I feel like moms who breastfeed have lots of resources online, not least of which is right here on Real Simple Mama. But I think that moms who pump are often left to figure things out on their own. In a topic which is widely experienced but not widely discussed, I’ve created an extensive article about pumping gear for nursing moms.
Let’s talk about the stuff I recommend for pumping… ‘cuz there’s a lot.
This article supplements my eBook,
Breastfeeding or Formula? A Real Simple Guide to Feeding Your Newborn Baby.
There are affiliate links in this article: I get a small commission if you purchase something through my Amazon links, at no extra cost to you.
Pumps themselves usually come in the following categories: hospital grade (which you can rent for a fee but can’t purchase); double electric (plug in and the motor can pump both breasts at once); and manual (done by hand, one breast at a time).
When you’re pregnant, contact your medical insurance (and get your obstetrician or midwife to help you if necessary). Due to Obamacare, you get a breast pump at a greatly reduced price, or oftentimes for free! This varies greatly from carrier to carrier, but it’s a huge leap in the right direction. Thanks, Obama!
I was able to get the Medela Pump In Style with the tote; this is arguably one of the best double electric pumps on the market. You can also buy them retail at about $259 – my full review of the pump with photos is here.
I do recommend that every breastfeeding mom has a single manual pump just to relieve engorged breasts, help suck out plugged ducts, etc. This is what I’m talking about – I actually have two of these. They’re super inefficient if you’re working full time away from baby, but for sporadic or emergency use (like if your double electric pump randomly stops working), these will cut it.
Pumping Gear – The Essentials
If you plan to pump full time – either because you’re having to work, or because you will be exclusively pumping – it’s best to have a tote or bag to put all your stuff in. Some pumps (usually the nicer double electric ones like the Medela Pump in Style series) come with their own, but if not I really do recommend having one tote to put everything in.
Look for a tote or bag with various pockets, and preferably one which is discreet and waterproof. This is similar to what I have, and is insulated to keep that milk cool too! You can search on Amazon for days for pumping bags though, which will house the pump motor for quick easy access. There are quite a few cute options!
You’ll also want spare parts so you don’t have to wash everything after every session (and by “set of parts”, I mean the entire setup you see in the photo above). I ended up with three sets of parts which I took with me to work every day; by the time I got home, they’d all been used and thrown in my pumping tote. But that way I didn’t have to wash one set over and over again while at work. (If you do have to re-use one set of parts, you need to either rinse them out or keep them cold so that milk and residue doesn’t start to spoil before you pump again). There are also wet dry bags like this which make it easy to travel with used pump parts.
If you’re using a double electric pump (which I highly recommend unless you’re just going to be pumping sporadically), it’s best to have an extra AC adaptor and/or battery pack with you. Some pumps even have car adaptors! I pumped on my commute daily and it helped save my milk supply since I had such a challenging time making enough.
You’ll want lots of bottles and/or bags for storage, too. Look for BPA free. (This is all great stuff to put on your registry too, btw). I personally only used the bags for freezing, because they’re flimsy. The bottles were of course sturdy, and make it simple for me to see how much I’d pumped. I ended up with a stash of over 30 various bottles by the time I was done pumping for my first kid! Some bottles will hold two ounces, some will hold as much as five or eight. Medela makes a kit which comes with various sizes, or you could just go check some out at the store to get a feel for what you might need. Not sure? Get five ounce – not too big, not too small.
As you can see, this can all get pretty insane. Your pump may have bottles you can pump into and then just stick a nipple over and bam! Ready for baby. There are glass bottles too. You could probably just go to a baby department at Target or Wal Mart and check out your options. The photo above was actually taken at my grocery store!
Some pumps will come with a cooler pack and a freezable ice pack; if not, this is something you gotta have. Your freshly pumped milk won’t be safe for long unless you keep it cool. Having a fridge at work is great, so you can store it there until you’re ready to go home for the day. (I would label it though or put it in a cooler bag, so someone doesn’t try to, you know, put it in their coffee or something). This is an example of what I mean – look for one which will hold as many bottles as you’ll be using throughout the day.
It Would Be Nice… Extra Gear Which Will Make Life Easier
Think about when and where you’ll be washing and prepping all the pump parts: do you need a drying rack? A special baby bottle brush to reach to the bottom of the bottles? You can also boil the parts in water, or use a microwaveable sterilizing bag, to keep things squeaky clean. I’ve always been told that you need to wash at least once a day, but don’t need to sterilize daily. I usually did it on the weekend.
You also should look into a pumping bra if you can. These things were made by women, for women, and they are a game changer! It looks kind of strange, because essentially it’s a bra with holes where the nipples go. But you can put your flanges through the holes, and the bra will hold everything for you. Hands free pumping! You can buy these everywhere, including strapless zip up ones which look like a funky corset; or you can be cheap like me and just go to town with one of your old bras and a pair of scissors. (If your husband gives you a funny look, just threaten to cut him).
If you end up using a nursing bra or tank while pumping, you can also use the “hairband hack” to hold up your flanges for you. You’ll need four headbands total – loop two within each other so that they form a taut figure eight, and put one around the flange with the other around the nursing clip of your open bra. Ta da! Yay for Pinterest.
Freezing Your Breastmilk
If you’re going to be freezing milk, I have a few different suggestions. It’s one thing to bring milk home to be used that same week; however, if you’re building up a freezer stash, donating milk, or you just have too much to use immediately, here are some guidelines.
You need to label all of the milk, religiously. Seriously – screwing this up can make your baby quite ill. If you make one bag with multiple days’ milk in it, write down the oldest date (e.g. the first milk). So if I pumped on January 3-5, I need to write January 3. And of course, thaw out the oldest milk first when it’s time to make a bottle. Thaw in the fridge, not in hot water. And then it’s gotta be used within 24 hours.
I choose to freeze my milk in bags, laying down flat. Why? Because then I’ve got neat little skinny bags which stack nicely, and don’t take up a ton of room in the freezer. Bottles are great for in the fridge.
Speaking of freezer, where do you plan to freeze the milk? If it’s in a normal freezer which is opened on a regular basis, the milk will be good for up to 6 months or so (as long as it stays below freezing, obviously). If you can get a dedicated freezer or a deep freezer – or anything which isn’t accessed often – the milk can be good for up to a year! Isn’t that fantastic? I do recommend, however, that you put an extra lock like this on the freezer door. You would be devastated if your stash was thawed out because someone didn’t close the door all the way.
Look to Pinterest for other helpful hacks on how to store breastmilk – you can use a soda can box to make a dispenser for all those frozen bags, for example.
I’ll admit that the pumping life is not ideal for many moms. It’s a labor-intensive reminder that we aren’t with our babies. But you can make pumping easy and more enjoyable by being prepared and efficient. Plus, knowing that you’re still giving your baby that liquid gold is something you should be so proud of! That milk will benefit them for the rest of your life, and hauling this milk machine around will all be worth it in the end.
What tips or suggestions do you have about pumping for your baby?