It took some challenges and mistakes for me to learn all these pumping tricks. Hopefully my advice can save you the struggle.

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As a working mom, I knew I’d be pumping in addition to breastfeeding when my second son was born. I was committed to making the pumping experience as smooth as possible.

With my first son, I’d nursed and pumped for over a year. Even though I was successful in making sure he always got the milk he needed, I felt like I was constantly playing catch-up to what he could drink. And I was always, and I mean always, washing pump parts.

The second time around I committed from the start to being a proud pumping and nursing mama. I spent over a year working hard to pump enough not just for my son, but for other babies in my community who needed milk that their mamas could not supply.

By the time my son was a year old I had donated over 45 gallons of milk and become somewhat of a pumping expert. Check out the tips below that I learned over the course of my pumping journey!

If you’re going to be pumping throughout the day you don’t want to have to wash parts after every session. If you can afford the upfront investment in another set of flanges and tubing it can save you in the form of time spent scrubbing parts.

When you are ready to wash your pump parts it is important to follow the CDC guidelines to prevent contamination of pump parts. Along with a second set of pump parts, you may want to purchase a dedicated wash basin for your pump accessories (it’s best not to put pump parts directly in the sink).

When I first started pumping I used to freeze my milk upright as the bag sat. Within a few weeks, my freezer was filled with lots of awkwardly shaped frozen bags and I was running out of space.

All it took was one bag falling over in the freezer and freezing flat for me to realize that I could save lots of space by freezing every milk bag flat on its side.

Don’t want to spend money on an expensive hands-free pumping bra? Or just want to have a few options for when your one hands-free bra gets covered in spit up?

I was traveling and had forgotten my pumping bra when I figured out just how easy it was to grab a cheap sports bra, cut out a hole over the nipples with just enough room for a pump flange to fit, and make my own brand new hands free pumping bra!

In a pinch, I also used the clever hair-tie method to create a hands-free pumping experience.

While some experts recommend waiting to pump until your supply is established, that advice assumes you only want to pump enough to replace a feeding.

If you’d like to build up a stash of milk to donate or feed to baby when you’re done nursing as I did, add in a pump session after your baby feeds within the first few days of their life and keep it consistent as they grow.

Keep in mind that breastfeeding is a supply and demand system, and more isn’t always better. Adding in too many extra pumping sessions can lead to an oversupply, which can cause engorgement and make latching and feeding more challenging.

Feeling sore? Have a clogged duct? Milk just not flowing like it normally does?

Heat up a rice bag, use a heated blanket, or run hot water over a washcloth to create a warm compress and then press it gently to your breasts before or during your pumping session. I learned and relearned this one over and over any time I had nursing trouble.

Have a clogged duct that’s not coming loose even with a warm compress? Once, when I was really in pain and desperate I massaged the spot where I could feel the clog with the vibrating handle of an electric toothbrush as I pumped and, like magic, the clog disappeared!

If you don’t have an electric toothbrush on hand anything that vibrates will do the trick. 😉

Tired of having to solve clogged ducts with warm compresses and electric toothbrushes? Talk to your doctor and lactation consultant about adding lecithin to your daily vitamin routine.

Proponents suggest that daily use can alleviate clogged ducts. So far the evidence supporting use is anecdotal — in my own experience, I went from having a clogged duct at least once per week to less than once every few months.

Massaging your breasts might feel weird, but doing so as you pump can really help the milk flow. Massage downward and outward towards the nipple and you’ll see more milk than normal or a decrease in the amount of time it takes for your pump to empty your breasts. To see it in action you can watch this video.

In a hands-off session, I was usually able to pump 5 to 7 ounces of milk. In a hands-on session, though, I was often able to pump at least 10 ounces.

If you’re thirsty, drink. If you’re hungry, snack. If you just need a minute to regroup, take a minute. Try to build in something to each pumping session that offers you a positive moment. Whether that is snacking on a lactation cookie, setting aside a book just for pumping sessions, or simply scrolling Instagram looking at things you love, make sure that you’re taking care of your own needs.

You can make milk even if you’re overwhelmed, hungry, thirsty, or exhausted, but doing all you can to stay hydrated, fed, relaxed, and rested benefits your milk supply – and your life.

If you’re also feeding from the breast, it might be hard to find time to pump with baby nursing on demand. If you’re still looking to build a stash though, choose a time right after baby falls asleep (either at night or for their long nap) and pump at that time every day.

By 4 weeks old my babe was sleeping in stretches of 4 to 6 hours so I’d pump at 9 p.m., after he went to bed at 8 p.m., and didn’t have to worry about him waking up to an empty breast.

Another option is to use a milk collection device at each feed, like one from Haakaa or Milkies. These work by placing them on one breast to collect any milk that flows out while your baby feeds on the other breast. These are a great option for really using every drop.

It doesn’t take much milk in your freezer to begin to lose track of which milk should be used first. Alleviate the “which bag do I grab?” dilemma or the horror of pulling out bags that are too old for baby to consume by storing your flat frozen milk (don’t forget that one!) in gallon storage bags.

Write the dates it was pumped in permanent marker across the front. For bonus points, store the newest milk on the bottom or in the back of the freezer (like they do in the grocery store) to make it easy to access the oldest milk.

If you’ve got the space and the stash, getting a deep freezer for your milk is a worthwhile investment. Not only will you be freeing up your inside freezer space for items like ice cream and frozen pizza (yum!), but milk stored in a deep freeze actually lasts longer than milk stored in a conventional freezer. When I was pumping I asked for, and got, my deep freezer for my birthday.

This trick is helpful when you worry about power outages or other issues impacting your frozen milk. In my neighborhood, the power tends to go out a few times per year so this is really important!

If there’s a power outage and, afterward, you find the penny still on top of the frozen water in the cup, you know your milk stayed frozen. If, however, the penny is now frozen in the bottom of the cup you know your milk thawed and refroze and needs to be discarded (sob!).

If your area has frequent power outages and you’re worried about your frozen milk staying frozen, consider splitting up your stash so that it doesn’t all go bad in the event you experience a power outage.

Store some in your inside freezer and some in a deep freezer and ask a few local relatives or friends to keep a gallon Ziploc of frozen bags in their freezers. My parents, sister, and bestie all had a gallon or so of my milk in their freezer until I stopped nursing my son.

If you end up with more milk than your baby can drink, consider donating to another baby whose mom might not be able to supply the milk they need. You can donate through a milk bank or through a peer-to-peer network.

Donated milk can be lifesaving. However, it’s important that you consider safety. Make sure you’ve been tested and cleared for communicable diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. And always store milk safely using clean parts and containers. If you plan on working with a milk bank, check with them for guidelines and requirements.

Over the course of my pumping journey I donated milk to eight babies in my community and never felt prouder of doing my part to help other parents!


Julia Pelly has a master’s degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer, and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. Julia lives in North Carolina with her husband and two young boys. You can find more of her work at JuliaPelly.com.