Totum Stories: A Laywoman’s Guide to Breastfeeding Pro Tips
By Ellie Bergmann
Mom of 2 boys, social worker & addiction therapist, and wife to a cyclist & ski enthusiast (aka: nut)
What I’ve learned from opening up and chatting with other moms has been the gold of motherhood. Professionals like lactation consultants and postpartum doulas are angels. But I’ve gotta say: I’d be lost without the street smarts of other moms. So here’s a stream of consciousness account of some of my favorite pro tips learned in the (mother) hood.
With my first babe, breastfeeding and subsequent breast pumping went smoothly. I had enough milk, I didn’t experience pain, I had a few clogged ducts along the way, but all in all, it was manageable and enjoyable. I reached the one year goal I set and had to wean my supply. My son was over it within a day. My milk wasn’t. I talked to a few people and they suggested to take Sudafed for a few days, and it dried my milk right up. It was astonishing. This was after weeks of engorged pain and attempting to slowly pump less and less, all the while sporting a sexy cabbage leaf bra, even at work. None of this worked for me. But pop a few Sudafed? BAM, milk was gone. That was my first pro tip.
This time around with baby boy #2, I had a surplus of milk the first few months. Like, had-to-buy-a-deep-freezer-for-the-garage-in-order-to-store-all-the-milk, kind of surplus. Great right? Sure. Until baby started to sleep mostly thru the night (you hate me now and are about to stop reading, but hear me out) and my milk supply dipped. Suddenly at work I was pumping HALF of what he was consuming. I was NOT ready to stop or reduce breastfeeding. Baby was 7 months old. So again, I reached out to people. I talked to lactation consultants, I emailed lactation supplement people, I talked to moms, I talked to a dude at work who remembered his wife’s tips! I was desperate; I wouldn’t shut up. And again, I learned some tools that were revolutionary! And seemed so basic! How could I not have known these little tricks? Where is the universal manual that provided these gold nugget tips? Am I the only one who doesn’t know how to pump?
One sneaky little tip was to hand express some milk upon finishing pumping. I was skeptical at this one. I just finished pumping? Why would I hand express an empty boob? Time waste…until I tried it and got probably 2 additional oz out. AFTER PUMPING. That was mind blowing. So not only getting more milk (BONUS) but also sending the message to your body to MAKE MORE MILK. So I’ve been doing that regularly and my milk supply is on the up!
Another tip related to that is to hand express about 10 mins AFTER pumping to mimic cluster feeding. I haven’t tried that but man, I now don’t doubt it.
Also, change out the little membranes on the valves of your pump. I hadn’t been doing that. Didn’t realize I needed to. They are the piece that help suction out milk. Did that and noticed a difference. AMAZING.
Here are some other tips: make an appointment with your baby (AKA your pump) and put it on your calendar. If you have a shared calendar at work, first, my condolences. Second, call it a “hold” and keep the appointment like it’s with Michelle Obama. Space your sessions out about 2.5-3 hours apart, maybe even timing them to your baby’s feeds. As hard as it is to do, really try and shift out of your working day mentality by taking a few deep breaths with your eyes closed, thinking of or looking at photos of your baby, and/or facing away from your computer -- at least until letdown.
Speaking of letdown, the stimulation mode can be your best friend. It’s so tempting to skip ahead to the main event, but your baby always stimulates first. And they are the real experts.
Don’t forget to eat, and drink, drink, drink. Bring a container you love to work, and try to drink 32 ounces or more of straight water. And eat healthy fats (avocados, walnuts, nut butters, Totum Treats [editor’s note, oopsie!] etc.). If you’ve found a lactation tea you like, put it in your insulated thermos with some almond milk and honey. It’s your little secret stash.
And then of course, the power pump. I hadn’t even heard that phrase with my first son. Probably because I was smooth sailin’ with a strong milk supply and a good eater. But with babe #2, I was told a few times by the pros to power pump. Here’s the deal with a power pump. So after you pump a regular session, however long that is, you then take a 10 min break (those nipps need a rest, sis), then return and pump for 10 mins. Then stop for 10 mins. Then pump for 10 mins. And repeat. So you are pumping for 30 mins total over an hour. I initially did that for 3 days but was informed, again when I wouldn’t stop yapping about my reduction in milk supply, that to see a difference, do it for one week. 7 days. It’s brutal, but it’s WORKING .
I’m mid-way thru this power pump jam. Wish me luck. Wish my milk supply luck. Here’s hoping I return to Dairy Queen status. I am not ready to stop, and judging from baby boy reaching for my shirt, he’s not ready to stop either. And lest we forget how this baby refuses new things and takes MONTHS to come around; See: taking a bottle (went on hunger strike for 1.5 months when I returned to work) and baby food: gross. No way. Pass. The thought of an attempt to introduce formula to this baby seems impossible. Another reason to be diligent in increasing my milk supply. Hopefully some of these suggestions contain some helpful new info for the moms out there. If so, pass it on. Get it Bosses.