It would be a dream if we had exactly what we needed, when we needed it…breast milk included. Breast milk is produced by our bodies based on signals. These signals are basic, literally as basic as our baby nursing or using a pump to simulate that experience. The more milk is expressed from your body (whether by nursing or pumping), the more it will produce.
What happens when this isn’t the case though? There are points in your breastfeeding journey where you might have more or less milk than you need. These times can be stressful. But they don’t have to be if you are prepared and have the right information.
How to Manage an Oversupply of Breast Milk
Some moms choose to express the milk that their baby doesn’t need, freeze it, and donate it. Donor milk directly impacts hospitalized newborns and preterm babies. Your donation can give a sick or underweight baby the lifesaving nutrition that they need to thrive.
If you have an abundance of milk built up in your breasts, when your letdown reflex is triggered, it can be powerful. In some cases, it’s more milk than a baby can handle. You can use a hand pump or manually express some milk before nursing to help manage the flow before nursing. This milk can be frozen and used to fill a bottle, used topically for skin conditions like rashes, put in teethers, or even in a bath.
Controlling the Signals Sent to Our Bodies
If a mom has an abundance or oversupply of breast milk, exclusive pumping can give her control over the signals sent to her body. By scheduling the frequency and duration of pump session, a mom can gain some control over how much milk her body produces. Over time, she can decrease the number of pump sessions and therefore the amount of milk produced. It’s helpful to work with a lactation consultant who specializes in pumping in this case.
Reasons to Use a Breast Pump to Increase Your Milk Supply
Not all moms have an oversupply. In fact, quite often the opposite is true. Not having enough breast milk can be very stressful. And stress is a factor that can further reduce our supply.
To Encourage Your Milk to Come In
During pregnancy your body produces your first breast milk, called colostrum. This golden milk contains everything your baby needs to thrive in the first few days. As your baby takes this colostrum, your body produces what is called transitional milk. Finally, your body produces what we typically mean when we talk about breast milk. This transition is what is referred to as “your milk coming in”. Sometimes this transition can get held up, or we don’t produce enough right off the bat.
If your baby isn’t gaining weight, or even continuing to drop weight it’s scary. Your pediatrician may counsel you to give formula to help bridge the gap until you have enough of a breast milk supply to feed your baby. Whatever you decide, supplement, donor milk, etc. you can use a breast pump to help encourage the production of milk and make this transition happen faster.
Try to relax, ensure that you are properly nourished and hydrated. Then you can try pumping in between nursing sessions. If you have started pumping from day one, try increasing the number of pumping sessions.
When You Get Your Period:
Mother nature can be cruel. Things might be going really well. You and baby can be working together and making it happen, and then bam, you get your period. All women are different. Some will get theirs sooner than others, and some might not get their period until they stop nursing. Some might get it to an extent, but not 100%.
Your period returning can cause a reduction in your breast milk supply. If you are nursing, you can add pump sessions in between your baby’s regular feedings. The suction of the breast pump mimics your baby nursing, and can help to stimulate your body’s production of milk. If you are pumping beforehand, you can increase the frequency of your pumping sessions. Just remember to take care of your breast tissue with lubrication, and maybe consider adding cushions to your breast pump flanges.
Some prescription medications, herbal supplements, and even hormonal birth control can cause a reduction in breast milk production. Speak with a lactation consultant and your healthcare provider about any medications and supplements that you plan on taking. First, you want to make sure that they are safe to take when breastfeeding (this includes pumping). Second, you can talk to them about whether they may cause a drop in your supply. This means you are prepared and have a game plan, lowering the stress this drop might potentially cause. Pumping can help to rebuild your supply. Talking to a professional can help to manage expectations. For example, depending on the medication, you might not regain your previous level of production but you can save your breastfeeding journey.
Tips for Using a Breast Pump To Help Manage Your Milk Supply
One popular technique for bolstering your breast milk supply is power pumping. This is an hour long pump session where you pump on and off using a set pattern. We offer a full post on power pumping here. This pattern might look like:
Don’t let an empty bottle deceive you. If you are pumping and not seeing any droplets of milk falling into your collection bottles, it might feel like a waste of time. It’s not. It’s actually a good thing. You are sending a message to your body saying that you need more milk.
That being said, don’t expect the change to happen immediately. It can take a few days of encouragement for our bodies to receive the signal. Too much dry pumping can be damaging though, so if you are worried about your supply or what pumping too much looks like it is very beneficial to consult an experienced lactation professional.