This post is part of the series Pumping Mamas
First I shared our struggle with breastfeeding and low supply. In the previous post, we talked about how to properly care for your own health. Before we continue, I just want to restate the importance of making sure you are hydrated, getting enough calories, sleeping well, and managing stress. Taking care of your health is the foundation for what comes next.
Today I am going to share with you my secret weapons. When I implemented steps 5-7, my milk production went from barely there to supercharged!
Now I know the phrase “secret weapons” makes it sound like it is an easy, peasy snap-of-the-fingers fix to the low or dwindling milk supply problem. Let me repeat:
I was able to significantly increase my milk supply over time and with diligence and hard work.
However, it is true that after I added these three steps, the amount of milk I was pumping each day significantly increased. So let’s get right to the good stuff!
5. Eat lots and lots of oats.
Ancient wisdom passed down through the generations says that oats are good milk-inducers. Now, let me be frank with you, I rarely eat oats. I am not an oats person, and the only way I ate oats growing up was in the form of General Mill’s Cheerios.
Then in 2011 I found out that I cannot eat gluten, so it was harder to find oat cereals that were also gluten-free. (Oats are naturally gluten-free, but there is a lot of cross-contamination with gluten-containing grains during harvesting, transport, and production.)
Oatmeal, you say? I cannot stand oatmeal. Even when I was a kid, I literally could not stomach the stuff. I even somehow managed to avoid having to eat oatmeal when pumping for my first son.
But with Pickle, my supply was so low and diminishing so quickly, I forced myself to start eating gluten-free oatmeal. I hated every bite, but I ate it and continue to eat it for my baby. After two months, I no longer mind it… as long as it is Nature’s Path Gluten-free Spiced Apple + Flax. (What can I say? I’m picky!)
Fortunately, General Mills has found a way to extract gluten-containing contaminants from their oats and now most of their cereals, including regular Cheerios, are gluten-free. And to top it all off, Silk now has a probiotic blend of almond and cashew milk with added oats.
There are also a lot of recipes online for oat-packed smoothies and lactations cookies. With an active toddler, a new baby, and returning to work full-time, I just do not have the time for making my own. Our tight budget and my food allergies also limit my ability to purchase ready-made items.
So I took the easy way. Between the oatmeal, Cheerios, and Silk probiotic blend, I am consuming a lot of oats on a daily basis. Within a few days of starting this high concentration of oats, I began to see an increase in my daily milk output. It was about 1-2 oz increase over a 24-hour period, but for me it felt like a huge win.
6. Lactation tea is my friend.
Disclaimer: Herbs are drugs and can be dangerous if used improperly. Always consult a medical professional before trying any new herb or drug, especially while breastfeeding. This information is based off personal experience and shared for educational purposes only.
I love tea. I’m a tea drinker.
With my first child, I discovered that there are some herbs you want to avoid while breastfeeding because they can dry you up or can be harmful to the baby. I highly recommend taking a peek at the resource Herbs to avoid while breastfeeding by KellyMom.com.
When I was unprepared for my son’s first growth spurt, I began looking for something to help boost my supply. I discovered lactation tea at a local store and decided to give it a try. I drank one cup of Earth Mama Organic’s Milkmaid Tea daily when increasing my supply and then one cup every other day to maintain. For moms who only need a slight boost or want to maintain their supply, this may be an option you should discuss with your doctor.
With my second child, I first tried herbal supplements like fenugreek, milk thistle, etc., but found that the doses needed to make a difference in my milk supply were too high and caused me to have dizzy spells. Learn from my mistake, do not try these herbal supplements without first consulting a medical professional.
Then I switched to the amazing Pink Stork’s Liquid Gold tea. I drink 1-3 cups of tea a day and saw a boost in my daily production within 24 hours of starting the tea.
What I especially love about Pink Stork’s Liquid Gold is that it is delicious hot or cold, and cold tea is so refreshing here in the desert during the blazing hot summers. I highly recommend this tea for any moms like me who are under-producers and looking for a significant boost in milk production. (Before starting, be sure to discuss this with your doctor.)
Even now at fourteen weeks postpartum when I am consistently pumping between 38oz-42oz a day, I make sure to have at least 1 cup a day… Sometimes two!
7. Replicate cluster feeding when pumping.
If you research increasing milk supply via pumping on the internet, you will find tons and tons of sites and forums tell you to:
- pump more often
- pump for longer
- have a “pump in” over the weekend where you basically pump all the time
Come on. How is this even realistic? I was already pumping every 3 hours on a very, very rigid schedule. I tried making my pumping sessions longer, but it was not working.
My nipples were red, blistery and each pumping session was so painful that I often cried. There was absolutely no way I could do a mega-pump or pump-in over the weekend. (Not to mention, I also had a toddler to care for!)
While pumping, I read a lot and I stumbled upon cluster feeding. Newborns especially but all babies go through periods of dramatic growth (physically and developmentally) at somewhat predictable intervals. (All babies are unique, so some may hit a “growth spurt” earlier or later than others.)
In the days leading up to a growth spurt, babies often switch from a regular eating pattern to what is called cluster feeding. It is when baby, usually in the evenings, eats in ravenous bunches. They may be fussy, hard to console, and consume more milk than usual.
For moms who nurse, they may find that during these periods, baby always wants to be at the breast. This almost-constant nursing by baby triggers the mother’s body to produce more milk. (Think supply and demand. The baby is demanding more milk so the breasts up production.) Babies need this “extra” food to help nourish the physical or development growth spurt.
That is when it dawned on me: us pumping mamas can replicate that cluster feeding and coax our bodies into producing more milk.
Here is how I replicated cluster feeding via cluster pumping and dramatically increased my own milk supply:
- Use a double electric pump. I use Medela Pump-in-Style, available in Tote or Backpack or Metro Bag, but any powerful double pump will do.
- Pump on a regular schedule every 2-3 hours.
- Pump 6-8 times within a 24-hour period.
- Choose 3-4 pumping sessions a day to mimic cluster feeding:
- Pump for 10 minutes.
- Take a break for 5 minutes.
- Pump for 10 minutes.
- Take a break for 5 minutes.
- Pump for 10 minutes.
- Continue for 2-4 days in a row.
- Take a 3-4 day break (return to your usual pumping routine).
Don’t be discouraged. It takes time.
I discovered how to replicate cluster feeding about 4 weeks postpartum. It took eight weeks to go from a daily output of about 12 oz to 32-35 oz.
You have to be consistent in your pumping schedule. This may mean skipping a social event or taking your pump with you. I have pumped in single occupancy bathrooms, the car, the mother’s room at church, and other unusual places. I am no longer shy about saying: “Sorry, but I have to pump.”
If you are a working mom, you may have to get a bit creative with your schedule. Perhaps instead of cluster pumping in the middle of the day, you cluster pump in the evenings and at night before bed.
Many women find that they produce their largest haul in the morning. If you are getting enough sleep, try adding another early morning pumping session in, especially during the days you are cluster pumping, to take advantage of this “extra” milk.
These simple seven steps helped me to increase my milk supply from barely 8oz a day to 32-35 oz a day in just eight weeks! Pumping is hard. So whether you are a part-time pumper or, like me, are an exclusive pumper, it can be very hard to ensure that your supply keeps up with your little one’s needs.
It is my hope that these steps will help you increase or maintain your milk supply as they have helped me.
As of this writing, I am fourteen weeks postpartum and I’m consistently pumping 38-42oz a day. I have returned to work full-time outside the home and am building up a freezer stash with about 5-6oz a day!
If I can do it, you can too. Don’t give up yet.
Pump on, Mama!
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Continue reading this series:
How to cluster pump with an example schedule