If you’ve ever used a breast pump, then you know how potentially painful and awkward it can be, especially if you do so on a regular basis. I mean, seriously, putting on plastic cones attached to a device that sucks milk out of you is not exactly the classiest or most comfortable thing you’ll ever do in your life. I remember the first time I used a breast pump, I literally laughed out loud. It was so weird! Our lactation consultant from the hospital was absolutely amazing and, thanks to her, I was able to successfully nurse my starving baby despite the fact that I wasn’t producing any milk the first two days of his life (not uncommon with C-section deliveries).
Not only did our lactation consultant single-handedly save my nursing relationship with my baby, she also saved me the trial and error of trying to figure out how to get comfortable while pumping. Since many nursing/pumping moms never get the chance to work with a lactation consultant (which is such a shame!), I thought I’d pass along a few tips for how to make pumping a little less painful and awkward. This post contains affiliate links for your convenience (see my full disclosure here).
3 Tips for Making Pumping Less Painful and Awkward:
1. Use the right size breast shields. A too-small shield will compress milk ducts, cause friction, and may actually decrease milk supply. A too-large shield will fail to create an effective seal and may pull on too much tissue (ouch!). A just-right shield will cause minimal discomfort while allowing for smooth movements and efficient emptying of milk ducts. Regardless of whether you use a manual or electric pump, I’ve been told that many mamas find a good fit with 27mm shields. You can think of the 27mm shields
as the “large” size, however, I believe most pump kits come with size “small” or “medium” shields (21 mm or 24mm), which doesn’t really make any sense to me.
No matter how frequently you pump, you need to use the right size shield! I’m telling you, don’t mess around with this one. You really won’t know what size you need until after you have your baby and have started nursing, so that’s a bit of a bummer. If you give birth in a hospital and are planning to nurse for any amount of time, ask to meet with their lactation consultant and have them get you the right size shield! And if they don’t have one, seek one out so you can get started on the right foot. You can also contact your local La Leche League and WIC agency for additional support. Click here to read more about how to determine whether your shields are too big, too small, or just right.
2. Coat your breast shields with lanolin (or some comparable product). This is one the pumping manuals never mention, but it really is the best kept secret when it comes to comfort. Not only is lanolin great for direct application to the skin to soothe irritated skin, it also allows for better suction, smooth gliding, and minimal friction while pumping. So whether you pump a few times a week or several times a day, it will save you from getting the equivalent of a rug burn on your life giving, newly sensitive, often-abused body parts. Simply apply a little bit of lanolin to the inside “neck” area of each breast shield (coating slightly above and below the neck as well) and you’re good to go. I have had good success with Medela Tender Care, but there are many other good brands out there, and a small tube will last you several months even if you pump every day. Though I’ve heard of some people using olive oil in a similar fashion, lanolin is much less messy, easier to clean, and more transportable for those of us who have to pump on-the-go.
3. Use a hands-free pumping bra. I’ll be honest, this one is a little weird. Every picture advertising these products shows some half-naked woman working on a laptop or laughing and talking on the phone while wearing her hands-free pumping bra. I almost didn’t buy one just because of the outlandish photos. But don’t let the cheesiness of the ads deter you from investing in one of the most useful pumping products you will ever own! Seriously, it is that helpful. Whether you prefer double or single pumping, manual or electric, a hands-free contraption is the way to go. I mean, think about it. How are you supposed to scratch your nose, adjust the pump’s intensity, or pass time playing on your phone when your hands are holding on for dear life to the shields? Trust me, you don’t want spilled milk all over your pants because you tried to secure both shields with one arm while using the other arm to adjust the pump or wipe spit-up off your sweet baby’s face. And, honestly, your arms just get tired from holding those things up for 15-20 minutes at a time.
If you don’t want to invest the money, you could also cut holes in an old sports bra to accomplish a similar outcome. However, the fabric will get stretched out after a few uses and you’ll end up having to support the shields and bottles with your hands anyway. Pumping bras are made precisely to avoid that problem and are also adjustable so you can change how tight or loose they are with each use. I decided to go with the Simple Wishes Hands-Free Pumping Bra. You can read more about successfully engaging in hands-free pumping by visiting Medela’s website. It might seem like a silly waste of money but, SERIOUSLY!, invest in one of these. You’ll be glad you did.
What strategies have you discovered for increasing the comfort and decreasing the awkwardness of pumping?