Keeping up your supply while you’re pumping and working

I mentioned in my post about maintaining my stash that I have seen both sides of the supply coin.  With the Grasshopper, I struggled to keep up my supply.  Now with Cricket I have an oversupply.  My friend over at gratimood (check her out, she’s a fantastic writer), emailed me and asked me how I keep up my supply while I work.

I remember when I had to go back to work with the Grasshopper.  I had so many questions as a first time mom, but my biggest concern was this: How much milk would she need and how would I keep up?  She was a pretty big baby after all.  How could I pump enough milk?

Imagine my joy when I learned that breast milk isn’t based on Baby’s age and weight!  Not even a little bit!  The breast milk grows and changes with your baby, so you don’t increase the bottle size as baby grows.  So forget those complicated weight-based formulas.  Let them leave your mind forever like lost kites in the wind.

Replace that idea with this:

Breastfed babies take in, on average, 25 oz per day.  That’s roughly 1 oz per hour.  So all you need to do is figure out how many hours you will be away from your baby at daycare, and that’s how many ounces you send!  I kid you not.  It really is that simple.  For more help with this, check out this article from Kellymom.com that includes a nifty breast milk calculator.  The idea is this: Baby’s stomach is small.  Big bottles (over 4 oz) stretch out the stomach.  Smaller, more frequent bottles are better.

Here’s how that played out with the Grasshopper:  She was in daycare from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM.  That’s about 10 hours.  I would send three 3 oz bottles and then I would feed her when I picked her up at the school at 5:30.  I only needed to get 9 oz.  So when I pumped for her, I would typically get 4 oz at the first pumping session, 3 oz at the lunchtime session, and 2 oz in the afternoon.  Those 9 oz were enough for her at school and whatever she didn’t get at school she would make up for at home.

Here’s how it’s working with Cricket: She is also at school from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM.  With her, though, I am able to go at lunchtime to nurse her, and she wakes often in the night.  I nurse her at around 6:30 AM, pump at 9:00 AM (she takes about 1 oz at school at the same time), nurse her at 11 AM, pump at 3 PM (she takes 3-4 oz at school around this time), and nurse her again at school at 5:15 PM or so.  So I don’t need that much milk for Cricket at school either.  Just 5 oz each day.

That said, I remember with the Grasshopper that it was a real struggle to get those 9 ounces.  We had some pretty serious nursing issues during the first few weeks and she was not able to set up my supply early on.  This is why it’s so, so critical to bring baby to breast as often as possible during the early weeks.  Do not space out feeding.  A newborn eating every hour is letting your body know that it’s time to produce milk.  If you let your baby nurse as often as he or she wants, you’re setting yourself up to have great supply later on.

This brings up another important point:

What you pump is absolutely not an indicator of what your supply is.

I pump a lot of milk these days.  I’m not going to tell you how much.  It’s completely abnormal.  Instead, please read this article about what is normal: http://www.kellymom.com/bf/pumping/pumping_decrease.html#normal

Pumping is a funny thing.  With the Grasshopper, I struggled and struggled to pump enough.  I know that if I could have been with her and allowed her to just nurse, I would have had zero supply issues, but when it came down to it, I just didn’t respond all that well to the pump.  Totally normal.

But still,I needed to get those 9 ounces for her for daycare.  So here are some things that I did:

  • Drank Mother’s Milk Tea every morning instead of my regular green tea.  But really, don’t rely on tea alone if you’re dealing with pumping supply. You’d have to drink gallons of it to really have that strong of an effect. I think the effect of this was mostly psychological, which is okay because with breastfeeding psychology is half the battle.
  • Took herbal supplements.  Sometimes I did a combo of Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle (3 tablets of each 3x/day), and sometimes when I was feeling extravagant, I took the MotherLove herbal More Milk Special blend.  I found the Goat’s Rue to be very helpful.  The tincture seemed to work better than the pill. Don’t do this if you don’t need to. There are a lot of problems that come with oversupply and all of these “natural” supplements have side effects.
  • Took a Calcium/Magnesium supplement from the day I ovulated until a few days after my period started.  I got my period back with the Grasshopper early on, and something they don’t tell you is that getting your period can cause a supply dip between ovulation and when your period starts due to calcium loss.  The Cal/Mag helps with that. This was important.
  • Never, ever skip a pumping session.  This was the most critical thing. Milk production is supply and demand. Skipping sessions gave me more milk the next session, but much, much less milk the next day.  The short-term gain was absolutely not worth the long-term loss.

All of those things really seemed to help.

Below are a few more tips that I compiled for the corporate lactation program that I helped to found within my company.  I’m cross-publishing here because I and other moms within the corporate support group have found them to be pretty tried and true.

Pumping Quick Tips

  • Come up with a pumping plan(when, where, what you do, etc.) and stick to it. Set your times in your outlook calendar so you won’t get too busy and forget to go pump.
  • Pump at around the same time your baby would be nursing or taking a bottle.
  • Pump for a full 15-20 minutes even if no milk is flowing. Remember, milk is a supply and demand system. You have to demand it so that it will be there for the next time.  Please be aware that pumping for longer than 20 minutes at a time can cause breast tissue damage.
  • Typical output is 2-3 oz, so if you aren’t getting 8 oz like some people talk about, don’t worry! It’s normal!  Those 8 oz ladies just respond really, really well to the pump.
  • Feed only what you can pump. Remember, it doesn’t take as much breast milk as formula, so don’t let a formula fed baby’s 6 oz bottle make you feel inadequate. Breast milk grows with your baby, so you don’t need to increase your bottle size.  1 oz per hour is the rule of thumb, so if you’re away for 9 hours, three 3 oz bottles should cover you!
  • RELAX! Kick back, read a good book, don’t try too hard to multi-task if you find it interferes with the flow. Just take the time to relax and think about your baby.
  • Keep up with your pump maintenance. Medela users, don’t forget to change those white membranes regularly. I change mine every 10 days.
  • Don’t shake the milk! Mix the fat back into the milk by swirling it gently and warming it. Human milk is full of live white blood cells that carry your immunity to your baby. Shaking the milk breaks those cells open and “bruises” the milk. It’s precious gold. Treat it with respect.
  • Use slow flow bottle nipples. A breastfed child never needs a faster flow than a newborn nipple. Slow flow, wide mouth nipples more closely mimic the flow from the breast.
  • Go hands free!  Using an Easy Expressions Bustier or a homemade hands-free system gives you the flexibility to do other things while you’re pumping.

Do you have any tried and true tips that help you pump?

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10 thoughts on “Keeping up your supply while you’re pumping and working

  1. Great post! I found that drinking lots of water helped. I also really appreciated sometimes having to take time to nurse or pump. I remember thinking once that having to nurse often is a blessing in that it forces busy and overwhelmed new moms to sit and be still for a few minutes every few hours.

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    1. This. So much, this. I try to have the same mindset at work. Instead of thinking, “Oh, geez. Time to pump again. What a pain,” I view it as time to turn my brain off, do some reading and some writing, and just generally think meditative thoughts about my baby.

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    1. Oatmeal is awesome. I will have to post my latest find. Single-serving oatmeal muffins. I’m trying to tweak the recipe a bit to make it even more milk-producing awesome, so once I’ve done that, I’ll post it. Whole grains in general can be great at encouraging milk production. So can alfalfa! It makes me secretly wonder if we’re all really mooing on the inside. 🙂

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      1. You should have seen the card my office mates gave me. It was covered in leaping cows telling me to “milk it while its worth it.” Hilarious!

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  2. This is a great post! I love how much you share about your experience to help others.

    I remember when I had terrible issues with oversupply and constant blocked ducts and you said to me that I shouldn’t give up hope, that I could try to relactate later on. Well that’s what I’m trying to do now, and I wondered if you had any suggestions? (Sorry if this is a long comment, hope you don’t mind!)

    Between 6 and 9 weeks I started getting terrible blocked ducts. They were the size of golf balls, totally distorting the shape of my breast, and I had one *at least* every other day. Oscar was either screaming because he was hungry and couldn’t get any milk out or screaming with colic because when it did come out it was so forceful he choked on it 😦 We kept going ’til 12 weeks trying to do combination feeding and looking into ways to work with it, but we eventually switched over to formula. It broke my heart, especially after the HG, as it felt like one more thing my body didn’t do well. But it was the right thing for us *at that time*.

    Around 15 weeks when the blocked ducts and pain had subsided and Oscar was settled, I started giving the odd comfort feed before a bottle, and Oscar always loved latching on. I always hoped to hang on until he started having solids and so taking less milk overall and then trying to increase my supply. But then we both got D&V a few weeks ago and didn’t breastfeed for a couple of weeks and he lost interest. But I still want to try.

    I have some milk still in the freezer from around 12 weeks, so I’m going to get that out to remind him how good mummy’s milk tastes. We’re going to get the medela bottles out again so he has to work a bit harder for the formula than out of his current bottles (to remind him again that it’s worth the effort) and I’m considering even getting a supplementary nursing system so I can encourage him to latch on and feed whilst still getting the flow of formula until my supply increases again. I do hope it works. I’ve started taking fenugreek 3 times a day too as that was suggested to me.

    As I say, sorry for the length of the comment, but as you were the first one (and only one at the time) to mention relactation was possible, I thought you’d be a good person to ask.

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    1. Amandaspatch: I’m in the same situation, except I’ve been exclusively pumping for 5 months and keep trying to get my daughter to nurse. It’s true, so upsetting, especially after HG. Go to the breastfeeding groups at cafemom.com. They have a number of women that have relacated and tons of help:) GL!

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    2. Amanda, I’m so happy to hear from you! And I’m really glad to hear that you are considering relactating. It can be hard coming out of an HG pregnancy and dealing with nursing struggles. One more thing that’s not easy. I remember with the Grasshopper feeling like my body wasn’t working. This time around I reminded myself that we all have to give ourselves and our babies time to learn.

      I could dedicate a whole post to plugged ducts. And I think I might. In the meantime, definitely get a supplemental nursing system! I used that with the Grasshopper when I erroneously thought my milk was “bad” and allowed it to dry up a few days postpartum. Definitely take the herbal supplements, and for sure start taking Lecithin. It’s a vitamin supplement that can help prevent plugged ducts.

      There’s also a great section in the kellymom forums that is dedicated to pumping and relactating moms. The support in that group is phenomenal, and the moderators are some of the best around. I credit that group for getting me through the rough time I had with the Grasshopper. I don’t think I could have done it without their support.

      http://forum.kellymom.net/forumdisplay.php?f=21

      I’m so glad that I was able to find the balance to support you during your struggle with the plugged ducts. I wanted to encourage you to continue trying and to know that taking a break didn’t have to mean the end, but at the same time, I wanted to support you in what you needed to do for your health. I’m glad that I was able to help you. Please keep us posted as you work to bring your baby back to breast. You are an inspiration to all of us!

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  3. HI 🙂

    Just realised I totally forgot to thank you for your reply. I shall keep you posted, and write on the blog about it when I get chance. Thanks again for ALL your support x

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