By Alicia Barnes of LiciaBobesha.com
Most mothers in the U.S. work outside the home, which means if they’re breastfeeding, they’re probably pumping.
When I was about to return to work, I was intimidated by pumping. I knew that pumping wasn’t as efficient as the baby. I knew that pumping instead of nursing my baby directly could slowly dwindle down my supply into nonexistence. I knew some moms didn’t respond to the pump well and ended up having to supplement, which is often a road to no milk at all.
As I prepared, it felt like most breastfeeding support was geared towards mothers who never regularly have to leave their babies and use a pump. The information I received was mostly just a reminder of how important breastfeeding is but no real information on how to sustain and breastfeeding relationship while using the pump. So I did research, sought out successful pumpers, and figured out 4 major tips all pumping moms should know.
1. Don’t just pump. While it seems like that wheezing machine should be able to get all the milk on its own, it can’t. It will leave so much milk behind triggering your body to think you don’t need that milk, so it makes less. One way to avoid this is to combine pumping and hand expression. Studies have found that when women did this combination, they were able to collect an average of 48% more milk plus the milk they collected contained more fat. You can see a video of Hands On Pumping from the Stanford School of Medicine. The basic idea is to massage, then pump, then finishing pumping while massaging or finish with just hand expression alone. The use of the hands reduces the amount of time needed to pump while at the same time increasing the amount of milk gathered.
2. Watch videos of your baby. You’ve probably heard to have a photo of your baby in your bag to look at while you pump, but it’s 2013. We can do a lot better than a photo. I found watching a video of my baby laughing stimulated my letdown reflex. Milk production is a biological, hormonally driven process. Pumping can be hard because it removes the natural cues of smell and touch of the baby. Anything you can do to tap into that emotional region of your brain will help tell your body to make milk. I like to think about it like walking into a room and smelling freshly baked cookies. Before I smelled the cookies I probably wasn’t even hungry, but once I smell the cookies, my body involuntarily reacted, my mouth started watering, and suddenly I’m driven to eat a cookie. Just as the cookie smell can trigger those responses, a video can help get your milk flowing a whole lot better than just strapping on the pump.
Videos don’t have to be anything special. Using a cell phone to record a few minutes here and there, or a cheap Flip camera like I did, helped me set up short videos on Youtube. This one was my favorite:
3. Nurse/pump often in the beginning. Good planning for pumping begins at birth. The first two weeks set up the potential of the breastfeeding relationship. Keeping baby in the hospital room and skin to skin encourages a full supply early on. Nursing baby on demand and often (even if others questions it) stimulates milk production. Though the baby may only latch a few minutes, it is those snacks that release hormones and tell your body to make milk. You can always cut back on nursing later, but in the beginning, nursing as often as possible can save a lot of heartache down the road. Nursing (or pumping) often and holding the baby will stimulate far more milk than any tea, supplement, or cookie.
4. Set a routine. When Ennis first went to child care at 12 weeks, I established this routine: wake up and nurse him on one side before getting out of bed, pump the other side, get ready for work and school, offer him milk again before we left the house, then nurse again in his classroom to top him off. Before 8 a.m., I had already nursed 3x and pumped once. At work, I’d do a midmorning pump, a lunchtime pump, a mid afternoon pump, and then we’d nurse at home immediately. At home I nursed full time and often wore him using a baby carrier. Since I knew that milk production was based on supply and demand, I wanted to keep the demand up even if he was only nursing a few minutes, it was telling my body to keep making milk. Slowly I dropped these feedings down to eventually I was nursing when we woke up, pumping twice at work, and then nursing full time at home.
I had an abundant supply. So abundant I became a milk donor for premature babies. I fully accredit my supply on the first 12 weeks of nursing on demand at home and then the next few months of nursing/pumping often. I went on to pump until Ennis was 18 months old. I was able to not only meet all his nutritional milk needs, but I was able to donate 425 ounces of breastmilk to premature or ill babies. Since one ounce is typically three feedings for these tiny babies, I have contributed to over 1200 feedings and helped buy time for moms who were waiting for their own milk to come in. Now I’m also a breastfeeding support leader with the specific goals of helping moms of color, moms who work or go to school, and moms who pump.
Keeping a breastfeeding going while pumping can be a challenge, but it is possible and it was so worth it for my family.
Do you have questions about pumping or maintaining breastfeeding while working or going to school? Share them below.
Alicia has been known to add chia and flax seed meal to brownies, so she can eat them guilt free. Besides teaching her one-year-old son to use gentle hands with their two dogs, two rabbits, flock of chickens, and one foster cat for a friend serving in the Peace Corps, she mostly spends too much time on the internet.