Every breastfeeding journey is unique, and a single approach won’t work for all moms.
Gregory J. Gelpi, MD, FAAP, IBCLC, Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health pediatrician and breastfeeding expert, and Becca Miller, SLP, speech language pathologist and official lactation consultant at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital, share helpful tips for moms who will include pumping on their breastfeeding journey in this ParentingU podcast episode.
First Things First
Getting in a good milk supply is an important first step for a breastfeeding mom and her newborn. Mom’s milk comes in within about 72 hours after birth, and her supply is established in the first two weeks primarily through contact with baby’s mouth and mom’s breast. Hand massage can also help establish milk production.
Colostrum, or liquid gold, is the first milk moms produce before her milk comes in fully. It’s thicker and more yellow, packed with rich nutrients that newborns need in the first days of life. It’s so important to get the colostrum into baby within those first few days of life.
Breast pumps work much better after milk comes in and supply has been established. Pumping breast milk is a task that can be tackled after baby is born. Moms don’t have to even think about pumping until two to four weeks after their milk has come in, but prenatal education and planning is never a bad idea.
Reasons for Pumping
The most common reason for pumping breast milk is separation from baby, usually because mom needs to return to work.
Some moms may prefer to express milk and bottle feed their baby, which can allow parents to know exactly how much milk baby drinks. Exclusive pumping is doable once mom’s milk supply is well established.
No matter the reason for pumping, moms have a legal right to breastfeed and pump at work. Health professionals can be advocates for making the case to employers of how supporting breastfeeding moms is in their company’s best interest. Babies who are fed breastmilk tend to be healthier, which means fewer missed workdays for mom as an employee.
Is Baby Getting Enough Milk?
Worrying about whether baby is getting enough milk is a common concern for parents. Some of the clues that baby is getting adequate milk intake is that they gain weight, about an ounce a day or a pound every two weeks. Diapers also tell the story, and the yellow, mustardy stools and frequent wet diapers are a clue that baby is getting plenty of nutrition from mom’s milk. Breastfeeding is natural and moms produce what baby needs.
If baby is not gaining at the expected rate, pumping might help see what mom is producing or pinpoint problems with baby’s efficiency draining the breasts. Baby must suck, swallow and breathe to breastfeed well, and a healthcare professional such as a pediatrician or lactation consultant can help troubleshoot.
How Do You Choose a Breast Pump?
Insurance usually covers the purchase of a breast pump, but there are so many types it can be daunting. Turning to a lactation consultant or another healthcare professional for recommendations is a mom’s best bet to make the right decision for her needs.
Pumping sessions are similar in frequency and duration to the time it would take to feed a baby directly. Babies eat every three or four hours, so mom would need to pump at work at those intervals. And each session would take 20-30 minutes to fully empty each breast. Regularly pumping milk or breastfeeding tells your body to continue producing milk.
Planning ahead is key, so starting a few weeks before returning to work or otherwise being separated from baby can make the transition easier, knowing you have built up a stash to serve as a cushion.
Knowing how to store that stash of breast milk is important. Fresh breast milk is best and retains the most nutrients and antibodies. After six hours it should be refrigerated, where it can last about five days. Breast milk can be frozen for six to 12 months.
Thawing breast milk should be done gently – in the fridge overnight or in a bowl of warm water or a bottle warmer. NEVER put breast milk in a microwave. It breaks down the nutrition and can create hot spots that could burn baby’s mouth.
Extra breast milk can be used for mixing into cereal or baby food for added nutrition, and it can also be used to treat skin conditions or eye infections baby may experience.
Deciding to breastfeed for a certain time can feel daunting. But the best strategy is to take it one day at a time, one feed or pumping session at a time.