Reaching full milk supply:

By Carey Haupt RD(SA) SACLC
Created: 5 May, 2019

Using a breast pump

When both my babies were born I was not able to hold them let alone breast feed them. Breastfeeding was my goal and I had decided that formula was not an option. I knew of the extra risks formula can be to a prem baby and that is why I decided I would do my best to avoid formula.

Even though my babies were born early at 32 and 33 weeks, I knew that my body would be able to make enough breast milk for them. In fact because they were prem my milk was a better match for their nutritional requirements than full term breast milk. Did you know that mothers start to make colostrum (first milk) in the second trimester? As soon are your baby is born your hormones change and you are able to make more milk.

If your baby is unable to breast feed after birth (there could be a number of reasons), pumping is the next best way to establish your full milk supply

My first born was an emergency that I was not prepared for, while with my second baby, I had 3 weeks to prepare. The most important thing that you can do once your baby is born is start to stimulate your breasts. With the first baby, I did not even have PJ’s never mind a breast pump so, my husband and I manually expressed and used a (needleless) syringe to suck up each and every precious drop of breast milk. The syringe was sent to my baby in NICU. With number two I had a few weeks to plan. I had ordered a hospital grade breast pump and it was ready the day before I had my c-section. From experience I knew that there may be a delay after the birth or I might not feel up to expressing (due to meds) so the night before and the morning of my daughter’s birth, my husband and I manually expresses 9 ml of colostrum for her. This really settled me as I knew that she would have enough milk until I could get my pumping and expressing going.

The first few days were filled with many emotions: worry about the little ones in NICU, excitement as each piece of medical equipment was removed from my very little one, sadness that I went home without them, fear that I would not be able to make enough milk and exhaustion from the driving up and down, pumping and splitting myself between my family and my baby. However we all got though, we managed somehow and with all the pumping and storing of milk I got my supply up to be able to feed my babies for as long as we needed. This long term adequacy of milk supply I put down to the fact that we got the first day and few weeks right with regards to expressing and stimulating the milk production.

Golden tip: Do not wait to express.

Research shows that it is best to stimulate your breast within 1 hour of birth. You can manually express or use a hospital grade breast pump.  Make sure that you have started to express within the first 6 hours.

Golden tip: Pump 8 to 10 times in 24 hours

You need to imitate how often your baby would be feeding as if she was drinking directly from you. This translates to about a 3 hourly pump schedule, if you want to have a bit of a longer sleep you can but try not to go longer than a 5 hour stretch without pumping.

Golden tip: Save time and double pump.

Double pumping helps you to save time as you are emptying both breast at the same time. By double pumping you are more likely to reach your full production sooner.

Golden tip: The more you pump the more you make

Keep a log to help you keep track of how you are progressing. By 2 weeks old you should be at full milk production of about 750-1050ml of milk in 24 hours. If you drop a pump session expect your milk output to be reduced.

Golden tip: Establish full milk supply as soon as possible.

Your baby may not need as much milk as you are expressing but you are setting yourself up for success. The Elite hospital Grade Breast pump has research studies that has proven that it can help mothers to reach their full production within 7 to 10 days of exclusive pumping. The more you breastfeed or express the more prolactin you make. This is a hormone that helps you to make milk.

Golden tip: You should not be pumping for long periods of time

In Days 1 to 3: Pump at least 10 -15 minutes for each pumping session. You can also hand express in to your flange after you have pumped. Remember in the first few day to only expect a few drops of colostrum but save every drop for your baby as they are all important.

After day 4: Once your milk is in, pump for about 15-30 minutes per session. Continue to pump for 1-2 minutes after the last drop. This helps you to increase the prolactin so that you can make more milk at the next feed.

Golden tip: Prepare yourself for expressing

There are ways that you can get your breasts ready for expressing. You can use heat from a bean bag, hot-water bottle or a baby bottle to gently message your breasts. Use circular motions from the base of your breast and move toward your nipple. You can use your knuckles in a rolling motion from the base towards your nipples. And your finger with gentle tapping rhythm. For more tips click here.

If you find yourself needing assistance due to your baby being in NICU and need to pump consider as hiring a hospital grade breast pump. They do help to make your life easier and your pumping session more productive. Find help from a lactation consultant who can guide you and help you with little tips that make your journey so much easier. It is never easy to have a different birth than what you planned, take some time to look after yourself and realize it is better to ask for help than to battle alone and not get the experience that you want.