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Breast Pump Flanges: Size Matters

To pump most effectively, West says, first make sure the flanges fit properly. Some women don't realize that these horn-shaped pieces of plastic come in different sizes.

"The default size is often too small," West says. "I once worked with a woman who had been using a flange that was too small, and she had cuts on her areola and her nipples."

You can't tell what size flange you need by looking at your nipples, because the suction of pumping makes nipples larger. West's trick: "I usually recommend that women go one size up from the standard flange as a starting point," she says. "Your areola should move freely within the flange and behind it. And you should see the nipple moving freely forward and back in the whole tunnel, not just the tip. If it's too tight, the nipples aren't moving and you're not getting full stimulation."

Getting Pumped: Maximize Your Breast Milk

How much milk one pumping session should yield varies widely. Some women can get 10 ounces in 10 minutes; others are pleased to get half as much in 20 minutes.

To maximize your how much milk you release, West recommends these steps for doing breast compression while pumping:

  1. Hold your breast with your fingers underneath and thumb on top.
  2. Lift up on the breast and find a hard spot on the top of the breast -- the glandular tissue.
  3. Press down firmly on the spot and hold it. (Don't pump.) Milk will start spurting when you've found the right spot. (If you're nursing, the baby will start gulping.) "You're creating the pressure of a milk ejection, causing more milk to be removed and more made," West says.
  4. When the milk stops flowing, lift your thumb and find another spot of glandular tissue. Compress that spot firmly, but not painfully.

You can never completely empty the breast when pumping (or nursing), because as milk is removed, more is always being made. But to get the most milk that you can, West also suggests "hand-expressing" a little milk after you've pumped thoroughly. Simply take the flange off the bottle and "milk" your nipple directly into the opening. You can get as much as another half ounce this way, adding to your stash.

More Tips for Breast Pump Success

West also offers these three tips:

  • Find a private place for pumping. Federal law requires that businesses with 50 or more employees provide a clean, completely private pumping space with an electrical outlet.
  • If it helps, bring a reminder of your baby. For some women, an article of the baby's clothing, a photo, a cell phone video, or a recording of her cooing or the sounds she makes while nursing help get milk flowing. Others prefer not to be reminded of being separated from their baby, so you might read e-mails or do some other simple task while pumping.
  • Pump as often as you nurse, if possible. If this isn't possible, try to fit in at least a pump in the morning, at lunch, and in the afternoon.
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