Disclaimer: I’m well aware that the majority of TKC readers couldn’t give two hoots about the state of my nipples and the methods in which I extract milk from them. This post is aimed more at the new mama searching the Internet in hopes of figuring out which pumping accessories are worth their hard-earned dollars. I know, because I’ve wasted wads and wads of my own.
Let’s just be honest here: Pumping is just about one of the least fun activities that come with being a mom. It’s right up there with being pooped on and having tiny hands pull your hair out strand by strand. Pumping is a bit dehumanizing and makes me feel really bad about my level of dairy consumption. Having said that, it’s a necessary evil for those of us with a low milk supply who would like to continue breast-feeding their child, or who work and would like to continue breastfeeding their child, or those of us who would like to sleep sometimes and let someone else feed their child breast milk. For me it’s all about supply and having a freezer stash when I have to be away from home for work (or fun, sometimes I also leave my child because I enjoy time without him—and that’s okay, I’m pretty sure he’ll still be a well-adjusted human). I’ve used pumping pretty effectively to help bring up my supply. I’m not pumping huge amounts, but a couple of times a day I can get 4oz, which is enough to cover a feeding or save some for later in the freezer. The rest of the time I pump about 2oz a go. Seriously. These boobs make meager amounts of milk, but I’m making it work.
Let’s start with the most important part of this: The Pump.
Now, I’m a Medela girl because that’s what my insurance gave me, so feel free to skip right over this part if you have another brand.
I actually have a few pumps, because honestly, I keep thinking that if I throw money at this business I’ll get more milk. That hasn’t happened, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. (There are a bunch of Medela pumps, I’m only reviewing the ones I have).
Medela Pump In Style (PIS): This is the standard issue free-with-insurance pump. Honestly, it does the job, it’s small, and comes in a discreet case. It’s a little rough on the nips, but if you’re just an occasional pumper or lugging your pump back and forth to work every day (or lugging it through the office to get to your pumping space) a hospital grade jobby is just too bulky and this is your best, most cost effective option.
Medela Symphony: When the Internet told me that I’d get more milk if I rented a hospital grade pump, I rented a hospital grade pump. The Symphony is the Cadillac of pumps, at least that’s what they told me at the pump rental place. I like the Symphony, it’s quiet and actually far more gentle on my already bruised and battered nipples than my PIS…but, and this is an important but, I do not have a bigger output with it. If I knew that before I signed a 3-month rental contract I probably wouldn’t have committed to the $80 a month rental fee. I like having the Symphony around, but it’s kind of enormous and since I don’t get more milk out of it it’s not really worth the money (in my opinion, some people swear by this guy). When my rental agreement is up next month I’m reverting back to my PIS.
Medela Swing: As far as I’m concerned having a portable pump is a necessity if you ever want to leave the house without your child. The hospital gave me a manual pump, the Medela Harmony, when I gave birth to help me express milk for my tongue-tied baby, and I’ll review it below. Recently I decided to upgrade to a battery (or power cord optional) operated travel pump. This sucker retails for about $140, I bought mine used on eBay for $30. I have enough Medela accessories that I could ditch the tubing and connectors that someone else used and just hook up my own, that way I was just using the motor. I realized I needed to carry my pump with me when The Fella and I went out for dinner and a movie for our anniversary and I spent the whole dinner thinking about my boobs. Not in a sexy, “I can’t wait for you to touch them” way, but in the “Oh crap, I need to get back to that Hoover I gave birth to and suck these bad boys dry” kind of way. I could have excused myself to the bathroom and hand expressed to release some of the engorgement, but that would have meant wasting milk and when you have a low supply you do not waste milk. Never. Not ever. Even if you will be massaging and putting hot/cold compresses on your boobs for days. The Swing is pretty good, it’s got decent suction, I’d say about 80% that of the standard PIS power, and is compact and easy to throw in a purse. It’s about the size of a hamburger. The only downside is the noise. It’s not the quietest pump out there, I’m sure there have been folks who shared a bathroom with me while I pumped who wondered exactly what was happening a few stalls away. (Breastfeeding in public is one thing, but whipping out your breast pump at a restaurant is a little awkward. I’ve made peace with pumping in the bathroom). I probably wouldn’t spend $140 on this pump unless it was going to be my primary pump, but I’m good with a used pump for all my travel pumping needs.
Medela Harmony: This is your standard issue manual pump. It does what it’s meant to do. It’s cheap (or free if you ask for one at the hospital), and can fit in your purse. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this pump other than that it can be a bit exhausting to go at it for a while. If you’re not convinced you need a battery operated pump, at least get one of these so that you can be away from your baby for a few hours without feeling like your boobs are going to explode.
The best tip I have for Medela pumps is to change your membranes regularly (and don’t pull them off the yellow connector, put your finger inside and push them out).
On to the next most important part. Flanges.
Now this is the part of my pumping journey that has become the most comical. I have ALL THE FLANGES. Seriously, in my search for a flange that will both extract milk effectively and not turn my nips into throbbing meat patties I have purchased all the flanges.
Medela PerssonalFit Breast Sheild: These suck, and not in the good way, at least for me. Some people never think twice about their flanges, but the ones that came with my pump were just a tad too small and the next size up was way too big. I basically bought all the PersonalFit sizes to try and find the right one and realized there was no right one. I also think the angle of the ridge on this is a little too steep which causes some irritation.
Medela Soft Fit Breast Shield: These shields are similar to the PersonalFit except that they’re made from flexible silicone. Medela discontinued these so I ended up spending a stupid amount of money to get them from a store that had a back supply. These shields are pretty great if you’re like me and have soft breast tissue. With the hard molded silicone my areola gets sucked down the shoot of just about any flange as if it were a chunk of banana stuck in a straw. It’s a bit painful. Because these are soft they basically massage the breast tissue, giving it space to move so it stays put and only the tip of the nipple is subject to the suction of the machine. I’m not sure why Medela discontinued these. I think a strongly worded letter is in order.
Pumpin’ Pals: Everyone (in the breast pump store) loves these flanges. They have a downward slope so you can sit back and not worry about milk backup. But I’m not a huge fan, basically because their neck is very wide and coney, leaving lots of room for my entire boob to get sucked in. I basically have anteater nipples when I’m done. I do use them, but they’re not my favorite.
Freemies: These are my absolute favorite flanges. I don’t think they do anything to increase my supply, but they make pumping soooooo much less awful. Instead of hooking yourself up to bottles, the bottle is a bowl attached to the flange. Basically you just stick these suckers in your bra and move along with your business. With these I don’t have to feel self-conscious pumping in front of people (I mean, I still look weird, but my tormented nipple isn’t on display), can pump when I’m in a car or plane (with my Swing) and most importantly, these are the only shields I’ve used that have made pumping on one side while feeding on the other not feel like a disaster waiting to happen. Of all the things on this list, the Freemies are the one pumping must have I suggest for everyone.
Hands free pumping bras are not necessary, but they make life a whole lot easier. If you’re tired of feeling like you’re holding your boobs on for 15-20 minutes at a go, I suggest investing or making one.
At first I thought I needed to buy one, because I just throw money away now. So I did.
I bought the Medela Easy Expression hands free bustier. It’s basically a strapless bra that zips in the front and has holes for you to put your flanges through. It keeps the flanges nice and tight against your breasts and well it does its job, but it’s totally unnecessary because you can make your own.
To make your own hands free nursing bra take an old sports bra, put it on. With a marker trace the outline of where your nipples are. Take off your bra, and use a scissor to cut out nipple circles. Voila, hands free pumping bra that cost $0 to make.
Other Pumping preferences:
I absolutely loathe the Medela breast milk bags. I’ve lost many an ounce to faulty Ziplocking (for lack of a better word). The good thing about Medela milk bags is that you can pump directly into them, but it’s not worth stressing over spilled milk. Instead, I’m devoted to Lansinoh bags. They have double Ziplocs so nothing escapes. They also fit perfectly in my other must have, the Milkies Freeze.
The Milkies Freeze is a storage organizer, that has a flat metal tray on top to flash freeze your milk bags and also ensure that they freeze in a uniformly flat way, once frozen you can just slip it into the lower level that works as a dispenser. This stores about 60 ounces of milk, if you have a much bigger supply you’re better off going with the ole Ziploc bag method. Or, I’ve been putting them in a Container Store clear shoe box in the freezer.
MotherLove Nipple Cream, is also a really nice lubricant to use before and after you pump. A little lubrication makes pumping a little gentler on your girls. Plus, a little moisture isn’t a bad thing when your skin is constantly being sucked on. A little goes a long way. I have two of these, one in the living room where I pump and one in the bedroom for after middle of the night feedings. It’s totally safe for baby, so you don’t have to worry about washing it off before feeding or mixing with breastmilk.
Grey’s Anatomy. When I went to see my doctor for my two-week postpartum checkup she asked me how I was doing with breastfeeding and I spewed all of my crazy at her. I told her about my 12 feeding sessions a day, plus 8 pumping sessions aimed at increasing my meager supply and how I could never leave the house because I was always being sucked on. She gave me some good advice: Find a guilty pleasure. Something you enjoy doing and do it every time you pump. For me it’s binging on Grey’s Anatomy. In the middle of the night I play it on my iPad with headphones, during the day I have it streaming from the TV. Forever more I will associate Shonda Rhimes with lactation. Find a guilty pleasure and treat yo’self, girl, because pumping is the pits.