Keeping Up Your Milk Supply While Pumping and Working

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I originally posted this article over on my personal blog: Knocked Up – Knocked Over, but it is just so appropriate and topical for working and nursing moms that I wanted to share here, too. I hope this helps you!

I have seen both sides of the supply coin. With Gabi, I struggled to keep up my supply. Now with Katie I have an oversupply. My friend over at gratimood (check her out, she’s a fantastic writer), emailed me a while back and asked me how I keep up my supply while I work.

I remember when I had to go back to work with Gabi. 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 volume over time like you need to do when feeding breast milk substitutes. 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 milk calculator: http://www.kellymom.com/bf/pumping/milkcalc.html. 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 Gabi: 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 that has played out with Katie: She is also at school from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM. With her, though, I have been 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 3 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 Katie at school either. Just 7 oz each day.

Now that Gabi is in Kindergarten and I pick her up at lunch to take her back to daycare, our routine is in flux. I’m back to pumping 3 times per day and that, coupled with the 11 month milk supply slump has meant that I’m only just pumping enough to cover what she needs, but that is okay. If I’m pumping enough that is perfect. That means my body has regulated its supply and is making just the right amount. My donating days may be over, but I’m producing the perfect amount for my baby.

I remember with Gabi that it was a real struggle to get 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 used to pump a lot of milk. I’m not going to tell you how much. It’s completely abnormal, and I don’t want anyone to feel inadequate. 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 Gabi, 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. Also 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.
  • 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.
  • Took a Calcium/Magnesium supplement from the day I ovulated until a few days after my period started. I got my period back with Gabi 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.
  • Never, ever skip a pumping session. 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 timethat 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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9 responses to “Keeping Up Your Milk Supply While Pumping and Working

  1. Thank you so much for this statement: “What you pump is absolutely not an indicator of what your supply is.” Intellectually, I know this, but I still cannot hear it enough. That pump and I just cannot get along. Good info here. Thanks again!

    Good Good info

    • Kara, this was something that I really struggled to come to terms with when I was nursing my older daughter Gabi. I had read somewhere in a book that you should pump and then divide by some number and multiply by some other number to determine how much milk you made. What dangerous and erronious information! Sadly, I read this right after Gabi was born and it took almost a year to get that idea out of my head. Like you, I don’t get along that well with pumps either. It’s easier with the second baby, but I’ve certainly hit the 11 month pumping slump. 🙂 Keep it up! You can do it! And remember, breastfed babies don’t require as much milk as you might expect. ~Molly

  2. This was just what I needed to read! My second son is 9 weeks and I just went back to work this week. He usually drinks 4 oz every 2-3 hours and I pump enough to make that work. But, I was really concerned about what to do when he may start needing more. What I didn’t realize was that he won’t need more, the milk changes. I BF our older son until he was 9 months and I honestly don’t remember any of this (he turns 4 this weekend)!! So Thanks!

  3. Thank you so much for this article. It is so hard to leave our babies and we want to continue doing what is best for them by breastfeeding. A pump is not my sweet cuddly baby so it is really hard for me to get into pumping. Your tips and knowledge definitely make me feel a little better about the situation!

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