The decision to breastfeed your baby is a big one. It requires a lot of time, energy, and sacrifice, but as a mother, you know that those are small things to pay to make sure your baby receives optimum nutrition.
However, you may not realize that there are many pieces to consider when it comes to breastfeeding.
Sometimes it is not merely a matter of placing baby to breast every time she needs to feed. There are other factors to consider, such as your employment status, childcare needs, and if you want dad involved in feedings.
Unless you are fortunate to stay home with your baby 24/7, you will need to consider purchasing a breast pump, either out of pocket or through your insurance. You do your research, look through your options, and make a decision on which one will be best for you.
And then you get it in your hands…and you do not know what to do. How do you pump? How do you make a schedule? How do you pump at work? How do you breastfeed at the same time?
These questions can be overwhelming and may try to scare you away from the idea of breastfeeding, but we are here to tell you it is not as impossible as you may think.
We want to help you achieve your breastfeeding goal and make it easy to create and maintain a breast pumping schedule.
Stages of Nursing and Breast Pumping
Anyone can follow an instruction manual and get their breast pump operating. The tricky part is figuring out how to pump effectively and efficiently, which can be different for every mother.
Our biggest piece of advice: follow your baby’s cues.
Breast pumps work best when they mimic your baby’s sucking patterns and feeding times. This will help you organize a schedule that will result in optimum milk output, draining your breasts completely and in a timely manner, which is important in order to keep your milk supply up.
While you can start pumping immediately after birth if necessary, lactation consultants typically recommend waiting 4-6 weeks after birth to allow your supply to build naturally.
Some additional factors will determine the timing of when you need to start pumping: your baby’s health at birth and your breastfeeding availability.
If your baby is born on time (or late) and healthy, you are free to wait as long as you want before you start pumping. You will probably want to put her to the breast for the first few feedings anyways.
On the other hand, if your baby is born premature, you will need to start pumping right away, as she will not be able to get to your breast immediately after birth.
When you are working or putting your baby in childcare, you have to decide what your “primary” means of feeding will be – breast or bottle. If the bottle will be your baby’s primary source of food, whether you are exclusively pumping or not, you will want to start pumping within 6 hours of birth to start building your milk supply.
Building Your Supply
Your milk is produced based on supply and demand. This means that your body will want to produce and replace the milk that leaves. So, the more you drain your breasts, the more milk will be produced. This is important to keep in mind when you are pumping.
Your hormones are at their highest levels in the morning hours, and being that hormones drive your milk production, you are likely to get the most milk in the morning. When building your milk supply, you will want to take advantage of the time between 1 and 6 a.m., pumping at least twice to get your body’s milk supply going.
Your first few days of pumping will probably not produce much milk. The body is only producing colostrum at this point, which is the thick, vitamin-rich substance that is produced before the real milk comes in.
Do not be discouraged by your low production numbers; you will start to see them increase beyond day 3 or so.
Try pumping at least 8-10 times in a 24-hour period, producing about 25-35 total ounces. This will mimic your baby’s typical feeding patterns, which will also help to build your supply by getting your body used to the demand for milk.
Be sure to completely drain the breast at each session. This can be done by hand expressing any drops that may be left behind. By emptying the breast, your body is able to determine that more milk is needed to replace what was lost.
You should also start by pumping both sides at once. This will jump-start your body, in a way, telling it that it needs to start producing milk, and that it should make it quickly. Do not be afraid to nurse your baby at the breast after a pumping session either.
This will just continue to send signals to produce more.
Maintaining Your Supply
Once you produce 25-35 ounces of milk in a 24-hour period, it is now a matter of maintaining that supply. You may be looking at some changes, such as number of pumping sessions and amount of time needed for each, and this can ultimately lead to you getting some more sleep.
At this point, your body will most likely be producing more milk at each pumping session, as it is used to the amount you need every day.
You may be able to drop some sessions or spend less time pumping – some mothers can pump one side completely in 10-15 minutes at this point.
You may even be able to sleep through the night without needing to pump, by pumping right before bed and right after you wake up in the morning. You just need to make sure you do not feel too engorged or uncomfortable during the night.
The goal is to maintain those 25-35 ounces per day, regardless of how many sessions and how long you pump at each. Check this by totaling up your daily output once a week. You will be able to tell immediately if there is a decrease in your milk production and if you need to make any changes.
Breast Pumping Tips
If you find yourself overwhelmed or struggling with the idea of breast pumping, here are some tips to help you:
Sample Pumping and Feeding Schedules
Now that you have the fundamentals of what it takes to pump successfully, you need to put it into practice. These are the three most basic types of pumping schedules you will probably encounter.
Exclusive Pumping Schedule
Taking the basics of what we learned, we know that you will ideally have 8-10 pumping sessions per 24-hour period at first, and will want to pump about 25-35 ounces during that time.
Start first thing in the morning, when you will likely get the most milk. From there pump about every 2-3 hours, including throughout the night. With this schedule, you will probably be looking at no more than 3.5 to 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep (uninterrupted by pumping, that is).
Once your milk supply has reached its full potential, you may be able to start extending the time period between sessions. You will hopefully be able to pump enough milk during your hours awake, with a session after you wake up and before bedtime, that you will be able to get through the night without waking up to pump.
Schedule for Breastfeeding and Pumping
This is probably the hardest schedule to figure out, especially if you do not want to feel like you have something attached to your breast at all hours of the day.
The number of times you need to pump per day will all depend on your need for stocked milk. Working will require more milk, and therefore more pumping. Whereas just having milk stored to help Dad with nightly feedings, or grandparents with date night, will not require as much.
Rather than focusing on how much and how often, base your pumping schedule on your baby’s feeding habits.
It is best to pump about 30-60 minutes after your baby eats, which will give your body about an hour or so to recover before your baby is ready to feed again. If you do this at each feeding, you should have a decent amount of milk by the end of the day.
Schedule for Working Women
Finally, you have the working schedule, which is probably the most complex. Whether you are exclusive pumping or coupling it with breastfeeding, you need to figure out a schedule that works with your needs and your job.
During an 8-hour workday, you will more than likely need to pump 2-3 times, depending on your current supply and your baby’s needs. You can plan these sessions around breaks or lunchtime. Your other pumping times can follow your normal at-home sessions.
Give yourself at least 20 minutes for each session, to make sure the breast is drained completely and you have time to clean your pump. If necessary, ask someone to cover for you so that you can find a place to relax without having to worry about getting back too quickly.
Ensure that your pumped milk is stored appropriately. This means either a refrigerator or cooler with ice packs. You will need it to stay cold until you are able to get it home and into your freezer.
The above examples are not intended to be an out of the box solution for you. Your baby is likely to dictate much of what your eventual schedule will be. Once you get settled into a routine, it is likely to change soon after anyway.
Sleeping habits will change, as will appetite. So your schedule will need to evolve over time.
Breast pumping can seem intimidating at first, but with practice and time, it can be accomplished by just about any mother.
Listen to your body, be diligent and consistent, and follow your baby’s natural feeding patterns. You will be able to find a schedule that works for your, no matter what your daily life consists of.
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