Being a mom is hard, especially when you have to leave your baby to go back to work. If you are a nursing mom who plans to pump for your baby, this poses another set of issues.
The obvious plan is to create a milk stash while you are still home on maternity leave. By pumping a couple times every day, you should have a nice little stash in your freezer or when you return to work. Due to severe nipple trauma that persisted for the bulk of my maternity leave, I was unable to pump much to create a freezer stash. This left me anxious that I would not have enough milk to leave for my daughter when I returned to work.
I’ve always had plenty of milk to satisfy my babies when they are at the breast, but my body does not respond well to the artificial suction of a breast pump. Through trial and error, and a lot of determination, I was able to pump nearly all the milk that Emily needed when we were apart. Here are my tips:
1. Make a ritual for yourself. Just like we give our little ones bedtime rituals to cue their bodies into knowing that it is time to sleep, so can you cue your body into knowing that it is time to make milk for your baby. Here is what my ritual looked like: The first step was to put some of Emily’s baby lotion on my hands, take a few deep breaths and relax.
The second step of my ritual was to cue up a song on my iphone that made me think of Em. Then I watched a slide show on my phone of pictures and videos of Em. Finally, I would take a moment to massage my breasts before strapping on the flanges. These things helped me to relax and get my milk flowing.
2. Pump hands free. Although I spent $30 on a hands free pumping bra, I found it was easier to use a couple of elastic bands, lashed together- one loop goes around the pump horn, and one loop hooks onto the clip of the nursing bra. Use a hearty smear of lanolin to help the flanges to adhere to your breasts. Hold the bottles slightly until the milk starts to fill, then gravity will take over.
There is nothing wrong with the pumping bra, if you chose to go that route. My chest is enormous, and the elastics just happened to work better for me. Having hands free allowed me to eat lunch, surf on my phone, and do breast compressions to help my milk flow.
3. Have a mantra or a meditation. I found that a lot of pumping was mind over matter, and that my emotional state could greatly affect my output. It may sound silly, but I took deep breaths while chanting, “Breathe in love, breathe out milk.” I closed my eyes and visualized the milk being let down and flowing through my breast. I found that by doing this kind of a meditation, I could even trigger a second letdown for another couple ounces of milk towards the end of my pumping time.
Milk production is not just about suction. It is about your brain releasing the chemical oxytocin, which will then trigger your letdown. These little tricks were about getting my brain on board, getting that sweet oxytocin flowing.
4. Avoid overfeeding! Leave one to one and a half ounces of breast milk for every hour you are away. This may sound like a minuscule amount of milk, but it is plenty. The tendency at many daycares is to feed a baby whenever they are fussy, therefore overfeeding, thereby burning through your stash.
When I brought Emily to daycare, I happened to go into the fridge to put her little baggies of milk away, and saw that there were huge, full bottles of milk in there. I felt, for a moment, like I would be starving my baby by leaving such a small amount of milk. But then I remembered that breastfed babies generally consume around 24 ounces per day of breast milk, so this equals out to about an ounce an hour. The care givers gave Emily a two or three ounce bottle every couple hours. This was be plenty to keep her happy, hydrated, and nourished until we were together again.
If your care giver balks when you leave this small amount of milk because they are used to formula feeding, feel free to share with them the breast milk calculator at http://www.kellymom.com.
Leaving the amount of milk you pumped the day before will be better for your supply in the long run because you are not supplementing, even with your own milk. For example, I was generally able to pump 12-15 ounces per day. By leaving just that, and not supplementing, I was able to keep up with supply and demand, which is what milk production is all about. If your care givers complain that your baby is not eating enough, don’t doubt yourself! Encourage them to try alternative soothing techniques rather than just throwing your expressed milk at the issue.
5. Trust your body. Your pumping output is no indication of how much milk you actually have for your baby. Your baby can get way more milk than a pump. There were many days when I worried there would not be enough milk. I found that if I told myself, “My body is made for this!” I could squeeze out another ounce.
6. Familiarize yourself with the term “Reverse Cycling.” Reverse Cycling is when your baby nibbles on their bottle during the day and then tanks up while they are with you. For Emily, this meant nursing multiple times per night after I went back to work. It was important for me to keep her on breast milk as long as possible, so I accepted these prolonged sessions, which were also good for my supply.
7. Add in an extra pumping session (or two, or three. . .) When your baby starts solids, it is normal for your supply to drop a bit. Emily’s introduction to solids, shortly after six months, coincided with my getting thrush, and my return of menstruation. UGH!! This really gave my supply a blow. I had to add in a bunch of sessions to get the milk that I needed. Since I do a 50 minute hour with my clients, I would use my ten minutes after the session to pump (while writing my clinical note, I might add). I did this up to six times a day. You can also add a session in at home, if your little one isn’t glued to your chest at that time.
Another great time to pump is first thing in the morning. Most mornings, I will be honest, I was not motivated to get up and pump, but there were some mornings when I would pump on one side while Emily nursed on the other. Yeah, it takes some logistics, but if you can manage it, you will benefit from the let down that your baby triggers.
To this end, keep your pump gear assembled in ziplock freezer bags, in the pump bag, so you can whip it all out and have it on in a moment.
8. Get to know your galactagougues. There are natural and safe ways to increase your milk supply. Two things that worked really well for me were Fenugreek capsules, and steel cut oatmeal. I took three Fenugreek caps, three times per day and ate a bowl of steel cut oatmeal every morning for increased supply. Other women swear by brewer’s yeast or lactation cookies, but I never tried them. Also, make sure you are getting plenty of water and plenty of healthy, protein-rich calories throughout the day.
9. Coconut oil. There were some days that all that pumping gave me some pretty sore nips. I found coconut oil to be a panacea. (It also works well on diaper and drool rashes!)
10. Some breast milk is better than none, so cut yourself some slack. At a certain point, I had to decide that enough was enough, and I hung up my pump horns for good. This choice was not easy, but I was driving myself crazy trying to produce enough milk for Emily, and at a certain point, my body just stopped responding to the pump. Emily was about ten months when I stopped. We had a little freezer stash that lasted us a few weeks, and I supplemented with a little formula. By this time, however, our pediatrician told us that we could offer Emily water when she was away from me, and I kept nursing while we were together.
While I will never stop advocating that breast is best, I do not believe that mix feeding hurts, as long as your supply is well-established, and your baby can tolerate formula. There is no need to throw in the towel completely on breast feeding, as you can continue to nurse your baby while you are together until you and baby are comfortable weaning. At 17 months old, Emily still nurses three to six times per day. My body has adapted.
If you are totally against using formula, check out your local chapters of Eats on Feets, or HM4HB. Sometimes you can find other moms who have enormous supplies that are willing to donate milk for your little one. This wasn’t the route that I took, but I know other moms who did it and were thrilled. Just make sure you do your research, check the donor’s medical history, and feel totally comfortable with your donor. There are also instructions on the web for how to flash pasteurize donated milk.
I hope this is helpful for you beautiful Mamas out there! Happy pumping!