Pump it up!: Getting started and maintaining your supply

Once you’ve decided to give pumping a shot, there are some things you can do to increase your odds of success. There are two main things you need to be focused on right now: getting started and keeping up your milk supply. With thanks to Ryann and Nancy B. for their replies to my plea for help, here are a few recommendations from those of us who have successfully pumped in the past:

Getting started:

  • Start pumping as soon as you can after the birth of your baby. The sooner you get started, the more responsive your body is likely to be. That being said, if you are physically unable to attempt pumping right away, don’t write it off as a lost cause! It was almost seventeen hours before I could try to pump because they were too busy determining if I needed a transfusion.
  • Pump frequently, especially in the beginning. Your aim should be to pump just about as frequently as you would expect to nurse, so, about every 2-3 hours.
  • Talk to, and use, the lactation consultant at the hospital. These women really know their stuff and can sometimes turn a horrid experience into, well, at least a tolerable one with a few suggestions.
  • Stay hydrated, right from the get-go.
  • Keep a picture of your baby or something that smells like your baby close by. That will actually help stimulate let-down.
  • Capture every precious drop. Our hospital provided us with syringes to use in the beginning with the assumption that most new mamas pumping for their preemies won’t produce too much. Keep in mind, however, that my daughter’s first feedings were 2 mL at a time (there are 30mL in one ounce!). Even a little bit goes a long way.
  • Get yourself a good, supportive nursing bra. Or two or three. Being comfortable and feeling like pumping is convenient can make a difference.
  • Find out where pumps are available to you. Most hospitals not only let you use a pump while you’re admitted, but they also have “pumping rooms” you can use while your baby is in the NICU. Some even let you pump by the bedside.


Maintaining your supply:

  • Feed yourself well. The quality of nutrition you provide can only be as good as the quality you put into YOU.
  • Keep pumping frequently, especially during the day. Once your supply is more “established”, I (and Nancy B) encourage you to spread out your night pumping, but don’t give it up entirely. Again, act like you have a newborn…
  • Find ways to entertain yourself while you pump. I loved to read mindless novels, Ryann mentioned playing Tetris. Whatever relaxes you and helps the time pass is a great choice.
  • Can’t say it enough- stay hydrated!
  • Limit your caffeine intake
  • Do not be afraid to ask for what you need- I was amazed how willing nurses were to provide me with whatever I needed to make my pumping a success. When we went to Chicago for C’s eye surgery, the hospital there used a different brand of pump. They gave me a whole new kit and supplies to ensure I could easily continue.
  • Find a good way to store your milk. I regularly produced over 35 oz milk a day, which was great, but was also a huge source of stress from me because I never really got a handle on efficient storage and transport.
  • Realize there will be “good days” and “not-so-good days” but, really, any day you provide custom-made nutrition to your preemie is a good day!
  • Talk to your doctor about Reglan or Fenugreek if you really struggle to establish any significant milk production– but also consider using showers, compresses, etc. to encourage production.
  • Find a comfortable, convenient bag or backpack to use for carting your pumping supplies around. After a while, it will become habit to grab it on the go.
  • Find a comfortable position/chair for while you pump. And keep the temperature at a comfortable level.

Much like deciding to breastfeed, it’s best not to go in with the mentality of “I’ll try to pump” and instead view it as “I’ll learn to pump”. Because that’s what it is- a learned skill, not an innate talent. Give it a real shot. Commit to the process. But, rest assured, if you truly aren’t able to pump or if the stress of doing it becomes unbearable, there are certainly quality formulas out there to nourish your baby. Stay positive!

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