7 Breast Milk Pumping Problems and How to Solve Them

Breast pumps offer moms some flexibility when it comes to breast feeding. (Photo: Pavel Ilyukhin/Shutterstock)

It doesn't take long for breastfeeding moms to realize that if they ever want to sleep through the night, go back to work, or even run an errand without their baby in tow, it's probably a good idea to pump some extra breast milk to keep on hand. Breast milk pumping can offer breastfeeding moms flexibility, but it also comes with a host of its own issues and concerns. Here's how to navigate the tricky issues that may arise when pumping that extra breast milk.

Problem: Epic Mess

Breastfeeding your baby is about as efficient as it gets when it comes to feeding your baby. It's just you and your baby — nothing to set up and nothing left behind to clean up. Breast milk pumping, on the other hand, brings on an epic mess. When you pump, there are pumping bottles, tubes and attachments to clean as well as milk storage containers and the bottles that will eventually be used to feed your baby.

Solution: Sadly, there is not a great solution here. With practice, you will become more proficient at washing and sterilizing all of those bottles and attachments, but it will never be as easy as feeding your baby from the breast. Try to remember that this little extra work will give you the freedom you need to work, run errands, or rest when you need to.

Problem: Blocked Ducts

Blocked ducts are an affliction that can affect any mom who breastfeeds. They occur when milk that is not fully drained from the breast becomes clogged and then infected. Breast pumps don't drain the breast of milk as efficiently as a baby, so blocked ducts may be a more frequent occurrence for moms who use them. A blocked duct may feel like a hard, knot in the breast that is red, swollen and painful to the touch. It may also be accompanied by a fever and nausea.

Woman with sore breasts
A blocked or clogged duct may feel hard and painful to the touch. (Photo: Anetlanda/Shutterstock)

Solution: If you already have a blocked duct, try gently massaging the breast while nursing and pumping to release the blockage. If the pain is intense, take a break from pumping and stick with breastfeeding as this may be gentler on your breasts. Talk to your doctor about taking medication to lower your fever and relieve your pain. To prevent blocked ducts in the future, try varying your breast pumping position and gently squeezing your breast while you pump to ensure that all of the milk ducts are emptied.

Problem: Low Supply

It may take a few weeks or months after your baby is born for your milk supply to stabilize. In the meantime, you might find that you don't have enough milk to feed your baby and maintain an adequate supply for additional storage.

Low milk supply
Not enough milk for pumping? Give your body a few days for your milk supply to stabilize. (Photo: Pikul Noorod/Shutterstock)

Solution: First and foremost, you want to make sure that you have enough milk to satiate your baby, so make sure to feed her first. After your baby has had her fill, you can try pumping. It may take a few days for your body to get used to this increase in demand, but once it does you should be good to go. You can also try varying your pumping position to ensure you completely empty your breasts.

Problem: Pumping Anxiety

It's not uncommon for new moms to experience feelings of anxiety that occur with breastfeeding. For some moms, that anxiety strikes whenever their milk is released, so it may happen when pumping or breastfeeding. For others, the anxiety is linked specifically to the sound of the breast pump.

Intense baby
For some women, pumping breast milk is accompanied by intense feelings of anxiety. (Photo: Pavel Ilyukhin/Shutterstock)

Solution: If you experience anxiety when breastfeeding or pumping, it's important to know that you're not alone and that you can get help. Talk to your health care provider about the steps you can take to alleviate your anxiety. This may include lifestyle changes such as drinking more water, practicing relaxation exercises, reducing caffeine consumption and improving sleep.

Problem: Letdown by Your Letdown

When you're a breastfeeding mom, it may seem like anything and everything can cause your milk to release — the crying baby at the grocery store, the smell of baby laundry, the sight of another mom feeding her child, and of course, the sights, smells and sounds of your own baby. Unfortunately, your breast pump may not have the same milk-releasing effect.

Hungry baby
Thinking about your baby while pumping may help your milk to letdown. (Photo: BonNontawat/Shutterstock)

Solution: To get your milk flowing, try stashing some baby mementos in your pumping kit. A photo, some baby clothes, or even a recording of your baby's coos might do the trick. If you don't have that, try just closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and imagining your baby in your arms.

Problem: Nipple Soreness or Dryness

Breastfeeding — and pumping — can be hard on the nipples. Until they get used to all of this extra attention, the delicate tissue in this area may be susceptible to cracking, dryness and soreness.

Funny cow
As any cow can tell you, breast pumps can be tough on the delicate tissue around nipples. (Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock)

Solution: There are a number of breastfeeding creams on the market that can help alleviate these symptoms. It might also help to turn down the suction on your breast pump until your nipples have had time to adjust. Using a breast shield during pumping and feeding can help give your nipples time to heal.

Problem: Hand or Arm Pain

If you're not used it, the repetitive motions of breast pumping — especially when using a manual pump — can cause muscle soreness and pain in the arms and hands. This may be even worse if you experienced swelling or carpal tunnel syndrome during your pregnancy.

Woman with hand pain
The repetitive motions of breast pumping can lead to arm and hand pain. (Photo: Image Point Fr/Shutterstock)

Solution: Sit in a comfortable position and prop yourself up with pillows to alleviate any tension in your hands and arms. If you are pumping one breast at a time, switch hands frequently. If symptoms worsen, consider switching to an electric pump.