Most stay at home moms will end up leaving their baby with someone for one reason or another and need expressed milk for while they’re away. When Peanut was a baby, I was going to school in the evenings and leaving her with her dad. It was a horribly stressful time in my life and I remember being constantly worried if there would be enough milk for while I was gone. There were multiple times when I left her not knowing if I’d come home to a screaming, starving baby because I only left barely enough if that. It got to the point where I basically stopped attending my classes because I was so stressed out about leaving.
I read everything that was supposed to help me with pumping, but it seems like most tips are geared towards moms who pump more often. If you’re pumping while you’re at work for 8 hours a day, it’s different than when you’re pumping at home. There are obstacles in both situations for sure, but they’re very different obstacles.
Partially because of this stress I experienced last time, I’ve avoided leaving Twig with anyone for more than 45 minutes (and even that, only a handful of times). Though chances are we will end up needing expressed milk sometime in the near future, so I decided to start building up a store in my freezer. I’m surprised at how much easier it is this time, so much so that I decided to compile a list of the reasons why I think it’s easier in hopes of helping some of you out there who want to store a bit of milk.
5 Tips for Expressing Milk as a Stay at Home Mom
1. Start ridiculously early. I think that I started pumping a week or two before I was supposed to start school when Peanut was a baby. I figured I would just do it and get the milk and it wouldn’t be that difficult. For me, it was that difficult (hopefully these tips make it not so difficult for you!). If I would have had a head start, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal to take some time figuring things out. Instead, I constantly stressed about getting milk, which in turn made it more difficult to get the milk. Vicious cycle. So, if you’re at all able, start a month or more before you’ll need to use any milk. Milk lasts a long time in the freezer, so don’t worry about it going bad. With our recent illness, I stopped pumping all together. It wasn’t a big deal for me to do that because I have plenty in the freezer and plenty of time to get even more.
2. Try before you buy. Don’t buy a pump just because your friend says it’s wonderful or even because it has great reviews on Amazon. What works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you, which is the reason why La Leche League doesn’t endorse any particular pump. Look for a breastfeeding store near you and see if they have a try before you buy type program. One that’s about an hour from my house will let you try as many pumps as you would like for $50. If you buy a pump, the fee is waived. You obviously have to throw out the milk you get, but it’s not like you need to do a full pumping session to decide if it’s working. I was amazed when I figured out that the pump that worked best for me was actually a hand pump, which I hadn’t even considered because everyone said it’s so annoying to have to pump it manually. Also consider hand expressing. I’ve heard many women say that hand expression works better for them than any pump.
3. Pump while you nurse. One of my problems when I was pumping for Peanut was that I could never get a real letdown. Letdown just means letdown, not letdown on the side that you’re currently nursing on. Those little round “Hey, I’m a nursing mom!” stains on your shirt can attest to this. Nursing while you’re pumping means that you pretty much can’t handle anything else, but really, it’s kind of nice to take a break from checking my phone and reading and all the other things I do while I’m nursing. Obviously if you’re gone from baby and need to express milk, you can’t pump while you nurse, but hopefully that’ll be easier too because you and your body are used to the pump when there’s the extra help.
4. If possible, do it daily. This won’t work for everyone’s schedule, but if you’re able, pump every day at the same time of day. Make it a time that you’re not to stressed out (e.g. an hour before dinner time is probably not the best time to relax and pump) and that you’ll be home most days. Breastfeeding is a supply-demand system, so your body will quickly figure out to produce more during that time of day. Driving home from Peanut’s preschool today, I realized that I really needed to nurse on both sides. That’s because my body is used to making lots of milk right after Twig’s morning nap, which is when I’ve been pumping.
5. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get much, especially in the beginning. First off, it will take your body a day or two to realize that you need more milk every day at that specific time, so if you don’t get much in the beginning, don’t worry. Also, never take how much milk you’re expressing as a sign of how much baby is getting. Babies are exponentially more efficient at getting the milk out that any pump, so they’re getting much more than you can get out. If you’re not getting as much as you’d like, just continue for a few minutes longer than when the milk stops. Even if you don’t get another letdown (there are multiple letdowns in each feeding, so it’s normal for the flow to pause or decrease and then start up again), you’ll be teaching your body that it needs to produce more. Again, supply and demand.
6. Try to get baby to top it off after you’re finished. Even if you only nurse on one side per session, this is a useful thing to do. As I said in the last tip, babies are more efficient at getting the milk out. So even if the pump can’t get any more out, your babe milk be able to. Again, this is teaching your body to make more milk, so maybe you’ll be able to get out more next time. If your nursling doesn’t feel like nursing more, don’t worry about it.
It’s important to note that milk expression can be so different for everyone that this is far from an inclusive list. These are just some things that have helped me and I’m hoping could help you. If you’re having troubles with pumping, keep trying new things until you figure out a system that works for you.