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15 Practical Tips for Pumping Moms

It's no secret that most of us hate pumping breast milk. Nursing or breastfeeding, sure, but I don't think I've ever heard a mom say, "Wow, I can't wait to go pump! This is going to be great!" Nope. Pumping more often feels like a chore. There's all that washing of the parts, the frantic measuring of ounces and the faintest, unspoken feeling that you have a lot in common with a dairy cow.

It can be frustrating, boring and difficult to maintain motivation, especially if what you're producing doesn't feel like enough. After nearly two years of on and off pumping for two babies, I've gathered a few tips from mom friends, coworkers, doctors, nurses and lactation consultants that have made pumping a little less annoying and a little more productive.

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1. Bring something that smells like your baby. It works better than staring at photos!

Looking at photos of your baby, especially as a newborn, can get those maternal feelings going, but bringing along their onesie or sleeper from the night before often helps that letdown happen sooner. A lactation consultant gave me this tip with my first baby, and it works great, especially when you're at work, stressed out and having a hard time focusing on pumping.

2. Try more than one pump

I nearly lost my mind trying to pump with my very first pump.

Before you declare yourself a pumping failure, try switching pumps. They do actually work differently with each one producing a slightly different sucking motion.

I nearly lost my mind trying to pump with my very first pump. I knew I didn't have a supply issue, because my newborn was growing just fine, but I could barely squeeze out an ounce with this pump. As maternity leave came to a close, I started panicking over what my baby would eat when our pediatrician, very calmly, said: "Try another pump."

I switched to a hospital-grade Medela and then the more portable Freestyle, and both worked great for me. You can often rent a pump to test it out from your local lactation/maternity store, Babies R Us or the hospital.

3. Wait for the second or even third letdown

Keep that pump humming past the 10-minute mark and indulge in a few baby fantasies, and you'll likely experience a second letdown before you get to 20 minutes. You might even get to that mythical third letdown if you can spare a few more minutes.

4. Store pump parts in the refrigerator between pumping sessions

Pumping takes up enough time as it is. Don't bother sterilizing all those parts between pumping sessions if you're pumping several times a day. Just do it once at the end of the day and let everything air dry for morning.

5. Beware of cold medicines

When my first baby joined daycare, she brought home one super bug after another, and I got most of them, too. When one turned into a vicious ear-sinus infection combo, I desperately downed a variety of heavy-duty cold medicines. Turns out this is not a good idea for nursing or pumping moms for a number of reasons, including because they can tank your supply with ingredients like pseudoephedrine. And tank mine did. I don't think I ever fully recovered after that one.

The breastfeeding site Kelly Mom has an excellent rundown on which cold and other medicines are safe, but honestly, if you're worried about your supply, try to stick to the natural routes with perhaps a dash of ibuprofen.

6. Drink more water than you think possible

Apparently it's up for debate as to whether or not drinking extra fluids aids a mom's milk supply, but honestly I've never been as thirsty as I am when nursing, and I've certainly heard the same from friends. I keep a glass of water by my side at all times. Whenever I don't drink enough I wind up dizzy, especially in the early days when you're exhausted.

Mix it up with sparkling water, fresh juices and coconut water if you get bored of regular H20.

7. Avoid dresses

You'll find yourself having to undress completely in a freezing, air-conditioned room and anxiously staring at the door as you sit naked and lactating.

Unless it's designed for nursing, or the top half easily pulls down like with a wrap dress, a dress is not conducive to comfortable pumping at work. Otherwise, you'll find yourself having to undress completely in a freezing, air-conditioned room and anxiously staring at the door as you sit naked and lactating.

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8. Invest in nursing clothes

Excited to ditch your frumpy maternity gear? Well, welcome to the slightly less frumpy, but just as overpriced category of new-mom wear: nursing clothes. But buying a few nursing items, including a work-appropriate nursing dress or a hands-free pumping bra, speeds up the pumping process by eliminating those few seconds or minutes it takes to dress and undress.

9. Keep a package of baby wipes on hand to remove milk splashes

Trust me, you'll splash the floor, the chair, the counter and—well, basically everything, if you're me. Having a stash of wipes on hand makes cleanup easy.

10. Get a pump that operates on a battery

Hospital grade pumps are terrific, because they're fast and efficient, but having a lighter, battery-operated pump will come in handy when you find yourself trying to squeeze in a pumping session in an unfamiliar place with no electrical socket in sight. Hello, West Elm bathroom.

11. Buy a second set of pump parts to store at work

Invariably you will forget one key piece to your pumping apparatus, like one of those tiny membrane things, and suddenly your boobs are on fire and you're racing off to the closest Target. If you can, keep an entire second set of pump parts in your desk drawer to avoid this stress.

12. Squeeze 'em

Yep, just as it works while nursing your baby, squeezing or massaging your boobs can get the milk out a little faster.

13. Eat mommy cookies and tea

OK, so we all know that the baby can kill a 6- or 8-ounce bottle (mine have drank 12 ounces!), but many of us are not going to be able to pump that much in one sitting. This is where the freezer supply or formula come in, but I also sometimes turn to nursing supplements.

Occasionally, especially in late afternoon when my supply feels a bit lower, I'll munch on some oatmeal, an oatmeal cookie or sip a nursing tea with fenugreek. There are many supplements to try (check with your ob-gyn or pediatrician first, please!), but I have found that I'll get a little boost in milk output after the tea in particular.

14. Use a funnel to transfer milk from freezer bags to bottles

Although those breast milk storage bags claim to offer "convenient pour spouts," this is not really the case as anyone who has ever tried to pour one of these things into a baby bottle knows! Luckily, it's a snap to do with a cheap plastic funnel procured from your cooking supply store.

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15. Pump right before you go to bed

A lactation consultant gave me this pumping tip, and at first I didn't get it. What is she talking about? I need to get a few hours of sleep in before the baby wakes again! Why and when would I squeeze this in?

But, once your baby is sleeping through the night or falling into a more regular sleep schedule, this is a great way to eke out a few more ounces for your freezer supply or to top off the next day's bottles.

Have another helpful pumping tip? Please share it in the comments!

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