This is a reprint/update of an article I wrote on Teddy’s blog several years ago. I hope it has useful tips for those of you who pump part-time, as well, though I have no personal experience with that.
I am not an expert. I’m not a Lactation Consultant (though I have found most LC’s to be less than super helpful about the practicalities of exclusive pumping). I’m just a mom who’s been there/done that.
Let’s get something out of the way. Exclusive pumping sucks. It sucks in a unique way. But it’s also giving your child something that is absolutely irreplacable. And, you’re awesome.
Most of this information is stuff I found elsewhere, or stuff that was told to me by others, most notably Megan from All That Hath Life and Breath and Sarah C. This is a random collection of information.
1. Pump overnight. Personally, I had to pump at least once, preferably twice, overnight. Prolactin levels are evidently higher overnight, plus not having those long stretches without emptying my breasts helped keep my supply up. Women who are not constantly tottering on the edge of not having enough milk can probably drop one or even all overnight sessions.
2. Cycle a bit if you have unproductive pumping sessions. If I didn’t get a certain minimum amount during the 3 or 4 AM session, and if my breasts still felt full but nothing more was coming out, I would stop after 30 minutes, sleep for another 30 minutes, and pump again for another 30 minutes. If I needed to, I did it again again.
3. Hand express after pumping to get the rest of the milk out. This was a game changer for me. I could sometimes get as much as 30-50 ml more by hand expressing.
4. Keep records. My detailed records were my best friend. Not everyone has to keep a spreadsheet and make charts with their pumping data, but it would be useful to most people to track when they pumped, how long they pumped, and how much they got. Over the course of a week or two, you can start to notice trends.
My pumping log.
5. Massage your breasts. Massage and compress while pumping, take a break while pumping to massage, and massage before pumping.
6. Pump in the car! I mean, you’re just sitting there anyway, right? I used to hook myself up to the pump before pulling out of our driveway on our weekly drives to the hospital 2 hours away, then once we hit the long boring stretch of highway, I’d turn the pump on. If this is distracting to you, don’t do it, but as I actively tried to keep my mind occupied with anything OTHER THAN pumping, it was perfect.
7. Zone out. Or, as Sarah C says, watch your head space. Don’t look at the bottles, think about how much you’re getting, etc. Sleep if you can. Watch NetFlix, knit. I sometimes read to my kids, or we did some schoolwork. I sat on the bed and played with Teddy. ANYTHING except think about pumping. All the advice you read for Pumping At Work moms is to picture your baby, picture milk flowing, picture water fountains, think about your baby nursing, etc. But most of the EP moms I’ve talked to say that this does NOT work for them. Thinking of my baby, my milk, etc., just triggered deep emotions of sadness over the fact that I was not nursing him, and that didn’t lead to easy let-downs.
8. Try longer sessions. LCs consistently suggest that pumping sessions should only last 20 minutes. As you get accustomed to pumping, you can bump that up and get multiple let-downs. I was a one-let-down-per-session girl when I was just pumping 20 minutes at a time. If I pumped for 50-60 minutes, I usually got 3-4. And my breasts did NOT protest and move to a new state like I thought they might.
9. Get a good pump. Hospital grade. Rent one first if you want, then do the math on renting vs buying. I did not rent one, I just bought what I had used in the NICU because I already knew I liked it, and it was cheaper, over the course of a year, to buy. (With new laws since I was EPing, insurance might have to cover a breastpump, but I’m not sure they have to cover a hospital grade pump. Those Medala Pump N Styles are great for the part time pumper who also has a nursing baby to keep her supply up, but you don’t have that. Exclusive pumpers generally speaking *need* a hospital grade pump.)
This is at the hospital, but it’s my hospital grade pump.
10. Donor milk. If keeping your baby on breastmilk is important to you and you’re struggling, find some lactating friends and see if they’ll pump a bit for you.
11. Embrace the weird nipple shape. It is somewhat normal for your nipples to look swollen and misshapen after you pump. It doesn’t happen to everyone, evidently, but don’t be alarmed at how your boobs look when you take the pump off. They will go back to normal. Eventually. (And I’m talking, a few years after I stopped pumping, I stopped thinking my boobs looked all weird. It was totally worth it, though.)
Yes, I measured breastmilk with my 4 cup measuring cup.
12. Power pumping or cycling. I personally had the most success with MANUAL means of increasing my supply. Pumping more often, pumping longer, power pumping (10 on/10 off for an hour), pumping 10 minutes every 30-60 minutes around the clock for a day or two, etc. When I started having low supply, I STARTED addressing the problem by pumping every hour during the day and making sure to be diligent about getting up at night. I did NOT get discouraged when those pumping sessions don’t yield much milk – they were merely putting in an order.
13. Supplement. Then I added in supplements. Teas never did much for me, even fresh herb teas, but some people do find they make a difference. Placenta pills (from my placenta) were useful. Fresh fenugreek (buy the seed and crush it and put it in capsules). Brewer’s Yeast (same thing – put it in capsules). Goat’s Rue, Milk Thistle.
14. Beer, Oatmeal, and Ice Cream. Most people I know swear by a nightly IPA for good supply. Eating oatmeal and ice cream may or may not help, but they can’t hurt. Lactation cookies (recipes are all over the internet) are tasty and at least something fun to eat while you’re pumping…
I just couldn’t resist including this picture of that little baby foot kicking the pump horns. Which hurt, by the way.
And a bonus tip:
15. Make your pumping space comfortable. You’re to be spending a lot of time there. I stole a rocker recliner from another room. I kept books and knitting and a phone charger there. I bought myself a DVD player with Wifi so I could watch movies or Netflix. I kept a water bottle in the fridge. (OK, not everyone will have a mini fridge near their pumping station, but I had one in there for breastmilk storage, to store pump parts between pumping sessions (ooo, hot tip #16 – wash pump parts daily, store in fridge between sessions), and to store Teddy’s meds and other medical things.