use after breast pumping?


    It’s not just the breast pump that matters, finding the right bottle is just as important. If you’re looking for a bottle that will compliment your breastfeeding journey the Philips Avent Natural Response baby bottle is a perfect choice. Here’s how this product can help when you finish pumping milk:


    • The breast-shaped nipple is fitted with a unique opening and tip to release milk, complementing your baby's natural feeding rhythm - drink, swallow, breathe and rest.
    • Like your breast, the bottle nipple only releases milk when triggered by your baby's intuitive tongue compression. Between each pause, your little one can comfortably catch a breath without being engulfed by milk, which might occur with free-flowing bottles.
    • Once your baby is ready to resume active drinking again, they can restart the milk flow again by compressing the bottle nipple, just like breastfeeding. So, your baby controls the pace, which creates a seamless experience for combination feeding between breastfeeding and bottle feeding.

    What you need

    Breast pumping: How to store your milk in the fridge or freezer


    When you’re expressing milk, it’s likely you won’t use it all in one go to feed your baby, so be sure to freeze or refrigerate it to use later. Here are some guidelines to keep your breast milk safe after you finish pumping milk5:


    • Use sterile storage containers or freezer milk bags to store and organise milk.
    • Label milk with the current date.
    • Refrigerate milk at 4°C or lower for up to 8 days.
    • Place milk in the back of the fridge or freezer, rather than in the door, to keep the temperature consistent.
    • Freeze milk as soon as it's expressed.
    • You can store frozen breastmilk for up to 6 months.
    • Ensure you store milk in the freezer at -18°C or lower.
    • Use thawed milk transferred to the refrigerator within 24 hours.
    • Don’t refreeze thawed milk.
    • Transport milk in an insulated container with an ice pack.


    When preparing refrigerated or frozen milk for a feed when you store it after breast pumping:


    • Thaw or warm breast milk under warm water or with a bottle warmer.
    • Don’t use a microwave to warm up milk.
    • Don’t warm it to boiling temperature.
    • Shake to mix the cream and the milk.
    • You should check the temperature by dabbing a little on your wrist before serving. Somewhere between body and room temperature is best.

    A tip for mums expressing milk for the first time:


    If you’re new to pumping, remember comfort is key. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be to express milk. It might be difficult if you’re trying to pump during a busy day at work, or you’re in a spot that you don’t know very well, so give yourself plenty of time to practice using a breast pump at home, be patient and go gently. You’ll soon get the hang of breast pumping.


    With this guide you now know how to hand express milk, have tips for using a breast pump and even advice for how to increase milk supply when pumping. So, now you can pump with confidence, knowing you’re not only expressing milk correctly but storing it and using it safely too.

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