Your Ultimate Guide to Breast Pumps and Breast Pumping
Did you know that 85% of breastfeeding mothers use a breast pump at some point?
Additionally, 6% of breastfeeding moms exclusively pump and bottle their milk for their babies - without ever nursing directly from the breast.
These numbers are quite impressive, especially when you consider the fact that breast pumps only became mainstream a few decades ago.
According to statistics, 25% of new mothers in the US are forced to return to work as early as two weeks after childbirth.
The US is one of only three countries in the world that don’t offer statutory paid maternity leave.
Therefore, many US mothers who want to feed their babies breast milk have to use breast pumps.
A breast pump also comes in handy when a mom wants to leave their child under another person’s care.
With this in mind, a breast pump is one of the best purchases for a new mom.
That said, many new moms are clueless when it comes to breast pumps. To make it even more confusing, there’s an overwhelming array of breast pump options to select from.
There are manual, electric, and hospital grade hospital pumps - with seemingly endless options in each category.
This guide will give you a headstart to understanding breast pumps and the art of breast pumping.
Armed with this guide, you will be able to choose the best breast pump for your needs and make great breast pumping decisions.
Why You Might Need a Breast Pump
As we have noted above, there are many reasons why a new mother might need a breast pump.
Here are a few of them:
- The baby isn’t able to breastfeed directly because of medical complications.
- The baby is born prematurely and is unable to latch properly.
- You have to go back to work or study while still breastfeeding.
- You have inverted nipples that make it difficult for the baby to latch.
- When you have plugged milk ducts (pumping can help to open them).
- When your breasts are engorged and you want some relief from the pressure and pain.
- When you want your baby to bond with other caregivers through feeding.
- When you are traveling away from your baby but would like to maintain your breast milk supply.
- When you don’t want to breastfeed from the breast for any reason.
- When you want to donate your extra breast milk.
- To stimulate your breasts and induce labor (when you’re overdue).
A Brief History of Breast Pumps
Breast pumps are said to date back to ancient Greece.
However, the first breast pump was patented in 1854 by a man named Orwell H. Needham.
The first breast pumps were seen as medical devices to help in cases where:
- The mother had inverted nipples.
- The infant was too small or weak to suckle.
Breast pumps only became widely available to consumers in the last three decades.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1991 that the popular breast pump manufacturer Medela made its first electric breast pump for non-hospital use.
Since then, breast pumps have become so popular that new mothers in the US are often given a complementary pump when being discharged from hospitals.
Depending on your insurance carrier, you may also be able to get a breast pump and related accessories paid for by insurance.
Types and Classifications of Breast Pump
Once you’ve decided to buy a breast pump, the next decision is the type of breast pump to go for.
To make this decision, you will have to consider the following factors:
The amount of time you’ll have to express.
- The environment in which you’ll be expressing.
- How often you’ll be expressing.
- How long you will need to use the pump.
If you can afford it, it isn’t unreasonable to buy both a manual and an electric breast pump. Each will be useful in different situations.
Breast Pump Buying Tips
Whichever breast pump you end up buying, there are a few characteristics you should look out for.
A good breast pump should be:
Safe to use: Go for a pump that has passed all the required safety tests and has the necessary certifications. A good pump shouldn’t risk injuring your breast tissue or causing muscle strain.
Efficient: Before buying a breast pump, look at reviews from moms. Are they complaining that it isn’t good at extracting milk? That particular model might not be worth buying.
Easy to Use: If the breast pump you buy is hard to use, you will probably end up buying another one, expressing by hand, or opting to wean early.
Value for Money: While you definitely shouldn’t go for the cheapest model on the market, the price tag on a breast pump should make sense in the context of how much you’ll be using it. For instance, if you’re buying a breast pump for emergency situations, it doesn’t make sense to buy top-of-the-line expensive models. But at the same time, it doesn’t make sense to buy a cheap model if it’s lack of power makes it essentially useless.
Quiet: Most moms prefer a breast pump that makes a minimum amount of noise while in operation. A quiet pump is especially important if you’re pumping at work or in other public spaces.
Closed System: A pump with a closed system prevents milk from backing up into the pump parts. This might save the pump from damage. An open system also means lots of extra cleaning and more milk wastage.
Manual Breast Pump
A manual breast pump usually has a lever or handle, which you are supposed to operate manually to extract milk from your breasts.
The extracted milk is collected in a bottle.
Manual breast pumps are usually small and highly portable.
However, they are not as powerful as electric breast pumps
When Manual Breast Pumps are Best
Manual breast pumps are a great choice if:
You tend to pump only once a day.
- You don’t expect to be separated from your baby for long periods.
- You have limited insurance and are looking for affordable options.
- You don’t have reliable access to electricity.
Women love manual pumps because they tend to be more user-friendly than electric pumps.
Manual pumps might also allow for more range of control in terms of suction and pumping.
However, manual pumps take longer to extract milk. And since you have to manually operate them, they also require more effort.
How to Use a Manual Breast Pump
When you want to express breast milk with a manual pump, follow these steps:
- Assemble the pump as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Sit in a comfortable chair where you are unlikely to be disturbed.
- Attach the breast flange to your breast, covering the nipple and areola.
- Hold the breast flange onto your breast with one hand and the lever with the other hand.
- Pump by pressing and releasing the handle/lever rhythmically. Milk should start flowing into the container.
- Continue pumping until the flow of milk slows down. This usually takes 10-15 minutes per breast.
- Insert a finger between your breast and the breast flange to break the vacuum seal and remove the pump from your breast.
- Pump on the other breast (if and when required).
Bonus Tip: Before using the breast pump, stimulate your let-down reflex by massaging your breasts and expressing a little by hand. When you have a good flow, you can proceed to use the pump.
If you experience any pain or discomfort while using a manual breast pump, adjust the suction level until it becomes comfortable.
Some mothers also like to finish by hand expressing. This helps in expressing those extra drops of rich hindmilk.
Electric Breast Pump
Unlike a manual breast pump, electric breast pumps have a small motor, powered by electricity or battery, to create the suction required to extract breast milk.
The pump comes with a cord that you can plug into an electrical outlet.
Electric breast pumps are classified further on whether they offer double or single pumping.
Single Pumping: Extract milk from one breast at a time.
Double Pumping: Extract milk from both breasts simultaneously.
Double electric breast pumps come with a pair of breast flanges, tubing, and milk bottles so you can get milk from both sides.
You might be able to express more milk with a double pump than a single one.
When Electric Breast Pumps are Best
Electric breast pumps offer convenience and efficiency that manual pumps can’t match.
Some modern models even mimic a baby’s sucking pattern: short and fast sucking followed by a deeper and slower pattern.
This feature stimulates your let-down more effectively. It also makes pumping more comfortable and reduces discomfort to your nipples.
Electric breast pumps are highly advisable in these situations:
- When you need to pump more than once a day (such as when returning to full-time work or study).
- When you have limited time for pumping. Electric breast (especially double pumping) pumps are faster than manual.
- When you have a disability that makes it hard to use a manual pump.
Electric breast pumps tend to be lightweight and portable. They can easily fit into a small bag for you to carry to the office.
You can use a specially designed hands-free breast pumping bra to make pumping even easier.
How to Use an Electric Breast Pump
Your first time using an electric breast pump will be smoother if you know exactly what to do.
Follow these steps:
- Sanitize the breast pump before use.
- Sit in a relaxed position (discomfort and anxiousness might hamper your milk supply).
- Gather everything you’ll need (wipes, bottles, and phone) around you.
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully
- Preset the pace of the pump to a setting that you are comfortable with.
- Attach the breast cup to your breast and start pumping by switching “on”.
- When your milk flow slows down and your breasts feel drained, switch off the pump.
- Pour the breast milk you’ve expressed into a bottle or disposable breast milk bag.
- Carefully and properly label the breast milk with the dates and refrigerate.
- Clean and sanitize each part of the breast pump after use.
- Dry it up with a paper towel and store it away.
If you feel pain when pumping, adjust the breast pump suction. To avoid pain, you should also ensure that you have properly-fitting breast flanges.
Always sanitize your hands before and after each pumping session to avoid contaminating breast milk.
If you notice any damage to the pump, have it fixed or change the breast pump immediately.
In the initial days of breast pumping, you might not express much milk. But regular pumping will stimulate your breasts to produce more after a few days.
Watch this video to learn how to use an electric breast pump:
Hospital-Grade Breast Pump
Hospital-grade breast pumps are powerful electric pumps usually used by moms who have trouble breastfeeding.
These pumps are designed to be stronger than a typical electric breast pump. They have powerful motors and are highly durable.
They are often recommended for mothers who aren’t producing enough milk
Unlike the typical electric breast pump which is made for a single user, the hospital grade breast pump is designed for multiple simultaneous users.
Hospital-grade pumps are made with closed systems. This helps prevent cross-contamination of breast milk.
When Hospital-Grade is Best
A hospital grade breast pump is recommended to help establish your milk supply when you:
- Have a baby in the NICU.
- Have a premature baby.
- Have twins.
- Are experiencing trouble breastfeeding for any reason.
Hospital-grade breast pumps are usually quite expensive. The cost of buying a hospital grade breast pump is usually not covered by insurance.
However, hospital-grade pumps are usually available to rent from hospitals.
You might also be able to find hospital grade breast pumps for rent online.
Open and Closed Breast Pump Systems
Breast pumps can have either a closed or open system.
A closed system means there is a barrier between your breast milk and the pump.
This design prevents milk or other fluids from getting into the pump. This is a key element in ensuring that there’s no cross-contamination between your breast milk and the pump.
It makes the pump more durable and easier to clean.
Open system breast pumps have no barrier between breast milk and the pump.
If your breast milk gets into the tubing, you have to carefully clean and dry it to avoid contamination.
The risk of contamination is quite low. But if you leave milk inside the tubing, mold can grow and ultimately transfer to the motor, which you can’t clean.
This is why it’s particularly inadvisable to borrow or buy a used open system breast pump.
No matter the type of breast pump you choose, cleaning and sterilizing can’t be overemphasized. Inadequate cleaning is to blame for most cases of mold or bacteria growth in any type of breast pump.
If you opt for an open system breast pump, make sure to regularly clean the tubing.
Carefully read the manufacturer’s guidelines on how to best care for your breast pump.
Bear in mind that manufacturers might use different terms to indicate whether a breast pump has a close or open system.
For example, you might come across “overflow protection” instead of a “closed system.”
It’s also important to note that there’s no truly closed breast pump system.
Every breast pump system is designed to allow air to travel for the pump to work properly.
Even closed systems have a hole on the adapter to allow airflow. However, this hole doesn’t let moisture into the tubing.
New Bloom Maternity Breast Pumps
The double pump can easily be converted to a single pump when it’s more convenient.
Both pumps come with features designed to increase your comfort and efficiency:
Specialized Motors to Help You Express
Our micro-computer technology allows you to experience the perfect amount of suction. The easy to use pump allows you to adjust the suction as well as speed to maximize your efficiency.
The pumps are designed with two settings: one to stimulate your let-down reflex by mimicking your baby’s suckling rhythm and one for when you’re ready to effectively express your milk.
Between the two settings, there are over 13 suction levels so you can find the perfect tempo and comfort for you.
Quality Construction to Keep You Safe
To ensure the safest product for new mothers and their babies our breast pumps are completely BPA free. Their simple design makes them easy to clean and use.
Our closed system technology guarantees that your breast milk will never mix with the working mechanisms in the pump. This keeps your breast milk separate, hygienic, and free from contamination.
Included in the kit is a soft silicon insert for the flange. This keeps your nipples cushioned while you express, reducing soreness and pressure.
Convenient Charging System
The USB charging system and lightweight design are perfect for busy moms. You can ever charge your pump in the car. The charge will last for two hours of continuous pumping.
Choosing a Breast Pump Flange
When you’re shopping for a breast pump, it is important that you also focus on finding a fitting breast pump flange.
A breast flange is the funnel-shaped part of a breast pump. It connects your breast to the pump.
Most manufacturers include only one or two differently-sized flanges with the purchase of a breast pump. These flanges usually range from 24mm to 27mm in size.
You might be lucky to find the included flanges fit perfectly.
But if you aren’t that lucky, you can buy a fitting flange separately.
Pumping with the wrong breast pump flange can cause problems such as:
- Nipple injuries (such as cuts and rub marks)
- Nipple soreness
- Clogged milk ducts
- Decreased milk supply
If you’re using the wrong flange size, you can easily get discouraged and opt for early weaning.
But with a correctly-sized flange, using your pump becomes easier and more comfortable. Additionally, the amount of breast milk you’re able to express increases.
Measuring Your Flange Size
To get a properly-fitting breast flange, it is advisable to measure your nipple size.
You can do so with these simple DIY steps:
- Find a measuring tape or ruler.
- Measure the distance straight across the middle of your nipple at the base
- If your ruler is marked in inches, convert 1in = 25.4mm. If your ruler is marked in centimeters, convert 1cm = 10mm. 10mm = 1cm = 0.394in
Based on the measurement, use this guide to find an appropriate flange size:
This means that if your nipple is 17mm or lower, it is recommended that you use a 21mm flange size.
If you found your nipple diameter to be 22mm, the best flange size for you is 27mm.
Similarly, if your nipple diameter is 24 mm, the best flange size is 30mm.
DISCLAIMER: These flange sizes are for Medela breast pumps. Other manufacturers might have different size guides for their flanges.
You will know that you have the right fit with these signs:
- Your breast moves freely in the breast pump’s funnel.
- Your nipple isn’t sore and red after a pumping session.
- Only a little of your areola tissue is pulled into the breast pump’s funnel.
- After a pumping session, your breasts feel soft and well-drained.
Bear in mind that your flange size might change during the breastfeeding journey.
If you realize that your flange no longer feels comfortable, measure your flange size again and get a flange that fits.
Using a Breast Pump for the First Time
Using a breast pump for the first time can be an intimidating experience.
No matter the breast pump you choose, there are a few things you should always do before you start a pumping session:
- Disassemble the breast pump and its components and set aside the parts which don’t need to be sterilized.
- Sterilize the collecting bottles and the parts of the pump which come in contact with your breast milk.
- When sterilizing the pump for the first time, it is advisable to boil the relevant parts for about 10 minutes.
- Use enough water to keep the breast pump parts afloat. (However, you should follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.)
- Remove the parts immediately after boiling (don’t let them sit in the water as it cools) and completely air dry them before assembly.
- Gather everything you will need for your breast pumping session. This includes wipes, breast milk bags, drinking water, and your phone.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling the sterilized breast pump and its components.
- Relax and start your pumping session.
- Your first time might be uncomfortable and produce only a little milk. Keep practicing every day to perfect your pumping skills.
When to Start Pumping and Storing Breast Milk
Many new mothers are unsure about when its the best time to start expressing and storing their breast milk.
The simple answer is that you can start pumping and storing as soon as your baby is born.
However, in some cases, the answer isn’t that simple.
For instance, diabetic mothers might be advised by their doctors to start pumping and storing colostrum just before their due date.
If you’re considering breast pumping while pregnant, it is best to consult your doctor.
It might be inadvisable to breastfeed or pump when you’re pregnant in these circumstances if you:
- Have a high-risk pregnancy
- Are at risk for preterm labor
- Are pregnant with twins
- Are asked by your doctor to avoid sex while pregnant
- Are having vaginal bleeding
- Are experiencing uterine pain
Some women might also opt to express breast milk when they haven’t given birth. This can be either a re-lactation or lactation induction choice.
In most cases, experts recommend that new mothers should wait till they’ve fully-established breast milk supply before they start pumping and storing.
The idea is that by allowing the baby to feed directly from the breast, the body will be stimulated to produce the right amount of breast milk.
If your circumstances allow, it is best to wait till after the first four to eight weeks before you start pumping.
Some reasons to start pumping earlier than typically recommended include:
- Your baby was born prematurely.
- Your baby has a health issue that hampers breastfeeding.
- Your baby is losing weight or gaining weight too slowly.
- When you have to return to work.
When you’re going back to work, it’s a good idea to start expressing at least three weeks earlier.
That way, you will have time to get used to pumping while your baby comes to terms with a different method of feeding.
How Often to Pump
To keep your milk supply at optimum, experts recommend that you pump as many times as you’d feed your baby from a bottle.
This ensures that your body still receives the signal to produce milk for your baby’s needs.
If you’re preparing to return to work, start pumping twice a day, while still breastfeeding your baby as usual.
The best time to pump is shortly after breastfeeding your baby. This way, your baby will be satisfied and won’t be frustrated with low milk supply if you were to pump too close to the next breastfeeding session.
When you go back to work, try pumping every three hours or as often as your baby feeds. For instance, if your baby takes three bottles of breast milk while you’re away, make sure you pump a similar amount during your work shift.
Pumping at Work
Pumping breast milk at work can be awkward, especially if this is your first time.
Here are some tips to make pumping at work easier and more successful:
Find a Good Pumping Spot
To pump comfortably, you need to find a private spot at the office.
This could be a dedicated lactation room, the conference room, the office kitchen, or an extra office.
If you’re using an electric breast pump, make sure the area has an electrical outlet. Your pumping spot should also have a comfortable chair and table.
Go for Empty
When you’re away from home, it is important to schedule at least 30-minute breaks for pumping.
This will give you enough time to pump until your breasts are empty.
When you don’t drain your breasts during pumping sessions, it might signal your body to produce less milk.
Get it Flowing
The office is not the most conducive environment for pumping breast milk. You have to take deliberate steps to relax and allow your milk letdown to happen.
Try breathing exercises, a short meditation, or listening to calming music.
A lovely photo of your baby or a recording of their coos and whimpers is a great way to trigger letdown.
Store and Transport Milk Properly
The best place to store breast milk is in the fridge. Make sure to clearly label it “breast milk.” You don’t want your colleagues accidentally adding it to their coffee!
If you don’t have access to a fridge, buy an insulated bag or cooler with an ice pack.
You might still need to have these accessories even if you have a fridge. They will come in handy for transporting your milk back home.
Amount of Milk to Expect
The amount of breast milk a woman is able to express depends on factors such as:
- Their milk supply
- The age of their child
- The time spent pumping
- Whether exclusively pumping or not
- The effectiveness of the pump
As long as you are producing enough milk to keep your baby adequately fed, there’s no cause to worry.
Tips to Maximise Breast Milk Production
It is common for mothers, especially those who are exclusively pumping, to worry about their milk supply.
If your baby is gaining weight properly, you probably don’t have to worry about your milk supply.
But if the baby isn’t gaining weight, here are some helpful tips for you:
This is a technique that mimics a baby’s “cluster feeding”.
When a baby is “cluster feeding” they are constantly on and off the breast as they try to get more milk.
This sends a signal to the mother’s body to produce more milk to meet the baby’s needs.
Babies often tend to “cluster feed” when they’re going through a growth spurt.
When you’re “power pumping”, you are supposed to express breast milk on and off for an hour. You can start with a 20-minute pumping session, and take a 10-minute break before pumping again.
Try doing something relaxing (such as reading or watching TV) while you power pump. A relaxed mood helps maximize breast milk output.
Staying properly hydrated is one of the best ways to boost your breast milk supply.
Health experts usually recommend that an adult should take at least eight glasses of water per day.
As a breastfeeding mom, you need even more than that.
If chugging down a gallon of water every day doesn’t appeal to you, just ensure that you take plenty of fluids. However, keep away from caffeinated drinks.
While there’s no scientific study to back this up, many mothers notice an increase in breast milk supply after eating oatmeal.
Because of this, many lactation consultants recommend oatmeal as a great way to boost breast milk output.
Pump Longer, More Often
Just like breastfeeding, the more you pump the more you stimulate your milk supply.
Try adding extra pumping sessions or increasing your pumping duration.
Try Fenugreek and Other Lactation Herbs
Many women have succeeded in boosting their breast milk supply with herbs and supplements such as fenugreek, blessed thistle, and fennel seeds.
However, these herbal remedies don’t work for every mom. In fact, some women might notice that such herbs harm their milk supply.
Therefore, it is advisable to tread with caution when using herbs and supplements to promote lactation.
Breast Milk Storage
When you have decided to pump your breast milk, you have to consider how you will store it.
If you’re planning to feed the baby with the milk within a short time period, you can keep it in the collecting bottle.
If you plan to store the milk for longer, decant it into a breast milk storage bag.
Make sure that you label the milk with the date before storing it in the fridge or freezer.
This is how long you should store breast milk:
- For up to 4 hours in room temperature
- In an insulated cooler with ice packs for 24 hours
- Up to 3 days (72 hours) in the fridge at 5°C or lower
- Up to two weeks in a freezer compartment inside a fridge
- Up to 3 months in a freezer section of a fridge with a split door
- For 6 to 12 months in a deep freeze
How to Prep Stored Milk for Feeding
When you need to feed your baby, always go for the oldest milk in the fridge or freezer.
Thawing and warming guidelines vary depending on whether the milk is in a bottle or a milk storage bag.
Generally, you prepare breast milk for feeding by running it under warm water or placing the bag or bottle in a cup of warm water until it reaches room temperature.
Never warm breast milk by boiling or using a microwave. This can deplete the valuable nutrients in breast milk.
It might also create hot spots that can scald your baby's mouth.
Always make sure to shake the bottle gently to redistribute the fat content throughout before feeding your baby.
Note: It is important to follow the bottle or bag manufacturer’s guidelines regarding the warming and thawing of breast milk.
Once you have thawed or warmed breast milk to room temperature, you shouldn’t re-refrigerate or refreeze it.
Sterilizing Your Breast Pump
As already noted, you should always sanitize the breast pump parts prior to the first use.
Afterward, you should regularly clean and sterilize your pump, especially the parts that come in contact with breast milk.
The breast pump parts to sterilize are indicated in this image:
Here are some of the common ways of cleaning and sterilizing breast pumps:
Boiling in Water
Boiling the breast pump in water is one of the most simple and popular ways of sterilizing.
You can also add a teaspoon of salt into the boiling water to boost the sterilizing effect.
Washing With Soap and Water
Washing with soap and water is an easy, inexpensive way to clean and sterilize your breast pump. You can use this method after each pumping session.
Make sure you soak the pump parts in water for five minutes.
Scrub the parts and rinse off with clean water.
Using Breast Pump Wipes
When you are pumping breast milk away from home, you might not have access to water for cleaning.
In such cases, breast pump wipes provide a quick way to sterilize the breast pump parts.
Sanitizing with a Spray
There are sanitizing sprays you can use to disinfect your breast pump quickly after cleaning.
Ensure that you sanitize your breast pump after each use. It may be tiresome but it is the best way to avoid contaminating your breast milk.
To protect your breast pump from damage, always ensure that all parts are completely dry before use.
In addition, never wash or sterilize the tubing or tubing connector or the motor part of an electric breast pump.
Breast Pump Supplies Checklist
As a breast pumping mom, you will need to purchase some supplies.
This is in addition to your breast pump and it’s accessories.
Here is the complete checklist:
- Maternity bras or hands-free pumping bras.
- Breast milk collection bottles and disposable bags
- Labels and a pen or pencil
- Good quality anti-colic, anti-reflux feeding bottles, and teats
- Cleaning and sterilization supplies
- Insulated cooler bag (when pumping away from home)
- A lovely photo of your baby (for stimulating letdown)
- A water bottle and some snacks
- Some entertainment for your pumping sessions (such as relaxing music, YouTube videos, or a book)
- Hand sanitizer
- High-quality breast pads
- Nipple cream
Getting a Breast Pump Via Insurance
Breast pumps can be quite pricey, but health insurance usually includes the cost of a breast pump and related accessories.
However, there’s no policy to control the quality of the breast pump offered under insurance cover.
Call your insurer to find out the kind of breast pump they cover.
Check with a lactation consultant to make sure the pump you get is high quality.
If the pump you want isn’t covered by your insurance, check if you can be reimbursed up to the amount your plan will cover.
Where to Get Breast Pumping Support
You might need more support to have a successful breast pumping journey.
There are a number of places you can turn to for help including:
- A lactation consultant
- Midwives from the hospital where you gave birth
- A maternal and child health nurse at the hospital
- Your general practitioner or obstetrician
- Breast pumping support groups on social media
- A breastfeeding or lactation association in your area
Breastfeeding, whether directly from the breast or pumping breast milk, comes with its fair share of challenges. And it’s important to ask for help if you have questions or concerns.
New Bloom is Your Trusted Provider for Breast Pumps and Maternity Supplies
At New Bloom we never compromise on quality or affordability. We believe all moms should have access to first-class products for both mother and baby.
Our products are designed to make your pregnancy and motherhood as special and as smooth as possible.
Contact us today if you have any questions regarding our products.
From before the baby arrives to after you give birth, we are here to help with excellent customer service and quality products we believe in.
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