The postpartum phase is such a time of mixed emotions, from the bliss of getting to know your new little one to the struggles of learning to care for them. When you add the impending return to work, all of those emotions and stresses seem to be amplified. Many moms start pumping breast milk early so that their return to work is as smooth as possible. Along with that, though, often comes stress of its own.
Don’t let a fear of pumping keep you from continuing your nursing relationship. It can feel like a lot of work, but you can do it. Yes, you really can do it!
When to Start Pumping Breast Milk
Your body is doing some pretty incredible things right now, from deciding what kind of milk to make for your baby to gauging how much to make. A big factor in production levels is how much nursing stimulation you receive.
When you’re pumping breast milk, your mimicking baby’s suckling motions and drawing out milk, which tells your body that there is more demand. In response, it produces more. This can create a problem if you already have over-supply of milk, or a solution if you are struggling with supply.
On the other hand, pumping isn’t nearly as efficient as baby’s suckling, so what you’re seeing in the bottles doesn’t necessarily represent what baby is eating.
The takeaway? Start pumping when you need the bottled milk – either for your return to work or for baby who is struggling with supply. Outside of that, there isn’t a reason to pump just because.
Sometimes, new mamas feel the pressure of caring for their new little one, and then outside influences add to the pressure and concerns by telling her she isn’t making enough milk. And then she pumps, only to see a small amount come out, which seems to confirm the concerns.
Step back. Take a deep breath. Look at your baby’s wet and poopy diapers as a gauge for how well they are being fed. Look at their latch as a gauge for how well nursing is going. And then only start pumping when you need the milk.
Note: Pumping to relieve oversupply is not generally advised. While it may seem like you want to drain the breast for relief, you’re only signaling to the body that it needs to keep making that milk or even more! Instead, try taking warm showers, gently releasing a bit of milk in a letdown, and nursing your baby as they need to in order to level off supply for the baby’s actual demand.
Pumping Breast Milk and Maintaining Self-Care
Once you do start regularly pumping breast milk to return to work, your body will be going through a lot. There will be the physical demands of extra milk production, the time and effort involved in pumping, and the mental and emotional stresses of a returning work schedule, looming mom guilt, and outside opinions and pressures.
Just like seeing low amounts of pumped milk can seem to confirm concerns of low supply (but don’t!), getting stressed out over feelings of guilt and worry about making enough milk can actually lessen milk supply! Instead of worrying about how it will all work out, take one moment at a time. Care for your baby and your body well, and you’ll be able to get through anything.
If you do not make self care a priority, though, the demands of work, parenting, and pumping breast milk regularly will be too much. Some things are simply non-negotiable for a nursing mom who works outside of the home.
Rest is vital. You have to take breaks and let your body recover. So, no cleaning or working on projects while baby naps under your watch. Take that nap.
Good food makes good milk. Think about it – your body has to draw on energy stores and nutrient stores to make milk for baby. Baby’s going to keep nursing and mama’s going to keep pumping. So you’ve got to feed your body good foods to keep the process going.
Hydration is similar. You have to keep drinking water and clear fluids, like a good herbal tea, to sustain the major work that your body is doing. You are still sustaining a person! Give your body what it needs! I often recommend Lady in Waiting or Nursing Nectar teas to my new mamas.
Connecting with your baby in skin-to-skin time helps on so many levels. It keeps you focused on that sweet moment in time with your little one. It triggers biological reactions that help milk supply. It soothes and comforts and balances your baby.
Things to Remember About Pumping Breast Milk
As you begin to pump and work to take care of yourself – mind and body – along the way, there are some things to remember about pumping breast milk effectively and without stress:
- Again, remember that what you see in the bottle isn’t necessarily what baby gets when she nurses. Babies are just better at it!
- "Super Switching" can help trigger more supply if it seems to be low. La Leche League describes it as switching sides back and forth every several minutes in order to trigger new letdowns.
- Pump in the morning, when you’re full from longer gaps between nursing sessions.
- Try reserving one breast for pumping and one for nursing, to keep a milk supply that’s relatively even with what you need.
- If you have to pump at work or somewhere away from baby, have a picture or audio recording of her to help stimulate your let-down. This is especially effective if you do the same routine when you pump near her or even when you nurse.
- Gentle breast stimulation – holding them close to your body, gentle massages, shaking them lightly, and doing arm circles – helps to keep circulation flowing and milk ducts open.
- Certain foods are said to help with milk production, no doubt because of their dense nutrient profile. Working them into the diet may help with supply. Some of them include oats, sweet potatoes, Brewer's yeast, and molasses.
If you’re concerned about your supply, my Let There Be Milk! tincture is an easy way to get a dose of nutrients and herbs that have been shown to help with milk supply. It tastes like and should be treated like strong medicine, so take it with food to help ease the delivery.
What helped you get started pumping for work?
Reach out here not only for comments but if you have questions that our community may be able to help with. Especially as you return to work, it’s more important than ever to have a “tribe.” We’re happy to stand in as yours.