How I saved my milk supply again, and again, and again…

Exclusive Pumping (EP)

You guys….exclusively pumping is hard. SO hard. I breastfed my firstborn and, while he ate round the clock for at least a year and a half (no joke) and didn’t wean until 23 months, it was easy because the milk was always there, it was always warm, and it didn’t go bad. Pumping and bottling has resulted in so much frustration and hardship: spilled milk, unfinished milk, spoiled milk, and (worst of all) low supply. I found so much support in Facebook groups like Exclusive Pumping Mamas Support Group and One Ounce at a Time Support. But, I didn’t find those groups until months into my EP journey…

There is just an incredible amount of things/tips/tricks that you’re not told as a new mom when you’re faced with having to or choosing to bottle feed your baby and pump round the clock. Seriously. I met with 4 lactation consultants within days of having my second baby and I received lacking advice from all of them. This poor advice left me with an overall undersupply for a period of time because I missed the opportunity to build my supply appropriately in the first 12 weeks. My hope is that this post helps you Mamas out there that are in the same boat. Maybe it’s your first baby, or maybe it’s your second and you’re pumping this time around; regardless…we Mamas have to stick together and share our knowledge!!

General Tips & Tricks

  • The first 12 weeks generally dictate your supply over the duration of your pumping/bottling lifetime. Follow the guidelines below to set yourself up for success!
  • Avoid supplements for the first 12 weeks; let your body develop its supply naturally first!
  • Pump for at least 20 minutes every 2-3 hours during the day and every 3-4 hours at night for at least the first 12 weeks.
  • Follow the pumping schedule below to the best of your ability. Of course, everyone’s body is different and your pumping schedule may vary. I continued to pump 7-8 times a day until my baby was 7 months old. You may find that you have to add pumps if your supply is low, or that you are able to drop pumps if you overproduce during your pump sessions.

  • Pump until your are empty – do not just stop at 20 minutes! Wait until your breasts empty, and then pump for at least 5 more minutes to signal that baby wants more. (This will help keep your body producing at an uptick.)
  • Power pump at least once a day if you’re in need of a supply increase. I found that I had the best power pump results if I pumped 20 min (or until empty), stopped for 5 min, pumped for another 5 (or until empty), stopped for 5 min, and pumped for another 5 (or until empty).

  • Use the let-down button on your pump multiple times. I had my BEST output when I pressed the let-down button a handful of times during my pump session, and especially if I noticed that the milk had stopped flowing.
  • Multitask! As soon as you can, pump while feeding baby the bottle. It saves SO much time! I prop baby up on a pillow next to me and feed him while I pump. He then hangs out there while I finish my pumping session and we have a great bonding time. My toddler usually sits next to me and we read books or retell stories aloud. Find the position/sibling activities that work best for you!
  • More multitasking…invest in supplies like a battery-powered pump (Medela Freestyle, Spectra S1, Baby Buddha, etc.) and/or pump supplies (e.g. Freemies) to allow you to move freely around your house and accomplish things while you pump! I found that pumping while bottling was the best use of my time. You may find that being able to move around, tend to your other children, do housework, etc. is a better use of yours!
  • Get a Second Pump! If you have the opportunity to get a second pump, do it simply for the fact that pumps sometimes break. Thank goodness I got a new pump with the second baby because a couple months after he was born, my first pump spontaneously stopped working! When you exclusively pump, a non-working pump is just not. an. option. Thankfully I had my Medela ready in the wings!

Pump/Bottle Tips

  • Get a pump through insurance! Or, rent the Medela Symphony (the Cadillac of pumps). Call your insurance company to find out what you’re eligible for.
  • Keep pump bottles/flanges in the fridge in between pumps so that you don’t have to wash them multiple times throughout the day.
  • Have at least two sets of flanges (make sure they are sized correctly!) and duckbill valves so that you can use one while the other one dries. I would use one set during the day time and use the other overnight.
  • If you’re producing enough for one bottle, keep what you just pumped out at room temperature to give at the next feeding (no warming necessary!). Breast milk is OK at room temperature for 6-8 hours.
  • Label your bottles with the “use by” time, especially for room temperature bottles overnight. I write in dry erase marker on the side (“by 2:30am”) because my brain can’t remember overnight and I don’t want milk to go to waste because it sat out too long!
  • If baby doesn’t finish the bottle, store the remainder in the fridge and give it at the next feeding. **This is only recommended for breast milk, not formula.**

The real reason you’re reading this: How I SAVED my supply again and again…

Truth be told, my supply dropped again and again. Like, every week or two weeks. My husband traveled or worked late, I was taking care of a high-needs baby and a toddler, and I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was always feeling behind-the-eight-ball and scrambling to get ahead when it came to milk production. It took me 7 long months but I finally figured out what brought my supply back up every time.

  • Consistency. Pump every 2-4 hours during the day and add a pump back in at night if you have to. Your body is looking for direction and your pump schedule dictates that! I tried to pump while baby ate to save time, but if I couldn’t I made sure not to go past that 4-hour threshold during the day.
  • Length of pump time. I had to pump for at least 30 minutes to empty, no questions asked. If I wanted maximum production, I pumped for up to an hour.
  • Let-down after let-down after let-down. Press *that button every time you see the milk has stopped, seriously. (*My Medela Pump-in-Style Advanced [PISA] and Lansinoh pumps have a let-down button, your pump may have something different. You basically just want a function that pulses fast to mimic the baby sucking fast to encourage the milk to drop.)
  • Power pump. If the let-down button isn’t inducing another let-down, stop the pump for 5 minutes and rest. Then, start it back up again for another 5. Stop it again, unless you’ve had a let-down and then stop after you’ve emptied. Repeat at least once again!
  • EAT. Seriously, you need to feed yourself. I know you may want to lose weight or you’re hella distracted by your child(ren) and 9 million other things, but you’ve got to eat to keep up with the production. I did try to eat oatmeal, brewer’s yeast, and flax seed daily, but I didn’t notice too much a difference with them. So, if I got tired of them or didn’t have any oatmeal cooked, I didn’t worry about it for that day.
  • Lactation supplements. If I was in a real pinch and feeling the pressure, I would pick up some lactation cookies. But, I think I did it more so for the placebo effect than anything else. I found just as much support from random oatmeal bars like Bobo’s oat bars.
  • Feed your baby first. Remember that you are feeding your baby, not the freezer. Don’t worry if you don’t have a freezer stash of milk! It is more important that your baby is being fed.
  • Use the right materials. I found that Pumping Pals flanges decreased the amount of time I had to pump, but of course I didn’t discover that until 7 months in when a friend didn’t need one the sizes she purchased and graciously gave them to me! If you’re really struggling, look into these flanges and/or a different pump. I personally did the best with my Medela PISA and not the Spectra S2, but everyone else in the Facebook groups seemed to find more success with the latter. Everyone’s body is different. If you have the opportunity to get a second pump to try it out for you body, do it. (And also to have a back-up pump.)
  • Think positively/distract. Use affirmations OR distract yourself so you’re not worried about what’s coming (or not coming) out. I often watched a favorite show while pumping or repeated the following to myself: My body is designed to make milk. I produce enough milk to feed my baby. Create your own affirmations that speak to you!

 

I missed out on so much information early on; I hope that this post brings you

peace, knowledge and extra ounces. <3

Pump on, Mama!

hayley

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