This post is part of the series Pumping Mamas
Hi there, breastfeeding Mama!
Do you pump breastmilk to provide nourishment for your baby?
Do you struggle with low milk supply?
Are you afraid your milk is drying up?
Are you ready to give up?
I can relate big time.
Don’t give up just yet! First, hear me out.
My dreams of an idyllic breastfeeding experience were shattered when my first son, Peanut, was born small and with a severe tongue tie. He was unable to nurse on his own until he was thirteen weeks old, and even then it was very irregular.
Read about Our Breastfeeding Journey.
So on Day 1 with Peanut, I was thrust into the world of a pumping Mama!
I had no clue what I was doing, and unfortunately, I did not have much guidance. My mom breastfed my sisters and I without a problem, and my older sister was able to pump for only a short time before the demands of her full-time emergency room nursing job brought that to an end.
But I was blessed with a nine-week maternity leave and an office job that was flexible enough, despite the occasional challenge, to continue pumping.
Still I had to learn on my own, and I discovered that there are not a lot of resources available for moms who pump exclusively.
Let me clarify: there are a lot of resources for mothers who breastfeed via nursing and pump a little extra on the side, but few resources for those of us who only pump. After all, the biggest tip for breastfeeding moms who are nursing and worried about low supply is to: nurse, nurse, nurse!
But for us pumping moms, that does not always work for us. At least, pumping more frequently and for longer periods of time did not work for me. I tried. I end up with sore, blistered nipples and no milk gain to show for it!
Us pumping moms also get discouraged when we read things like:
- If baby is hungry, baby will eat.
- Low milk supply is exceptionally rare or a myth or [fill in the blank].
- Pumping is not as effective at drawing out milk as babies are.
- Pumping over time can lead to a decrease in supply.
It is not like most of us are pumping because we enjoy it. After all, pumping is full of challenges! Maybe you work or maybe your baby cannot nurse. Few women willingly choose the hardship of pumping over nursing when nursing is a viable option.
Most of us do it because it is our only option if we want to give our babies the benefits of breastmilk.
Pumping exclusively is a struggle. Sometimes I did well. I even built up a tiny stash in the freezer! Sometimes I did not pump enough milk and we supplemented.
But through hard work, determination, and plenty of tears we made it to ten months!
When our second son, Pickle, was born, I eagerly anticipated that beautiful breastfeeding experience I was unable to have with Peanut. But when he had not regained his birth weight by his two-week appointment, it was clear that I would have to start pumping again.
Read more about our Breastfeeding Challenges, Round Two.
Unfortunately, by the time I started pumping, my milk supply had already suffered and plummeted. I barely managed to get 8 oz of milk in a 24-hour period at my lowest point. I was three weeks postpartum. Pickle, meanwhile, was consuming on average 25 oz a day. While I struggled with my diminishing supply, we supplemented with donated breastmilk and formula.
I tried everything I had done while pumping with my first and a ton of new tips, but nothing was working. My baby was not even a month old, and I seriously thought about just throwing in the towel.
Because he knew how important breastfeeding was to me, my husband encouraged me not to give up. Family and friends cheered me up, too. “A little breast milk is better than none at all,” they reminded me. Though I wondered if the tiny amount I was getting really was worth all of the hassle and pain.
There had to be a better way!
I dried my eyes and started over. I began researching and experimenting.
Over the next eight weeks, I was able to increase my milk supply from barely 8oz a day to 32-35 oz a day!
If you are reading this, you might be struggling with a low milk supply, too. Mama, I am going to share with you what worked for me. I hope it helps you as well.
Let me be clear upfront: there is no magic to instantaneously increase your milk in a dramatic way. It will take some time and trial-and-error to find what works for you.
You can even experience differences in production with each child you have. Sometimes physical challenges with baby (like my son’s tongue tie) can cause problems. Sometimes our own physical health — hormones, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, severe stress — can be the root of the low supply problem. If you suspect any such problems, reach out to a medical professional: your doctor, your child’s pediatrician, or a lactation consultant.
I was able to significantly increase my milk supply over time and with diligence and hard work by following seven simple steps.
- Drink more water
- Eat more calories
- Get more sleep!
- Relieve stress
- Oats, the wonder food
- Lactation tea is my friend
- Replicate cluster feeding when pumping
In the next few posts, I will explain each step in detail and how it effected my own supply. This is for informational purposes.
If breastfeeding is what you want for your baby, it is worth the time and energy. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that this will work for every woman, baby, or situation. There are some health conditions and/or medications that may contribute to low supply or cause milk to dry up. If you suspect this may be the case in your situation, consult your doctor. There are some prescriptions drugs that might assist with lactation in these cases.
And let me add that it is perfectly ok if you have decided to stop breastfeeding altogether. Perhaps you have a medical condition that makes it extremely difficult. Or maybe you had an experience that has taken the joy out of you. Breastfed, formula fed — what matters the most is that baby is fed and gaining the appropriate weight!
However, if you are healthy, struggling with low supply, and want to continue breastfeeding, these seven steps worked for me and my dwindling milk supply. Through these methods I was able to continue breastfeeding until baby was 8 months and outside stress and circumstances let me know it was time to wean.
I truly hope that by sharing my struggles and what I discovered worked for me, you may be encouraged in your own breastfeeding journey. I hope it will work for you, too. Again, if you continue to struggle or have additional concerns, I highly recommend talking with your doctor, your baby’s pediatrician, or a professional lactation consultant.
If you desire to breastfeed your precious little one and are willing to put in the time and hard work, give these steps a try! Progress was barely noticeable at first and it did take me eight weeks to go from under-producing to being a just-right-producing Mama.
Pump on, Mama!
Continue reading this series:
Steps 1-4: Take Care of Your Health