Breastfeeding is hard. I don’t think anyone prepares you for how hard its going to be. Pumping is also challenging. I had to go back to work at 6 weeks (you can read my guest post about being a working Mama here) so I was forced to pump instead of nurse to try and keep up with feeding my twins. I managed to feed them exclusively breastmilk through six months and majority breastmilk through one year with a lot of hands on effort (literally). You can read more about my breastfeeding journey here. My body has never been one to respond to chemicals, hormones, etc. For instance, caffeine has no awakening affect on me, NyQuil does not make me drowsy and pregnancy hormone changes did not bother me at all. Likewise, the standard supplements suggested for increasing milk supply (like Fenugreek) had no affect on me. So if you are like me and found that none of these helped, here are my tips and tricks to try to help your milk production as well as helpful information for dealing with cracked nipples and clogged ducts. I will go ahead and precondition this post by saying that I have no professional training in the area of lactation; this is just from my personal experience.
Obviously having twins helped boost my supply, because the best way to boost your supply is by boosting your demand. Whenever I was nursing (or pumping) it was always in tandem draining both breasts each time as much as possible. If you just have one kid, but want to boost your supply to stockpile some milk or just keep up with your hungry baby, you can try emulating having twins by pumping at the same time as you are nursing. This gets your some extra milk in the fridge and signals to your body that extra milk is needed. The more often your breast is fully drained (so this will happen twice as much instead of waiting until the next need when your baby nurses on that side) the more your breast will keep reproducing milk to keep up (because now for instance it believes it only has 2 hours until it needs to be “full” again instead of 4 hours).
Another tip for signaling to your body to make more milk is by pumping as much milk out as possible and even pumping passed that point as if to say, “I want more!” Side note: A lot of things I read before the girls arrived advised waiting to pump until after a few weeks of nursing to achieve supply regulation first. If you are struggling with nursing (maybe medical staff is concerned about weight gain and contemplating adding formula) or if you have multiples, from my personal experience, you need to skip this waiting and jump right into full-blown expression (after your milk supply comes in) to ensure that your supply regulation is inclusive of this additional demand. So a couple of ideas for doing this include pumping after you nurse, pumping beyond milk coming out, pumping beyond milk coming out, pumping in-between nursing sessions, power pumping and following pumping with a few additional tricks I will mention below for getting more milk to come out.
Pumping after you nurse: Anytime I nursed the girls, I followed it by a short tandem pumping session.
Pumping beyond milk coming out: Whenever I pumped and the last drop fell, I would always pump for anywhere between another minute to five (depending on how patient I was feeling at the time). Some people say this helps signal to your body that the baby wanted more milk that was there so make more.
Pumping in-between nursing sessions: This may take some trialing on your part, but I was able to determine that if I waited 2 hours in-between nursing sessions or 4 hours in-between nursing sessions, my girls still seemed satisfied with the amount of milk they drank. So, when they started spacing their feedings out to 4 hours, I would pump halfway between nursing sessions to get the extra milk. Then my breasts would have 2 hours to refill before their next nursing session.
Power Pumping: Babies will go through many growth spurts in those first few months, and you can usually tell because they will cluster feed in the evenings where the nurse for a bit, then shortly later want to nurse again, and this will continue for several rounds. I have heard this is nature’s way of signalling the need for more milk production as your baby grows. You can fake this by power pumping as well. Basically you pump for fifteen minutes, take a fifteen minute break, pump for fifteen minutes, take a fifteen minute break, etc. The time of pumping and breaking can vary, and you should experiment with what works best with your body. I have been able to pump a lot of extra milk during these power pumping sessions. There were also times, especially as the girls got older, that it was not successful, but it definitely something worth trying.
Additional Ways to Get Out Extra Milk: Later into my breastfeeding journey I learned about massage pumping. Have you ever noticed a little baby kneading their Mama’s breasts as they nurse? Again, some say this is nature’s way of helping expressing milk. Basically the kneading action helps pull more milk out of the breast (especially the fatty hindmilk). You can emulate this be massaging our breasts while you pump. Another trick for getting out extra milk is hand expression. Seriously! I didn’t know this was a thing until my L&D nurse shared it with me after some unsuccessful pumping sessions in the hospital trying to get some breastmilk down to the NICU for Brooklyn. This was the most helpful thing I learned for my breastfeeding journey. Hand expression is literally milking yourself like you would a cow. It sounds ridiculous but it is so useful! I hand expressed after I finished all of the pumping techniques I mentioned above and always came away with a least another ounce. I even hand expressed an entire 8 oz bottle once when I was in the woods and engorged.
In addition to these tips, I did find that staying hydrated helped my output. I drank a ton of Gatorade to help support my pumping journey. And even though the supplements didn’t help boost my supply, I did come across this recipe for the best lactation cookies you’ll ever eat, that it doesn’t hurt to try. If anything, its a great excuse to add some baked goods to your diet. Note: her recipe ingredient list doesn’t say it, but you’ll need two eggs.
I also recommend keeping lanolin on hand for cracked nipples. I also struggled with the occasional clogged duct. It’s extremely painful, but you have to pump through the pain to get rid of it. I would always soak my breast with the hottest wet cloth (I’d go run it under the sink closest to the water heater) before pumping and then pump hunched over so that my breasts were dangling and massage the affected breast vigorously while pumping. If you find that you are getting these quite frequently, I have heard that taking lecithin can help.
I hope you find these tips helpful! I do want to add that everyone’s breastfeeding journey is different. Some people have to nurse or pump every 3 hours to maintain their supplies, others can sleep through the night with the same result. Just be try out different things and take note of the results. If you have any breastfeeding questions I haven’t answered, feel free to drop them below.
Best of luck!