Do you decided to venture into this whole pumping arena…now what? Pumping (and especially exclusively pumping) is like a whole new dimension of reality that you step into, blinking from the blinding light, and proceed to stare at in amazement while not really being sure of what to do next.
Welcome to my two part series in which I will share the top 10 nuggets of wisdom that I have gleaned from personal experience.
Just remember, we’re in this together.
10) Understand your body. Knowledge is power right? At least for me, that’s very true. The more I learned about the why and how of breastmilk production, the more I became aware of what I needed to do to help myself in the process. Wouldn’t you agree that it’s so much harder to be steadfast on a journey when you don’t know much about where you’re going or how the heck you’re gonna get there? The whole pumping gig actually became easier (at least on a mental level) when I did the right research – so I highly suggest you put those Google skills to good use early on! Here are my top favorite pumping resources in case you need a jump start:
- https://exclusivepumping.com : Started by an exclusively pumping mom, this site’s mission is to be the best resource for all women in the same season.
- https://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/pumping/bf-links-pumps/ : links to many, many articles from many well-regarded sources regarding the ins and outs of pumping.
- https://www.lacteck.com/hack : links to great articles on how to make the pumping life just a little easier, one day at a time.
This brings me to my next point:
9) Create a regular demand in order to establish supply. The more often your breasts are emptied on a regular basis, the more your body will be signaled to up its milk production. This can be achieved via breastfeeding, pumping or a combination of the two. Expect to create a pumping schedule that mimics a newborn baby’s eating habits. Under the guidance of the postpartum and NICU nurses, my schedule was 20 minutes every 3 hours for the first 6 weeks around the clock. Those the dark ages. After we made 6 weeks I was OK’d to go 6 hours at night without pumping. I gradually got myself on an every 4 hour schedule – at which point I was able to maintain an excellent supply and freeze extra.
Whatever you do – remember that the first 12 weeks are crucial to establishing milk supply. And consistency is key. If you go too long without pumping, not only will you experience the discomfort of clogs and engorgement, but your body will start to think it doesn’t need to be making as much milk and your supply will drop dramatically.
Wether you’re trying to establish or increase your supply –
8) Do make a middle of the night pump a habit. Quite frankly, this sucks. I know. After trying to get tiny post-NICU Zoya to take her bottle at 2am for up to an hour at a time and cleaning spit up off the nursery rug, the last thing I wanted was to hook up to the pump. But you know how I was saying that being more informed will make you more driven to actually follow through on the hard stuff? Well, apparently prolactin levels, which is the hormone responsible for stimulating milk production, are highest between 2 a.m and 6 a.m. (Cregan, Mitoulas, Hartmann, Mitoulas & Hartmann, 2002). Prolactin gets released when the breasts are stimulated (through pumping, hurrah!); so knowing that, I felt that there’s really no more opportune time to get a session in.
My only suggestion would be to make that middle of the night sesh something to look forward to. Enjoy the alone time (honestly)! Watch a good Netflix show or listen to a podcast. I became obsessed with playing Candy Crush during my nightly pumping time. It’s so dorky – but it worked!
Once your supply is fully established and you’re comfortable with the amount you’re making you can experiment with dropping that middle of the night pump.
7) Hydrate and eat right like you’re getting paid. I’m not even kidding. The American Pregnancy Association (2017) recommends increasing your calorie count by about 500 for a total of 3,000 per day. Think about it – not only are you fueling your body to recuperate postpartum, have the energy to take care of a newborn and support your daily life functions, but you are also secreting a decent portion of your calories into your breastmilk. I have the tendency to skip meals when busy and definitely noticed a dip in ounces as a result on those days.
I also want to make a point about lactogenic foods – again, good idea to do some digging here. There are foods (here’s lookin’ at ya, oatmeal and coconut) that are correlated with increased milk production while some have the opposite effect. I was enjoying a cup of mint tea on a nightly basis while wondering why I wasn’t producing as much – thankfully I shared with a friend and she set me straight!
Water is also important. Although it won’t actually increase your supply, drinking plenty of water is very important (Mohrbacher, 2010). Lactating ladies need almost a liter more per day than the regular folk, meaning 3.3 liters of H2O on average (Institute of Medicine, 2004). Just like with calories, you’re secreting a decent portion of your fluid intake into your breastmilk and need to replace accordingly. While I was pumping ’round the clock, I felt constant Sahara Desert-like thirst. My solution was to fill a cute 16 oz water bottle and keep it by my pump with a goal to finish it fully during each session. Adequate hydration is key to our bodies functioning at their highest levels, so I guarantee that making this a priority (as well as nutritious, boobie-friendly meals) will give your tired body the respite it needs.
6) Learn to pump on the go.
Exclusively pumping does become a lifestyle of sorts but it doesn’t have to control your whole life.
Put together a really comprehensive pump bag. Mine had:
- My on the go pump
- A car charger and wall charger
- Spare bottles and bags
- Wet to dry bag for storing dirty parts
- A cute cover
- A hands free bra
- A cooler for milk (if I knew I wasn’t going to a place with a fridge)
- A makeup bag with nipple cream and some feel good extras like a lip balm, dry shampoo and a nice book.
- American Pregnancy Association (2017). https://americanpregnancy.org/breastfeeding/diet-considerations-while-breastfeeding/
- Cregan M, Mitoulas L, Hartmann P; Mitoulas; Hartmann (2002). “Milk prolactin, feed volume and duration between feeds in women breastfeeding their full-term infants over a 24 h period”. Exp Physiol. 87 (2): 207–14.
- Mohrbacher N. Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple, Texas: Hale Publishing, 2010; p 400, 415.
- Panel on Dietary Reference Intakes for Electrolytes and Water, Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes: Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Institute of Medicine, Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 2004:p 73-74, 153-154, 161