Pumping & Building a Supply of Breastmilk

MattandTishPhotography-37MattandTishOh the dreaded pumping. I hate pumping, to be honest. I also hate worrying about my supply. And it’s because of the latter that I partake in the former.

I initially started pumping to build a small excess supply of milk for times I would be away from my babies, namely for return-to-work purposes. As my excess supply started pouring out of every crevice of the freezer and exceeded the amount I needed to return to work, I donated. I kept up with pumping for the purpose of keeping up my supply and donating was an added benefit. It felt great to be able to give to someone else who wanted to provide the same but was not able to. It also felt good to have a plentiful supply.

Because I had to return to work in the hospital, just after Sonny was a couple of weeks old, I started pumping once a day. I would pump just after his morning feed, when my supply was most abundant. On an average day, I froze anywhere between 3 and 5 ounces. And when our freezer started to swell, once again, I found someone to donate to. Win, win.

Looking to build a supply as well? Here’s what has worked for me:

-Start pumping early, when your supply is still calibrating to your needs. I started when Sonny was two weeks old. I vaguely recall reading advice from lactation consultants saying to wait longer. For me, starting earlier produced the best results. A reminder, I suppose, that any post I publish that may seem like it’s advice-giving is in actuality just a personal account of my own experiences.

-Use a double electric pump, as they’re most efficient. I use a hospital grade pump when I pump at work (Medela Symphony) and honestly notice no difference in the amount of milk I produce. It does, however, seem a little more efficient in terms of time, but not enough to justify the price tag of a hospital grade pump (it retails for nearly 2K — you would think for that price that it would be able to magically turn your breastmilk into straight cash. The kind you could fold.). At home I use the Medela In-Style double electric. It’s the same pump I’ve used since Hooper was born and I have no complaints.

-Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated is key when breastfeeding, even more so if you’re pumping in addition to breastfeeding.

-Pump in the morning, as your supply diminishes throughout the day. Pumping after Sonny fed first thing in the morning worked best for me; as there was no need to feel guilty for ‘stealing’ milk when he already got what he wanted / needed, first. If I were to add another pumping session, I would do so one hour into his morning nap with the knowledge that I’d be able to make more by the time he awakens to feed again.

-Stimulate multiple let-downs. There are two settings on the pump, one that is quick and intended to bring on the let-down and one that is slower and pulls the milk from the breast. When my milk more-or-less stops flowing, I switch it back to the quick setting and try to stimulate another let-down. More times than not, it works, and I’m able to draw out another ounce or more.
-Bottle training. No sense in pumping milk you hope for your baby to one day drink if your baby is unable to take a bottle. Think it’s a matter of it-they’re-hungry-enough-they’ll eat? I thought so too and the fact it’s actually a learned skill for newborns caused a lot of stress and turmoil and tears when Hooper was a baby. I have Willy give just an ounce of pumped milk once a week or so to Sonny to keep up on his ability to take a bottle. We also found that giving him this ‘recreational feeding’ works best first thing in the morning, before he feeds and just after he wakes, as he’s not as aware of what’s going in his mouth.

I’m no longer pumping. Sonny is 5 months and sleeping through most of the night (on and off) and I’ve found that my milk has calibrated to such. Slowly I stopped having any excess. But I still have a freezer full of frozen milk, so the relief lives on.

What was your experience like with pumping? Did you pump in addition to breastfeed? Any tips or tricks others would like to share?

And if anyone in the LA / OC area has a plentiful supply of stored breastmilk they can donate, I have a local mom that I’ve given my excess to that I know would be grateful to have more.

Image by Tish Carlson

8 Responses

  • Reading this while pumping. So much strategy goes into pumping, it’s exhausting. My daughter is 10 months old and I pump so she can have 2 bottles a day while I’m at work. The one thing I like about pumping is that it’s about the only time I have these days where I am forced to sit down and can’t really do much other than browse Instagram and online shop :)

  • I cannot believe you returned to Nursing (the job) after only two weeks! As a fellow nurse I know how demanding the job is. I cannot imagine. I feel like I need every last bit of my 12 weeks. You’re amazing!

    • Oh no no NO I most certainly did not return after two weeks… I did start pumping when Sonny was two weeks but I took extra time off and went back when he was 3 months, I think… with a freezer stocked full of pumped milk. Good God, no one in their right mind would return to a career in nursing after only two weeks of giving birth! Ha.

  • Oatmeal and those fenugreek supplements work well for me. This is my second time around pumping and I’m so much more relaxed about it. Last time I was so obsessed with the numbers – how many more oz can I get? am I pumping enough oz? oh no! I pumped 1 less oz today than yesterday, what does it mean?! … ugh. Now I’m like “…huh, 2/5/7 oz today… I wonder if I have time to put in that amazon order before leaving work…”

    • I’m with ya… I worried a lot more when Hooper was a baby because he was so much smaller (his weight caused me anxiety)… but Van and Sonny are so big that the numbers don’t bother me either. I was so stressed at work yesterday and some pump sessions only yielded a few ounces… and I don’t care one bit. It all regulates itself. But gosh I remember that anxiety of counting and keeping track and making myself crazy. Thanks for the comment.

  • Healthy nursing tea is an herbal organic tea supplement that helped me when I was producing less breast milk than the baby’s requirement.

  • My pumping days are behind me but I remember them well. How could you not? Doing the same thing 3 times a day for a year straight. I pumped for both of my boys after I returned to work . I used to think my pump was talking to me, with that drone type repetitive noise. I always thought it was saying “work at it”. So silly, but yet I thought it. Definitely don’t miss it or worrying about why I got 5 oz out of lefty and only 2 from righty, lol. I was able to donate over a 1000 oz to a mom who needed it with my 2nd though. So happy I was able to do it for my boys and to help the little girl who received my donated milk.

    • Oh yes, my pump talks to me all the time. In fact, the other day Van came in the room and said “how come it’s saying ****” … I can’t remember what he thought it was saying, but it was definitely talking to him, too. So awesome you were able to donate so much, I’m sure that mom appreciated it beyond what she could express. Such a gift.


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