Mastering the art of expressing milk is something that takes practice and time - like many aspects of being a new parent, no one can be expected to start and instinctively know all the tips and tricks that can make life a lot easier. It takes research, trial and error, and plain old practice.
It can also help to get good advice from someone who specialises in the area. Lynne Hall, a lactation consultant with 11 years of experience and author of Breastfeeding & Baby Matters, has helped thousands of women successfully breastfeed and give breastmilk to their babies. And she freely admits that competently expressing milk using a breast pump is an acquired skill,
"Using a pump is a bit like learning to drive a manual car," Lynne says. "You don't just hop in and know how to change the gears and drive it straightaway."
Her first piece of advice? While you're learning to use the pump, don't put yourself into high pressure situations where you urgently need to express a certain volume of milk. Give yourself ample time to upskill and build confidence with your pump.
Here are eight other tips for getting the hang of using your breast pump to help you reach your breastfeeding goals with your baby.
Express in the morning and before you are due to feed
Your milk supply is at its highest at 2 or 3am then diminishes throughout the day, which is why Lynne recommends expressing in the morning. "If you express before a 9am or 11am feed, you have a greater chance of getting easier volume," she says. Pumping later in the afternoon when your supply is normally and naturally lower may lead to you become frustrated with the pump.
You'll also get most milk if you express 15-30 minutes before a feed is due, rather than afterwards when your baby has already drained your breast.
Have your baby close by
Many women find it easier to express milk if they can physically see their baby. If that's not possible, then your baby's smell can also be effective. Have something that smells of your baby close to you, such as an item of clothing or a comforter. Other mums choose to look at photos of their bub.
You should always be in a comfortable position when you're expressing. Take time to find a warm and private place where you don't feel under pressure. "If there is someone around to give you a neck massage, that's great," adds Lynne.
Also keep a glass or bottle of water close to hand so you stay hydrated.
Give yourself a French kiss
Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, helps mums throughout and after childbirth and can also help you express more effectively. Lynne calls this technique "giving yourself a French kiss". She explains, "While you are pumping, run your tongue along the top front of your mouth in front of your teeth right up to the gumline". This can help give an oxytocin boost right when you need it.
Love your pump
It's easy to view pumping as a time-consuming chore, but your best chance of pumping well is by having a positive attitude towards your pump and your time with it. It may sound odd, but it can help you even try to love it a little.
"You don't fall in love with your pump as easily as you do with your baby," Lynne says. "It's a mind game. Put that pump on, put positive thoughts into your head and say to yourself 'I just love pumping'."
Use heat and massage
Hopping into a hot shower before you express can aid your milk production, as can massage of the breast. "If you have a few minutes before you go to the pump, sit down and gently massage the breast towards the nipple while thinking lovely, faraway thoughts about your baby and how you're going to enjoy using the pump in the next few minutes," Lynne advises.
Pump for 10-15 mins
Because the pump uses a constant "suck swallow" motion, most mothers collect a similar volume in 10-15 minutes of expressing to what their baby might drink over a 40 minute feed. You should express from the side from which you are due to feed, but if the flow starts to ease up, you can switch to the other breast to get more volume before returning to the first side.
Make sure that the pump fits well on the nipple and remember that the suction level should not cause any pain.
Follow guidelines for safely storing breastmilk
The ABA have a comprehensive guide for storage of breastmilk which should be followed. As a general rule, breast milk can be stored in the fridge for three days and in the freezer for up to six months.
"Treat it as you would treat your leftovers", Lynne says. "If you've forgotten to label it and think it's been in the fridge for longer than a few days, I would suggest that you throw it out rather than having any doubts and concerns about what you give your baby."
This article brought to you by Philips Avent.