Breast Milk: Tips for Increasing Supply, Pumping and Storing Efficiently
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Are you having a baby, lady?! Planning to breastfeed or already nursing a new little one? CONGRATS!
Get ready for dry, cracked nipples and an occasional bite mark (not the good kind) along with random wet spots if you’re not careful. I may or may not have once answered the door with two giant milk stains on my chest without even batting an eye.
I think the UPS guy noticed though. Oops.
I won’t be preaching to you about which way you should go regarding the feeding of your baby: breast milk or formula. That is for you to decide. I DO, however, have a bunch of information on all things breast, milk, storage, pumping and lanolin related.
Before we dive in, it is important to understand one fundamental thing about breastfeeding your baby.
Boosting and maintaining your breast milk supply is literally supply and demand.
Your baby needs more food (and empties your breasts completely each feeding) and your body starts to produce more milk. Your baby needs less food (and is not emptying your breasts completely at each feeding) and your body will start to produce less milk.
Aren’t our bodies pretty amazing?!
From that first day your milk comes in (Pamela Anderson what?!) you’ll work toward boosting and maintaining your milk supply. Not to sound over-dramatic, but everything you do, don’t do, eat, don’t eat, how often you’re feeding your baby or pumping – it all plays a role in how much breast milk you are able to produce.
Very rarely is there an actual reason why a woman cannot produce milk. The majority of healthy women are able to breastfeed, even if it does take some determination to get going. If you want to breastfeed – do not give up easily. As long as you are producing milk, you can work toward producing more.
Some back story: Our oldest was born with a rare and severe heart defect (that we didn’t know about for his first two months of life) and I wanted to breastfeed him. What does his heart defect have to do with breastfeeding you ask? More than you might think.
Without going into too much detail, the oxygen levels in his blood were very low because his heart was not pumping the way it should have been. He was sitting at 64% oxygen saturation (instead of the normal 100%) the day he was diagnosed. For two months my poor little guy couldn’t figure out how to breathe fast enough to get more oxygen AND to swallow at the same time.
So, what does this have to do with breast milk you ask again?
When it came to our oldest son and how little he was able to empty my breasts, my body thought that he was full so my milk dried up. Simple as that.
Read: Pulse-Oximetry at Birth + Why Isn’t This Standard Testing in ALL States?
With our younger son, I was a bonafide dairy cow. I’d get a good 18 – 20 ounces every. single. time. I pumped. And I was pumping every 4 hours. You could say the word milk and I’d start squirting.
Aren’t our bodies amazing?! LOL
I exclusively pumped my breast milk for our youngest son – for an entire year.
You hear that? That’s the sound of my nipples rejoicing that that ish is over. Just kidding, you get used to it.
When our youngest was born, I tried for about 3 weeks to get accustomed to the actual latching on with his actual mouth. I really don’t think we were doing it right. I had help from lactation consultants both at the hospital and at the La Leche league meetings I attended (I was determined!), but my nipples continued to crack and literally bleed.
As he latched on and I would beat my foot against the floor to distract myself from the pain. I gave it a valiant effort y’all, I really did, but in the end it simply was not happening. I had to go back to work at 6 weeks anyway, so I decided to start pumping.
And pump I did.
Tips for Increasing Supply, Pumping and Storing Breast Milk
1. When pumping, it can be difficult to fully empty your breasts. A baby can empty breasts much easier than a pump can – no matter how fancy your pump is. Don’t let your breasts think that your baby is full.
Trick your breasts.
When about half way done pumping, begin massaging your breasts in a circular motion. This helps to move the milk out and toward your nipples. Make sure you’re starting near your armpit and working your way out, the breast milk ducts go alllll the way back there.
You want them as empty as possible after each pump.
2. Notice your supply beginning to dip anyway? Nip that in the bud with Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle.
Fenugreek is a naturally growing herb used by breastfeeding mothers to help boost or maintain breast milk supply but it also helps with heart health and hardened arteries, as well as diabetes and kidney health. And of course, is safe for your baby to ingest (through your milk).
Blessed Thistle is a naturally growing plant that is used for increasing urinary output (which also helps increase other bodily fluids – namely breast milk), as well helping with indigestion, coughs, colds and more.
It is nearly impossible to overdose on these two.
I bought this kind of Fenugreek and this kind of Blessed Thistle. I took FOUR pills of EACH every four hours – only when I noticed my supply beginning to dip. Within a few days, I would regain those few ounces I was missing and then I’d back off the pills until I noticed the supply beginning to dip again.
If you don’t want to mess with the pills, they now have a drink mix containing both (that they didn’t have when I was pumping so I can not attest to its efficacy).
3. Stay on a strict pumping schedule. You are tricking your body into thinking you’re feeding your baby naturally. Or two babies if you want to have extra milk to stockpile. If you are not diligent with your schedule, your body will think that your baby is full and your supply will decrease.
I pumped every four hours while my supply was steady: 6 am, 10 am, 2 pm, 6 pm and 10 pm. When it would start to dip, I would increase my pumping to every two hours (four at night), while also taking the Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle mentioned above.
The only exception was during the evening, then I would pump immediately before bed and first thing in the morning – while supply was steady.
When pumping the first time in the morning, I was sure to express every single drop to remind my breasts that my “baby was still hungry”. Hee hee.
4. Try not to drink too much alcohol. After nine months and giving birth… you might need a drink.
I get it girl.
Don’t go too crazy with it though if you plan to breastfeed or pump. While one glass of wine here and there certainly won’t hurt (you’ll want some of these test strips to test your milk) it could severely diminish your supply if you have a wild night.
5. Know your time limits and your safety guidelines. You can combine the milk from different pump sessions, so long as they are the same (chilled) temperature at the time that you combine. Simply put the milk from each pumping session in the fridge until it is chilled, then add to a larger container.
Use the fresh milk that is in your fridge first, then freeze what hasn’t been used within the recommended time frame.
Refrigerated milk will last up to 8 days (although 5 days is ideal) so if you are a working mother, perhaps you could use what you pump all week long, and on the weekend freeze whatever milk is left over from the previous week. Start over on Monday.
6. Don’t wash your supplies after every single pumping. If your breast milk can sit in the fridge for days without going bad, why not stick your entire setup (minus the actual pump) in the fridge in between pumpings? This cuts down on the amount of time you spend cleaning your bottles, flanges, tubes and accessories.
Clean them once a day instead. You’ve got enough other things to keep you busy.
7. Looking to freeze that milk? Oh yasssssss. At my peak I was producing about 20 ounces per pump.
That’s about a GALLON – every single day.
What’s great though is that I was able to quit abusing my girls well before my son stopped eating the milk. Freezing is where its at, ladies. He was set for months after I quit pumping.
These Lansinoh brand storage bags are by far the best deal I have found in my research. You’re paying about 10¢ per bag while other brands are upwards of 20¢ – 25¢ per bag. Make sure you’re using a pen or marker to write the date and the amount in each bag.
Tip: Lay bags flat to freeze to optimize your freezer space, then place all of the same date in one larger gallon size bag for easy reference later.
8. Creams and salves. Lanolin saved my nipples on more than one occasion and is safe for both mother and baby. No need to wipe it off before the next feeding or pump session.
In fact, apply a small bit after pumping and the residual cream will help to lubricate your nipples for easier/more effective expressing the next time you pump.
9. Make your own “pumping bra”. Sure, you can buy one on Amazon ready to go, but you can also make your own out of an old sports bra. Just make a couple of slits with your scissors (start small and make them larger as needed), then feed the flange through the slit and position on your breasts for hands-free pumping.
Don’t forget to massage your breasts near the end!
10. Invest in reusable breast pads. There are disposable breast pads, but you could make your own if you’re crafty or wash the reusable ones.
11. Find a reliable pump. Medela is among the most popular brands. The Medela Pump in Style has the best reviews, and has every function you could possibly need.
I personally used this exact Ameda dual electric pump and it worked wonderfully for me, at less cost than the Medela.
Congratulations again on your little one, and may your breast milk be plentiful, may your baby’s belly be full and your freezer overflowing with extra. ♥
See more baby:
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