How To Combine Breastfeeding and Pumping

When I was pregnant with my oldest child 17 years ago, I prepared for breastfeeding by attending a prenatal breastfeeding & parenting class and I read several books about newborn care. I also made sure to have breastfeeding supplies on hand, including breast pads, lanolin cream, a breastfeeding pillow, and a nursing cover-up. Pumping, however, was a total postpartum afterthought for me. 

Although I had planned to breastfeed for at least 6-12 months and knew I’d be returning to work after my maternity leave was over, I made no plans for pumping. I did not purchase a breast pump, I did not read or learn about pumping, nor talk to anyone who had experience with breast pumping. I didn’t even have any idea how to choose the right breast pump. 

Since then I have learned that being unprepared for pumping as a new mom is common, despite the reality of many mothers of infants having to pump breast milk.

Why Should I Pump & Breastfeed?

For some, pumping is an occasional task (like pumping a bottle of milk for a sitter to feed the baby when out to dinner) and for others, breast pumping multiple times a day or even exclusive pumping, becomes their new normal.

Main Reason for Pumping:

  • To stockpile milk to use after the end of maternity leave.
  • To help boost a low milk supply.
  • Prolonged mother-infant separation, such as having a preemie in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
  • Baby is unable to latch and/or not feeding well at the breast.
  • To relieve pain and engorgement.
  • To maintain milk supply when unable to breastfeed due to a medication or supplement taken, often referred to as “pumping and dumping.”

How Should I Breast Pump?

Hand expression, or hand pumping, is a way to help stimulate colostrum and milk production early on. Most women who pump need to use an actual electric breast pump, as hand expression does not usually yield enough milk to feed a baby after the first week of life or so. It’s really important to choose a breast pump based on your main goals for pumping. If you are pumping for occasional engorgement relief, it’s okay to use a basic, non-electric hand pump.

Mothers who are pumping for preemies or babies who are sick in the NICU will often need to rent a hospital-grade double electric pump to initiate and maintain their breast milk supply.

If you are pumping or planning to pump frequently, like many mothers do when separated from their baby at work, a double electric pump is necessary. When pumping because you’re away from your breastfed baby, it is encouraged to continue to direct breastfeeding when you are home together. In most cases, when you are able to breastfeed directly, it will help you maintain your milk supply better than pumping will. This is because babies usually get more milk during a breastfeeding session versus the amount of milk mothers pump during a typical pumping session.

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How Can I Keep My Milk Supply Up When Breastfeeding & Pumping?

Some moms may notice a decrease in their milk supply if they find themselves pumping more often than breastfeeding. Ways to overcome this include directly breastfeeding as much as possible, “power pumping,” and/or pumping on one side while baby nurses on the other – this can be done if a baby is “block feeding” off of only one breast at a time.

If you are pumping breast milk or nursing baby on one side and not expressing from the other, use a manual pump, such as the Motif Manual Silicone Pump, to collect extra milk coming from the other breasts let down. Silicone pumps work by using gentle suction to capture extra milk flow but are not considered a true breast pump since they do not fully drain the breast(s). As a note, these are not recommended to be used as a mother’s main pump, only as an additional tool. When using these silicone manual pumps as one’s main breast pump, they can increase the risk of engorgement, plugged milk ducts, and oversupply.

“Power pumping” is a common method used to increase one’s breast milk supply. Power pumping entails dedicating an entire hour block to pumping. One of the most common regimens for this is – pumping 20 minutes, 10-minute break, pumping 10 minutes, 10-minute break, pumping 10 minutes. 

Also, if you are pumping for a baby who is unable to latch (due to being born prematurely or has another feeding problem) having a lot of “skin-to-skin” contact in-between pumping sessions can help to boost the breast milk supply. Every time you hold and snuggle your baby, hormones (including oxytocin) will surge and help you make more breast milk for your baby.

What Are Some Tips for Combining Breastfeeding & Pumping?

Breastfeeding and pumping take a lot of time, dedication, and support. Feeding a baby breast milk is not easy or “free.” Whether pumping or breastfeeding or both, mothers spend many hours providing milk to nourish their babies each week – these hours can sometimes surpass that of a typical full-time job of 40 hours per week! 

Tips for Combining Breastfeeding and Pumping:

  • When using a double electric pump, be sure to invest in a hands-free pumping bra!
  • If possible, go “hands-free” by using a wearable pump. That way you can multitask and pump while doing day-to-day things (like while in the car commuting to or from work).
  • Pump after breastfeeding. Once babies start to sleep for longer stretches at night, it’s normal to wake up with some degree of engorgement – moms can use this to their advantage to pump extra breast milk after baby’s first feed of the morning.
  • Do something you enjoy while pumping like reading a novel or watching your favorite show.
  • Make sure that your pump’s flanges are the correct size for your breasts – for certain mothers, upsizing or downsizing flanges can make a big difference in how much milk one pumps.
  • If you find it stressful to watch how much milk you are pumping, it can help to put a small towel or blanket over your flanges while you pump (so that you are not able to see how much milk is being collected).
  • Gentle breast massage before, during, and after pumping can be soothing and help to increase the amount of milk pumped.
  • Be sure to stay stocked on necessary pump parts and supplies such as milk storage bags, tubing & flanges, etc. That way you’re prepared and there isn't an interruption to your pumping schedule if something is lost or broken.
  • Make sure you have a good support system in place so that others can help you dedicate time to both pumping and breastfeeding as needed.

Most of the time, mothers who pump are able to go back and forth between breastfeeding and pumping without major issues. If you find yourself struggling with breastfeeding, pumping, or combining the two, seek help from your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant/IBCLC as soon as you can for medical advice and attention.

About the Author

Jessica Madden, MD, is the Medical Director at Aeroflow BreastpumpsDr. Madden has been a board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist for over 15 years. She's currently on staff in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, OH. She previously worked in the Boston and Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospitals. In 2018 she started Primrose Newborn Care to provide in-home newborn medicine and lactation support. She also enjoys traveling, yoga, reading, and spending time with her children.

Information provided in blogs should not be used as a substitute for medical care or consultation.