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Making It Work

Increasing Milk Supply

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 4, July-August 2003, p. 141

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

I had an abundant milk supply before I returned to work when my son was five months old, but now it seems to be dwindling. I pump twice a day and I can pump just barely enough milk for him to drink while I am at work. My son, now six months old, has started some solids, but he still relies almost completely on my milk. How can I make sure I have enough milk to nurse him into toddlerhood?

Response

I spent almost a year pumping after going back to work when my second child was born. There were a few times when I encountered supply problems. When I found my milk supply dropping, I would add an extra pumping session for a week or so. For example, if you are pumping at 10 am and 2 pm each day, I would suggest modifying that so that you are now pumping at 9 am, 12 pm and 3 pm. I found that by adding in the extra session for about a week or so, my milk production would increase enough that I was then able to return to pumping twice a day with no problems. The dip in the milk supply seemed to correspond to my baby's growth spurts, and therefore wasn't really a dip but instead was a time when my milk supply needed to be increased naturally. By pumping more, and letting my baby nurse more in the evenings and weekends, my supply increased as needed. This may be what is happening with you and your child.

I would also add that you should make sure to nurse a lot when you are home all day with your baby. Since I worked Monday through Friday and was off each weekend, I nursed my baby frequently on weekends. I found that I always got the most milk when I pumped on Mondays. I'm sure that all the nursing on the weekends helped boost my supply.

Cindy Minear
Westminster CA USA

Response

You do not say how long you are away from baby. If you are gone from baby for a standard eight-hour shift, you might want to try to pump once more during the day. Also, do you pump at night, after baby has gone to sleep or in the morning just before scooting out the door? Those things worked for me when I was pumping. Sometimes, pumping on one side while my baby was nursing on the other helped with the let down and I got more milk.

Barbara Moreda
Dayton OH USA

Response

Many things come to mind when I read your question. Are you pumping in a quiet, relaxing location at the office? It is important to pump in a place where you are comfortable. If possible, pump in a private room with a lock on the door and something to keep your mind off how much milk you are getting. If possible, maybe you could add an extra pumping session for a few weeks until your milk supply gets back up to where you are comfortable. Pump on the weekends to be able to stockpile a little extra milk in case you run short one day. When you get over this temporary stress of just meeting his demand, you will be more relaxed and able to pump what you need.

Lisa Jones
Leesburg VA USA

Response

Perhaps your supply has dwindled in the month since you went back to work because of less stimulation (demand equals supply) to the breast.

Your baby was probably breastfeeding several times during the day and now you are only pumping twice during the day. That's a big change. Some women can pump infrequently and get plenty of milk. Others need extra opportunities to pump. In order to assure a sufficient supply, you need to increase your baby's time at the breast. If you can, try to nurse him for half an hour or longer in the morning just before you leave him to go to work. Get back to him as soon as you possibly can after you get off work, and nurse him right away for as long as he wants. Also, while you're trying to increase your supply, offer to nurse him every two hours until bedtime for as long as he will nurse. Co-sleep if possible and allow him to nurse throughout the night. Good luck!

Starlene Stewart
Maricopa AZ USA

Response

I found that there was a natural drop in supply at about the same time my daughter started solids. I think this is often how it works, as babies need less milk as they start solids. When I was at work, my daughter would drink my milk from a sippy cup and eat her solids, but when I was at home, even on the weekends, all she had was my milk, direct from the source.

If you are really concerned about your supply, nurse more during the time you are at home, especially at night. Co-sleeping makes this work out wonderfully. Also, pay attention to what types of food you are eating or over the counter drugs you are taking.

Another thing to consider is how much sucking your baby is getting that is not at the breast. At about five months, I weaned my child from the bottle to a regular sippy cup, as I had heard that babies that sucked on bottles and pacifiers nursed less over all than babies who did not have bottles or pacifiers. I wanted all my baby's sucking needs to be met by me, which I think increased the amount of time my baby nursed when I was with her.

Finally, ask your caregiver to try to avoid feeding your baby in the last hour or so before you get home. That way your baby will want to nurse immediately.

Joylyn Fowler
Garden Grove CA USA

Response

Good for you for wanting to feed your baby into toddlerhood and recognizing that there may be a problem with supply. I've found the following tips helpful in increasing supply.

  • If you're not already doing it, sleep with your baby. If baby smells your milk during the night, he'll be more likely to wake up and nurse. Most nursing mothers get to the point eventually that they can get baby started nursing without really waking up completely, thus avoiding exhaustion the next day.
  • Nurse your baby the last thing in the morning before leaving for work and the first thing in the afternoon when you get home. Allow him free access to the breast in the evenings and on your days off.
  • Let the housework and laundry go when necessary so that you can nurse your baby.
  • Don't use pacifiers or other artificial suck objects. If baby's sucking instinct is satisfied that way, he won't be as inclined to nurse for comfort, which provides extra stimulation for milk production. You may hear disparaging remarks about your baby using you as a "human pacifier," but don't let that bother you. Plastic pacifiers were made to substitute for the human nipple-not the other way around! Your baby has a natural instinct to suckle-let him do that on the "real thing" as much as possible, not on a plastic substitute.
  • Spend a weekend doing nothing but nursing your baby, sleeping, and being waited on by family or friends.
  • Manually massage your breasts to encourage let-down.
  • Pump one breast while your baby suckles on the other. Be aware, though, that this requires some level of coordination that some women are not able to manage. It works better in the early months, before the baby knows what that pump noise is, where the on/off switch is and how to pull the tubes out of the bottles.
  • Pump both breasts at once. Try to pump long enough to get a second let down.
  • Make a tape of your baby crying or cooing and play it while you're pumping to encourage let-down.
  • Put warm compresses or paper towels on your breasts right before pumping.
  • Relax while you're pumping and any other time you get the chance!

Cecilia Miller
Jacksonville FL USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
Page last edited .


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