Breastpumps: A guide for new parents

By Juliet Honey, Ardo by Clements

When we think of our growing bump and how we will feed them when they enter the world, expressing is not normally something too many mums think about. However, there are various reasons why a new mother expresses milk for her baby, and different types of breastpumps suit different situations.

Why you might need to express

A premature or sick baby

If your baby is premature, it may be difficult to breastfeed directly. A baby in NICU or Special Care may not be physically able to latch on to the breast. Hand expressing initially can yield the ‘Liquid Gold’ colostrum, of which you only need tiny amounts. Once your mature milk ‘comes in’, regular expressing can build milk supply.

Multiple babies

In addition to the likelihood of being early, having more than one mouth to feed can sometimes be a reason to reach for the breastpump to build supply.

Challenges in breastfeeding

For some mothers and babies, breastfeeding can be tricky in the early stages. If mums experience pain during breastfeeding, develop sore nipples, blocked ducts or mastitis, then breastfeeding can seem daunting and painful. Expressing can assist mums to continue to provide breastmilk while they seek help with their breastfeeding challenges.

Returning to work

Returning to work doesn’t have to mean weaning. Childcare providers cannot lawfully refuse to receive expressed breastmilk to feed your baby and with early discussions with your employer you can organise yourself space and time to express while at work.

Types of Breastpump Available

Hospital Grade Breastpumps

If you have low milk supply, a premature baby, a baby that is unable to breastfeed, or if you have multiples, then a hospital-grade pump can be a huge help. In the vast majority of cases these pumps are hired rather than purchased. You can often hire a hospital grade breastpump through a hospital, pharmacy or organisations like the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

Personal Electric Breastpumps

Personal electric pumps are lightweight, portable and often quite powerful despite their size. They are great if you are expressing for a number of months or if you need to return to work and wish to continue breastfeeding. Many are flexible enough to allow you to express from one or both breasts depending on your needs. A personal electric pump is a great investment if you plan to use it a number of times with subsequent children.

Manual Breastpumps

The advantages of manual pumps are their simplicity and convenient size as well as their low cost, which makes them a great option for occasional use.

Another use of a handheld pump is to help increase your milk supply alongside using an electric breastpump. A 2009 study of mothers of premature babies found that when the mums started using hand expression at each pumping session after using the electric pump their milk production increased from 500-600ml average per day to 900-100ml average per day after 8 days. The study determined that the amount of expressed milk could be increased by 48% by combining manual expression with expressing with an electric breastpump.

 Ten Tips in Getting Started

  1. Brief massaging and gentle lifting and moving of your breasts, will encourage flow and improve lymph drainage. It might feel weird to handle your breasts at first, but as you get used to their new function it will feel more natural!
  2. Apply a warm damp cloth, or taking a shower can assist the let-down reflex which will allow you to express more milk.  - Your let-down reflex is what makes your milk available to your baby, or in this case, your pump. Anxiety or stress can sometimes inhibit your let-down, so taking the time to relax can help.
  3. If you are away from your baby looking at a photograph or video as you express can also assist with your let-down reflex. – That ‘awww’ feeling when you see your baby helps stimulate your let-down. It can be hard to visualise your baby when you’re sitting in the dark with your breastpump, so pictures or video help remind your body why you’re expressing.
  4. If you are with your baby, holding them against your breast, skin to skin, will also help boost your supply. – Skin to skin is amazing! It helps regulate your baby’s temperature and heart rate and is greatly calming for you too, plus it reminds your body that there is a baby to feed.
  5. For quicker and more efficient pumping, try double pumping – expressing both breasts at once, with a pumpset for each breast. For this you may want to invest in a ‘pumping bra’ that allows you to pump hands-free.
  6. Whatever pump you are using, to increase flow you need to express at least as often as your baby would feed. In practical terms this means at least 8 times in 24 hours. – In general it’s better to express for shorter periods, but more often, than it is to try and do a marathon pumping session.
  7. Many women find it useful for express straight after a feed, or early in the day. – Much of your breastmilk is made at night, so take advantage by expressing at this time.
  8. Check the breast shell size, all nipples aren’t the same size so try out different size to find out what works for you. - The nipple needs to move freely in the funnel without rubbing and follow the rhythmic movements of the pump. A 2-4 mm clearance is a guide, as too much space around the nipple can render the pump less efficient and require higher suction which may also cause pain. If you don’t have the right size, it can lead to pain and less milk expressed.
  9. You can keep your breastmilk cool when out and about in a cool bag with an icepack. – This is particularly handy if you are at work and need to transport your breastmilk back home.
  10. Label and date expressed breast milk before putting it in the fridge or freezer so that you, your partner or your childminder knows which one to use first. – It’s best to use older milk first so you don’t find milk at the back of the freezer that you can no longer use because it has been stored too long!

Whatever the reason to express, it can be made a little easier with some preparation. It’s always a good idea to seek help if you are unsure about any aspect of breastfeeding or expressing. It’s new to you and your baby, and you aren’t expected to know it all!

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

Gain more Parenting Insights at our Expos

Get your Expo tickets today! View Expo dates