Friday, July 1, 2011

Reader Question: Breastfeeding and Pumping for 6 month old Baby

Earlier this week, we received this comment from a reader:

I have a question/comment that's not exactly related to this post. My baby just turned 6 months old today and we have been successfully and exclusively breastfeeding, but I need some encouragement and tips to keep going. I love breastfeeding when I'm home with the baby. I work full-time and just really don't like to pump at work. The pump isn't particularly comfortable and it takes about 40 minutes out of my work day and I could really use that 40 minutes right now. For the past few days I've really been thinking about not pumping anymore. I've read that infants do better breastfeeding for the whole first year, but how much better? I guess I want to know is it really worth it to breastfeed after the first 6 months?

We want to let you know that we completely understand what you are going through; as working mothers, we have been exactly where you are now. Returning to work is not easy and it takes a lot of adjustment for both mom and baby. Hopefully, by combining what we’ve learned from breastfeeding research and our personal experiences, we can help you continue breastfeeding for as long as you and your baby desire.

Pumping Problems

I admit that when I first saw a breast pump, I thought it looked like the most unnatural, uncomfortable device ever! After my first daughter was born prematurely (for the story of her birth, click here), however, I had to put my apprehension aside and learn everything I could about breast pumps. Now, after pumping for both my daughters, I know more than I ever thought I would about using a pump!

The most important thing to know about pumping is that it shouldn’t be painful. If you are experiencing 
discomfort or pain only when you pump (and not when you breastfeed) here are some things you can try:

  • If you are using an electric pump, try turning the suction strength down. The suction on most electric pumps can be turned much higher than anyone would ever need. Some pumps also have a “let-down” phase that can help the milk start flowing a little faster, so if yours has that feature, I recommend using it. 
  • Limit the amount of time you spend pumping. I know it can be tempting to pump until you feel like every last drop of milk has been removed, but pumping for too long can cause discomfort. I know every woman is different, so I can’t give you an exact time limit, but I found that 15-20 minutes was the longest I could pump in one sitting.

  • Make sure you have the right size breastshield (also called a flange). The breastshield/flange is the funnel-like part of the pump system that touches the breast directly. Most pump kits come with a standard size, but many women (myself included) need a bigger size. If your nipple rubs against the sides of the shield while you are pumping, you probably need a bigger size. 
  • Make sure the pump is working properly. It is possible that your pump isn’t functioning properly, causing discomfort. Many of the pump companies have technical assistance (check the company website for more information).
You also mentioned that pumping disrupts your work schedule. Since I am not sure the specifics about your job requirements and working environment, I am not sure what you can do to address that issue. Because I sit at a computer most of the day, I was able to pump and work simultaneously. If that is an option for you, there are some bra-like products that enable women to pump “hands-free” or you can create your own by cutting holes in sports bra tank top. If it isn’t possible for you to pump and work at the same time, you can try pumping during your lunch break.

Benefits of Breastfeeding – Does Duration Matter?

While much of the breastfeeding research focuses on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding versus partial breastfeeding and/or full formula-feeding, there is evidence to show that longer breastfeeding durations provides increased benefits for both mothers and babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement, “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human milk” states that “Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child” and  “Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother, especially in delaying return of fertility (thereby promoting optimal intervals between births).”

Additional tips that may make breastfeeding work for you

  • Although breast milk continues to be a major source of nutrition as babies approach 1 year of age, keep in mind that as your baby gets older, he will be eating more and more solid foods.  Scheduling one of your baby’s solid food meals for when he is not with you can help you breastfeed more often when you are together.

  • As your gets more used to eating other foods, things will get easier and easier and eventually you shouldn’t need to pump much at all. You can talk to your pediatrician or a Lactation Consultant to get more information about the best way to spread out pumping.

  • Take time to consider all your options.  You mentioned that you enjoy breastfeeding and it is important to remember that your opportunity to breastfeed your son lasts for a relatively short period of time. Every family is different and only you know what is best for you and your baby, so take the time to make a well-informed decision that you will happy with in the long run.
We hope this information helps our anonymous reader and anyone else going through a similar experience.  


  1. I want to remind the person posting the question that it isn't all or nothing. Maybe you can cut down to one pump session at work and continue to breastfeed at home? My baby is also 6months and I hate pumping. Thanks for the post.

  2. I want to recommend the Maximizing Production video on the Stanford University website. It shows how hands-on pumping can get more milk, faster, and make pumping much less stressful. Many moms have found it helpful. Btw, some moms do much better ONLY using their hands, and learn to handexpress milk quite quickly.Forty minutes is a long time to spend pumping, and the tips from the moms in this video may cut your time down significantly.