I’ve resisted writing this post for nearly three years. I mean, who wants to pump in the first place, let alone take a microscope to the subject and write about it?
I’ll begin with a disclaimer that the idea here is to chat about something that doesn’t get chatted about very often and to share a bit of my own experience, in hopes that it might provide a bit of normalization. My particular experience is as quirky and specific as any one else’s. Differences in work hours and work places and personal preferences means that it’s unlikely this will serve as a guide for what any one else’s pumping experience might look like. That’s okay. It can be still be nice to learn how someone else tackles something that might seem daunting. (If this feels helpful to you, yay! If it feels stressful to you, let me offer a cookie instead. If you’re otherwise uninterested, here are some pretty Easter eggs.)
My first experience with a breast pump came just days after Faye arrived. I sat crying on my apartment floor, exhausted by having just given birth and uncomfortable from engorged breasts. My sister Cait took the subway from the East Village, toting her electric pump. She slathered the flange (worst word) in coconut oil, told me to take a deep breath for heaven’s sake, and assured me that it was a good idea to take a little bit of the pressure off. A few minutes into the heaving groan of the electric motor and golden-colored milk started to fill up a bottle. Sweet relief, etc.
I eventually wrote to our insurance company to get an electric pump of my very own. I used that daily until Faye was about 8-months old and, shockingly, I just really didn’t like it. I didn’t like feeling confined to my desk. I didn’t like coiling and uncoiling all those tubes and plugging it in every time. I hated listening to it struggle along. Once I got a manual pump for on-the-go pumping, I just decided to start using that exclusively and I never looked back. (I pumped until Faye was a year old, when I started supplementing my milk with cow’s milk during the day.)
For me, the beauty of the manual pump is that it’s quiet, it’s small, and it’s, duh, portable. I can slip it into a small cloth bag, along with a glass jar or two for storing the pumped milk, tuck it into my work bag (or date-night bag) and no one’s the wiser.
Since I’m still often working from home for a few hours each morning while Silas takes his morning nap and Faye goes on adventures with a sitter, I’ve gotten along fine with just a manual pump this time around. Very much understood that for folks who need to pump several times a day, all of that hand-pumping might get tedious, but for me it spells freedom and an ability to go back to work while still breastfeeding.
All of this to say, I promise pumping isn’t so very bad.
A few other things:
I hear a lot from breastfeeding parents about the complications of cleaning a pump and bottles. We’re lucky to have a dishwasher in our apartment, so I just put everything on the top rack, run it through with our nightly load, set the pieces out to dry on a dishtowel, and start fresh in the morning. If I ever know that I’ll need to pump twice while I’m away from home, I just make sure I wash my pump out with hot water and dish soap (if I can find some). (I know some folks pop the whole pump into the fridge in between sessions to avoid needing to thoroughly wash it several times a day. Genius.)
To avoid single-use plastic, I store my pumped milk in 8 oz mason jars in our freezer. We have twelve of these jars and with the addition of a few extra glass bottles also filled with milk, that’s enough for me to have a comfortable stockpile.
I typically get about 5 oz from one pumping session. If I get a lot less, I pop the jar in the fridge until the next time I pump that day. Then I top off the jar and pop that into the freezer.
+ As always, consult the real experts for more advice. My go-to site for all things breastfeeding is Kelly Mom, an evidence-based resource that’s specific and clear and blessedly not a live forum for every worried person on the internet.
+ I use the Philips Avent Manual Comfort Breastpump. It’s super easy to clean and comfortable to use. I’m using the same one now that I used with Faye and it’s never broken or warped or otherwise stopped working, even with daily trips through the dishwasher. (Ironically, in between writing this piece and posting it, the plastic handle fell to the bottom of the dishwasher and got a little scorched, but it’s still totally serviceable.)
+ The other day it occurred to me that it would be very awesome if someone made a bottle nipple to attach to the mason jars I’m already using to store milk. Shortly after that, Faye and I were in a shop full of baby gear and she came running over to me with just such a contraption in hand. We’re still using our hand-me-down glass bottles, but if you’re considering something different, meet Mason Bottles.
Thank you for writing this! I love your babyproof series, and this one especially hits home for me.
I inadvertently became an “exclusive pumper” not long after my twins were born last year. It’s nothing I had even considered while pregnant, I assumed I would be able to breastfeed or formula feed as needed. Pumping is grueling and exhausting, but I love being able to provide some milk for my babies.
I love the idea of using mason jars vs. the plastic baggies!! Thanks for the tip.
New reader, 9 mos pregnant as we speak. I can’t thank you enough for writing these posts! I registered for the Avent manual pump because the thought of lugging all those cords and tubes everywhere seemed daunting. I’m so glad to hear it works for you! Keep the baby proof posts coming!
I wish I could pump!!! For some reason I can pump for hours and still only get a tiny 1oz. We had loads of problems breastfeeding (I’ve read your breastfeeding post thousands of times to help get me through the tough times, thank you so much for it) with tongue tie and low supply and pumping was suggested as a way to help increase my supply. Even when I was full to bursting I couldn’t pump anything. Once we hit 6 mouths and milk wasn’t my daughters only source of food things got much easier. I still can’t pump but she is a happy breastfeeder now plus has a healthy appetite. I guess as uncomfortable as pumping is be glad you have the option life’s a lot harder when you are determined to breastfeed and can’t do it. Love your posts xx
Nicole, I couldn’t pump either. No milk would come no matter what I tried, and I would become engorged and it hurt. I eventually gave up on pumping, but as luck would have it I could arrange my life to exclusively breastfeed (college, then grad school, zipping home between classes to nurse baby, then toddler, then baby, toddler again, whew). I would have loved the convenience of leaving a baby with a bottle though!!
Same story here. No nights out for 6 months. Baby got plenty of milk but pumping never worked. Wise bodies we have, providing milk only for real babies 😉
In case it’s helpful for the future (or maybe for someone else perusing), try hand expressing! Might also be too tedious but I (and other moms I know) have found it to be almost always effective even when a pump is not (granted, I have only used it on occasion, not regularly).
Yes ! Or hand expressing is also a very good way to “get the milk on his way ” and then pumping !
My little one had difficulties with breastfeeding but I had the chance to gave her exclusivly my milk for two month thank to the Medela electric pump.
Breastfeeding = lots of different and not simples stories !
Thanks Erin for sharing and good luck for everyone 😉
Amélie from France
Thank you for sharing this, such good timing! We are expecting our 2nd and I didn’t have to pump with our first but I know I will (due to work) the second time around. have so much anxiety about it!
Also, love the mason jar suggestion!
My baby refused to nurse (five lactation consultants, 5 weeks of trying, I have “flat” nipples) so I exclusively pumped for six months. It was OK. I watched a TON of TV and/or read, and it was a quiet break twice a day at work. We were a breastmilk factory at our house each night – washing, prepping, etc., but it felt good to provide for my baby. However a baby is fed, yay!
Love this, “however a baby is fed, yay!!” The perfect thing to keep in your heart when talking to moms. However you’re doing it, that’s the right way.
Oh yes–my inverted nipples are not a fan of breastfeeding or pumping…I tried and tried, and was more engorged than seems physically possible. It took awhile to be happy with “however a baby is fed” and to give myself permission to stop. My baby and I were much happier and healthier afterward!
I just ordered my mason bottle nipples! I was planning on using mason jars for storage and this makes it so much easier! I might have been a little lax the with my first two kids, but I simply rinsed the flange part of the pump with really hot water after I pumped and then wrapped everything up in a dish towel and threw it in my pumping back. Then at the end of the work week I would throw them in boiling water for 10 minutes to soak and let them air dry (we don’t have a dishwasher). I wouldn’t say pumping was my favorite thing ever, but I never really minded it. I worked corporate jobs with my first two kids and it was an excuse to get away from my desk and scroll through my social media feeds twice a day for 10-15 minutes 🙂 I will say that I didn’t enjoy pumping as much on the days that I worked from home…then it felt like a hassle. But I very much welcomed the change of scenery when at work.
Ha! Yes! For me, I think of it as the moment in my day when I’m away from the screen! A little rest for my eyes!
As an exclusive pumper for the 56 days my daughter was in the NICU, I’ve used hospital grade pumps, the insurance covered pumps, and two different manual pumps…. It’s exhausting. But I ended up now 11 months later, just using the hand pump. I agree, it’s so much easier. I throw it and a freezer pack in a tiny insulted bag and can pump on the go!
To your last statement, I wish there was a way for the mason jar to screw directly to the pump!
Oh my goodness: what a journey! Yes: Mason jar pumps!
I feel the same way about my medela hand pump, although I do use the electric pump at work. I got lifefactory glass bottles for my son and pump right into them. One thing that helped me a ton to produce more is compression while pumping.
In a moment of pure serendipity, I check to see if you had posted a something new today just as I was settling in during my lunch hour to pump at work! On a separate note, I have a half-mile walk from the parking lot at work to my office (hooray, academia!), so toting an electrical pump around can get a bit unwieldy. More and more I’m opting for my manual pump instead because, as you said, it’s so much easier to throw in my bag and — bonus! — I don’t feel like a pack mule.
Ha! Yes: anything to lessen the pack mule analogies!
Mason bottles?! Total game changer and definitely looking into these. I exclusively pump for my 5-month-old twin boys and have been using mason jars to store my milk.
Just to add a little levity — and some reinforcement for your technique: My oldest son was an emergency, early birth. He was in the neonatal ICU for a week or so. They brought (wheeled, actually!) an electric pump into my room. I used it and soon the ‘frig in the baby ICU was overflowing with containers labeled “Ross” (which later led to an insurance nightmare because that’s my name, not his father’s, whose was the name the insurance company used). ANYWAY, the sound of those electric pumps back then was similar to the hum of the freezer section of the grocery store. So, yes, you’ve probably guessed, the sound would inspire my breasts to “let down” and there I’d be with those telltale spots on my shirt. He was a June baby so no overcoat to hide it. I also love that you are storing it in mason bottles, rather than the plastic pouches I was given.
Thanks for the mason jar bottles link, I’ll be recommending to all the mamas I know.
Thank you for this post. It’s helpful and encouraging to hear others who find a way to make it happen. I pump at work and nurse at home. My daughter just turned 7 months and I never thought I would do it this long. It’s rewarding but exhausting. To keep it simple, I leave my electric pump box, hoses and power cord in my office Monday to Friday and take home the flanges, joints and bottles home each night to wash. Much lighter for the daily trek. I have a manual pump and frozen milk at home if needed.
Love this. Thank you for sharing! I too am a big fan of the handheld pump. It never even crossed my mind to use mason jars and the fact you found attachable nipples to compliment is even better. Definitely keeping note of this for my next baby.
Cannot wait to nurse my little one though I’ll need to start pumping a few months in once I need to start working again. Question for all the mamas: best to start pumping right from the get-go or is it okay to just stick to the boob for 2 months and then start? I am all ears.
Just from my personal experience – I started pumping a few times a week at around 4 weeks to build up a freezer stash and get familiar with the process before I started work. For my peace of mind looking at future business travel, the freezer stash was extremely helpful. I had crazy oversupply so I didn’t pump a ton, but just a few times a week while breastfeeding full time still gave me a good stash. We followed the hospital lactation consultant’s advice not to introduce bottles until 4-6 weeks and for us that was too late. It took my girl 2 months to learn how to drink from a bottle and that was very stressful. A later, more helpful lactation consultant said (supportively) that while it’s not bad advice to wait, she now tells patients who aren’t having supply or other problems to start earlier, around 3 weeks, when baby still has a suck reflex.
The most helpful advice I received is to have a lactation consultant number in your phone before you have your baby! The hospital LCs are helpful but it’s so early that you kinda don’t know what problems you’ll have pumping in the real world. I personally have found the internet abyss to be more comforting than overwhelming but when in doubt I’d always kick it to a professional.
Awesome! Thank you Sam! Definitely didn’t think of those points and they are great ones. 😉
Just chiming in-while nursing my one month old :)-I ended up pumping right away, and it’s worked out well. After my c-section, I really struggled with breast feeding-I was squeezing tiny drops of colostrum and hoping the baby was ok. Anyway, the nurse encouraged me to start pumping right away, while in the hospital, and my doctor ordered a pump to be sent to our house when we got home. Eventually, my milk came in and breast-feeding has (thankfully) been totally fine, but since I got used to pumping early, I just kept doing it, in addition to breastfeeding. It’s actually been really nice to have a bottle so my husband can do a feeding, and made me more comfortable leaving him for a few hours with family. Good luck with everything!
A bit off topic…is there a source for the gingham drawstring bag?
The bag is from Muji!
I too love love love love your baby proof series. I re-read your original breastfeeding post just a few weeks ago and cried because I’m now in the blissful easy stage of breastfeeding my 9 month old – your post was a beautiful piece of writing about a beautiful stage of parenting.
I’ve done a bit of everything – pumped daily while my girl was at out-of-the-house daycare, pumped on business travel, and now don’t pump much because our daycare situation has shifted to in my home (while I work here full-time. SOB. But no pumping is a plus.) I have a manual pump that’s been useful on long flights and in places with no outlets, but personally I definitely needed an electric pump to keep up my supply when I was pumping on a daily basis.
Something every breastfeeding mother should know – as part of the Affordable Care Act your insurance provider is required to cover an electric pump- you should not have to cover this cost yourself. Use it while it lasts! Then for fellow business travelers, I have found this collection system ( https://www.amazon.com/Freemie-Collection-Cups-Concealable-Funnels/dp/B00UV6JDN8 ) to be really really helpful. I feel bad linking to more plastic products on a minimalist blog but I’ve been very grateful to keep my clothes on as I’ve pumped at the sink in busy public restrooms or huddled in the corner around airport outlets…or in the car with my very understanding boss.
Thanks so much for this post. I really appreciated any information I could find on the nitty gritty of pumping when preparing to go back to work!!
My two cents: I used the Medela pump in style at work – not my fav activity but I liked being able to use my hands for work while I pumped – and a medela hand pump when out and about. I used evenflo glass bottles for feeding and storage and pumped directly into them from either pump. I love the idea of mason jars but liked having something that attached directly to my pump. For those figuring out bottles, lifefactory also attaches directly but, for me, the evenflo bottles were affordable enough to use for storage (and are also glass).
Yes the Evenflo glass bottles are awesome! I also used them for both feeding and storage which meant I could just take what I needed from the freezer and whoever was watching the baby didn’t need to transfer the milk to a separate container.
This may be a silly question, but with the manual pump doesn’t your hand hurt? Or maybe I should ask how long a pumping session takes? My insurance only covered $30 toward a pump, so my mom bought me an electric one for Christmas, but just looking at it gives me anxiety. Baby is due in four weeks, so I haven’t had the chance to try it out yet, but I already wish I had a manual pump.
I haven’t had any hand discomfort! Pumping sessions are usually pretty short: ~10-15 minutes!
My favorite pump was the manual one as well. It just worked better overall. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!
Have you heard of Willow? It’s a hands-free, tube-free pump that moms can tuck into their bra. It’s really quiet and seems more convenient than other options. It’s not out yet – will officially launch in a couple months.
I don’t have kids (yet) but will definitely consider this when the time comes! Full disclosure – I work for an ad agency in Brooklyn that’s helping launch the online store. Here’s the link: willowpump.com
This sounds like smart technology!
I’m 9 months pregnant with one, and have 21-month-old twins at home. I pumped SO MUCH for them, especially once my son (twins are boy-girl) weaned on his own just shy of five months…but had trouble with most of the formulas I offered to supplement. I set up a pumping station at first. Everything was there and ready to go and I had a dedicated outlet that my pump remained plugged into so I could just go in, hook up, and pump for 15-20 minutes. Things became more tedious when I returned to the office MWF, because I had to clear my calendar, close my door, and turn on do not disturb and then set everything up. But I am a HUGE advocate of the “pop it in the fridge and wash it once every 24 hours” thing. Sometimes we used our dishwasher, but sometimes we’d just fill the sink with super hot and soapy water and dirty bottle pieces at dinner time and wash and lay everything out at bedtime and I’d just wash my pump parts when I was washing (12-16) bottles and parts. It became a routine and there’s beauty and resentment in routines. This was no different.
This time I got a second pump and I also received a hands-free option from a friend I’m close to and trust (which I may or may not end up using – different people have different comfort levels here and I’m not out to change any minds and haven’t fully decided for myself). I plan to bring my old pump to work when I return (again only MWF) and set up a pumping station again at home. Because I now have twins to chase, I will reserve judgment on the station vs. hands-free option and how much/often to pump until I see how everything is going. My goal is always to get as close to a year as baby determines — my twin daughter weaned just shy of ten months and so I packed everything up (my supply was nearly gone by that point anyway) at that point. I’m completely comfortable going with the flow with #3 — be it 3 months, 6 months, or 12 months (but by a year, I’m pretty ready to have my body back…)
Love this post. Fed is best and whatever works for mamas and families is the right choice. Cheers to the mamas! <3
Extremely handy post as I approach 30 weeks! Head’s been spinning with feeding info. and options, and this was a great read. (The insurance-provided electric pump is in my closet unopened, waiting for me to muster the resolve the figure out all the pieces!)
Just wanted to add here that there’s been a great effort to rethink the design of the pump, by folks at the Media Lab, led by mother-of-three and research affiliate Catherine d’Ignazio. It got a huge amount of press and support; more here: http://breastpump.media.mit.edu/
Thanks, Erin, as always!
Oh, pumping. I pumped from the first day my daughter was born (trouble latching), multiple times daily in addition to nursing through the first months even after we figured out the latch issues (slow weight gain and supply issues), and during the work day after I returned to work when she was 8 months old. I continued to pump at work until she was 28 months old and my supply plummeted while I was pregnant with my son. I don’t really mind pumping – I guess because I became so accustomed to it after doing it so often for so long. I mostly used a rented hospital-grade electric pump and the electric pump acquired through my insurance, but for certain situations (long flights where my daughter would sleep the whole time, travel when she got older, weddings, etc.) I used a manual pump for portability. My lactation consultant recommended the Medela Lactina Piston Cylinder (easily bought on Amazon for $10) which screws into the back of Medela pump parts for most (all?) of the other Medela pumps. It’s quite small, and overall has worked really well for me. It is a bit of an arm workout so I’m not sure I’d recommend it for use multiple times a day, but it’s a good option for occasional use and it’s held up well (I’m using the same one now with my 1.5-month-old son to relieve a bit of pressure if he happens to have a really long stretch of sleep overnight).
I’m curious – what does coconut oil on the flange do?
Just makes it generally more comfortable for very engorged boobs. Not something I do all the time!
Oh thank heaven – the mason bottle was a dream of mine, too! Dreams do come true, apparently. Thanks for the link!!
Thanks so much for this helpful post, Erin! As a soon-to-be first-time mom, I’m so grateful for your Baby Proof series.
I would LOVE to hear about your experience with diapering in a tiny apartment! This is something I’m a bit anxious about, in terms of managing smells, containing necessities in one place etc. and would love to learn how you’ve managed it!
Thanks for all of your helpful advice and inspiration 🙂 Your site has been such a gift to me!
I’m expecting #2 in the Fall and want to try the manual pump this time around. I have also heard fantastic things about the Haakaa silicone breastpump, which is supposedly even more handsfree and less time consuming! You just suction it onto whichever side baby isn’t nursing on and can get several ounces from the letdowns baby stimulates. Sounds amazing to me!
We have been using the Haakaa pump and love it! My baby is 3 mos old and I’ve rarely ever used our electric pump. Now that she is getting bigger she will sometimes kick the Haakaa pump off the other side while nursing but it has been a lifesaver!
I used both electric and hand pumps with both kids, but for my first born, the hand pump just worked better. And it was so small, quiet, and convenient. As a field ecologist, I used the hand pump all over the place: wetlands, forests, boats, side of the road, gross bathrooms I’d rather not think about. How cool are those mason jar bottles!!
Love the glass jar idea! For my first baby, I used silicone ice cube trays, and then stored the cubes in a glass freezer container. Jars sound even easier… especially with those lids!
Yes, pumping. I have to pump now that I’m back at work and I kind of despise it. Mostly because I do have an expensive electric pump, but I always feel like I have more to get out! I end up hand expressing because I don’t feel the electric pump is doing it’s job very well. I have been debating on whether or not to purchase a manual, and your post pushed me to it! I hope this pump will do a lot better. ::fingers crossed:: I also really love the mason jar bottles – I wish I had thought of this beforehand. We use the comotomo bottles and really love them!
This post was a lifesaver when I first started breastfeeding/ storing milk. Quick question, now that I am back to work it’s time to start defrosting the mason jars for days when I’m back at the office. What defrosting method did you use? Do you just leave one in the fridge a day ahead of time to slowly defrost in the fridge? Thanks so much, keep those baby proof posts coming!
Hi Gabriela! We do that sometimes! Sometimes we leave it out on the counter or run under warm water!
Hey I know this post is super old, but wondering you would answer a question for me? About how long is a pump session for you with the manual pump? I’d like to try it, but only have 30min breaks at work to pump in. Thanks, just started reading and love everything about this blog!!
Literally just packed up my pump! For me it’s ~10-15 mins!
Oh that’s amazing! Thanks for the reply. Ugh this is definitely getting into specifics ,but I just can’t imagine how to do it and google is confusing me. Do you pump one breast for 10 and then the other? Or do you switch every few minutes as you go along? Going to try it out tonight I hope!
Ugh, I know it. There’s just not a manual for this stuff, is there? I do think every experience is so different though. I usually do one side and then the other! (And when I’m home, I often pump while Silas is nursing to help speed things along!)
You must have a rockin supply 🙂 If I pumped while nursing id probably just have to bottle feed it to him right after haha. Thank you so so much for replying and helping me through this pump mystery!
Eh, more like it’s sometimes random how much I can pump during the day andI come home very much in need of nursing/pumping! You got this, any which way!
Just leaving a note to say that I’ve just revisited this and still found it super helpful! I’ve given up on the electric pump during the work day and gone to manual. Soooo much more transportable (and gives me more location options during work!). I wish I’d tried it sooner.
Yay! So glad. Here’s to *anything* that makes it less…onerous. Xo.
Does your pump directly connect to the mason jars or does it require an adapter? I’m trying to figure out how to connect my Spectra S1 to a mason jar. Any tips?
No, doesn’t connect! I pour my milk into the jars after pumping to store.
I know this post is quite old and I don’t know if this comment will even appear on your radar—I’m expecting my first baby in a couple of months and I’ve bought the Avent manual pump you recommended. Ever since the internet has figured out that I’m pregnant it’s aggressively marketing bottle sterilisers at me. I’m trying to buy as little as possible for the twin sakes of frugality and sustainability, and your solution of washing pump parts and bottles in the dishwasher seems eminently sensible to me. I live in the UK and various health websites say that dishwashing *cleans* but does not *sterilise* bottles.
Did you do anything in addition to dishwashing your pump parts and bottles, or did that seem sufficient to you?
Thank you for this wonderful series—I’m revisiting your Baby Proof posts religiously, and the relevant parts of your book too. You make parenting seem much more manageable than the marketing demons would have it be! x
I truly never did anything but wash and run through the dishwasher!
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