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Making It Work

Learning to Pump

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 2, March-April 2003, pp. 64-66

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

My baby is eight weeks old and I go back to work at three months. I work for a great company, and my supervisor knows that I will be pumping and is very supportive. I found a wonderful caretaker close to work so I can go to my baby at lunch, but I will still need to pump. This is where the problem is-I can't seem to pump my milk! I bought a pump at a store, but not only can I not get any milk out, it hurts! I want my baby to have only my milk, but how can I do this if I can't pump?

Response

First of all, I suggest that you contact a lactation consultant or experienced La Leche League Leader. Every mother and baby is different and some pumps will not work for some women.

I went through this problem, too, with my first child, Riley. I could get a little bit of milk out, but certainly not enough to feed Riley while I worked. I finally hit upon something that worked for me when I got up to nurse him in the middle of the night and he fell asleep after nursing on only one side. I was so engorged I tried to pump the side that he did not nurse. I got eight ounces of milk out of one breast at one sitting!

After that, I knew pumping could work for us if I could only figure it out. I started regularly pumping in the middle of the night until I had a good amount of milk in storage. Gradually, I was able to get a little milk pumped during the day.

Although pumping took a lot of effort and energy, it really helped me deal with leaving my child. I grieved a great deal about leaving him at day care and pumping gave me a chance to do something for him while I was at work. Every break was spent pumping and every lunch was spent nursing him at the day care. In this way, I still felt connected to him. Pumping in the early months also made it possible for me to continue nursing him at home. I still deeply cherish my memories of nursing Riley. My husband made it possible by cooking for me as I nursed constantly when I was at home.

When Riley was two-and-a-half-years old I was able to quit my job to be home with him full time. Since then I have had two more little boys (Jamie and Joseph) who are now four and two-and-a-half. I discovered La Leche League and with this support and education, I am still nursing Jamie and Joseph. Staying home to nurse is much easier than pumping, but if you really have to work when your baby is little, the efforts you make to continue nursing are very much worth the trouble.

Lisa Shumway
Fallon NV USA

Response

You are to be commended for making the commitment to provide your milk for your baby after you return to work! It requires a great deal of dedication, but the accomplishment is its own reward. You and your baby will be so much better off for it.

The first thing I'd recommend is that you put the pump away for a week or so. At this point, you're probably stressing out about it so much you're not able to relax enough to achieve a let-down.

Make sure your pump is adequate. You should have a hospital-grade pump for maximum effectiveness and efficiency. Check with your local LLL Leader, a lactation consultant, or pump rental station to help you get the best pump for your needs.

Find ways to relax while you're pumping. Play some soft music, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and envision your milk flowing from your breasts into the collection container. Some women find that their let-down reflex is aided by gravity. Bend at the waist and shake your breasts a little just before you begin to pump. Try massaging your breasts before you pump.

The Marmet technique for expressing milk is wonderful, either as a way to express milk without a pump or in preparation for pumping. You can find this information in THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING.

If you can manage it, try pumping on one side while the baby nurses on the other. This requires some coordination, but your baby is young enough that she probably won't be interested in grabbing the tubing or disturbed by the whirring of the pump. Once you become accustomed to using a pump, you won't need to pump while nursing.

Cecilia Mitchell Miller
Jacksonville FL USA

Response

I had problems pumping at first-it was a mental thing for me. I had to literally close my eyes and visualize my baby before anything would happen. Once I realized I had to concentrate on my baby, I would have a let-down and the milk came out very fast-sometimes more than I could handle! If I didn't concentrate on my baby and bring into me the warm feelings I felt when I was actually nursing, I experienced pain and frustration, and it would seem my breasts were a dry well. However, I only experienced these difficulties during the first few months, as my breasts and I were getting used to the idea of pumping, which is so completely different than a baby nursing. Within a few months, pumping became easier, and it was well worth every minute.

Is it possible that your caretaker could bring the baby to you at work to breastfeed? If not, another thing to consider is going to your baby at day care as needed instead of pumping. If your baby is being cared for close to your work, you could divide up your day so that instead of taking two 15-minute breaks and an hour lunch, you take three 30-minute breaks to go feed your baby. I did this with my second baby and eliminated the need to pump almost completely. If you are able to go to your baby during the day, you still might want to get a pump that allows you to pump enough for those rare situations when you can't get away. If you don't use that milk right away, you can always freeze it and use it later to help make homemade baby food!

Julie Conrad
Placentia CA USA

Response

You mention that the pump you are using is not very effective, it hurts, and was store bought. Your problem could very well be the pump itself. Many store-bought pumps are ineffective or difficult to use. If you are truly looking to use a pump, try to rent one at a local hospital or pump rental dealer and find one that suits you, is comfortable, and effective.

Buying or renting a pump, once you find an effective one, is cheaper than purchasing formula, and far better for your little one. It's great that you have given yourself an entire month prior to returning to work to plan for pumping, and getting a good supply of milk in your freezer.

Try to relax. Keep a photo of your baby and an item of clothing or blanket from your baby with you when you pump to encourage the let-down. Make sure you are getting plenty of fluids as well. If you find that a pump is not working for you, even an automatic double breast pump, you could try hand expression. Hand expression is great, as it causes no tissue damage, has no expense, and it's not artificial-women have been hand expressing for generations. And I know it's possible to hand express while working as I personally did it for over a year for my son.

As an alternative, you could try taking a morning and afternoon break in addition to a lunch break and feed your baby at the day care without pumping at all. This will reduce the risk of nipple confusion, keep your supply up, and allow you to spend more time with your baby. Above all, remember that what you are doing is the absolute best for you and your baby.

Jacky Myers
Laguna Hills CA USA

Response

It sounds as though you may need to purchase a better pump because pumping should not hurt. I pumped for many months and found that I couldn't get adequate milk to feed my baby unless I was using an electric double pump. I think a quality pump is the most important piece of equipment you need.

To increase your milk supply while still at home, try pumping one side while feeding your baby on the other side. You can also pump during a time of day that your baby takes the longest nap. Try to avoid pumping right before your baby will be hungry.

It is great that you have a supportive environment-that will definitely help. When you return to work, find a private, quiet, stress-free place to pump and pump at the same time each day. I found that pumping in my office with the door locked and reading my email at the same time each day helped me produce much more milk. I wouldn't get quite as good results if I was focusing on the pumped milk.

Lisa Jones
Leesburg VA USA

Response

I have worked and pumped with two of my five children. I also recently did a lot of pumping when my newborn twins were in the neonatal intensive care unit. It wasn't always easy, but it was something I felt was vital for my babies.

What pump are you using? Without a good quality pump, odds are you will not be able to pump much milk. You will need one that pumps both breasts at the same time. You also need to think about where you will be pumping at work. Is a power outlet available where you will be pumping? If not, you will need one that runs on batteries.

Does the pump that you are using now have a suction setting? If so, the best thing to do is start it off using the lowest setting, then gradually increase the suction while you are pumping. I found that if I set the pump to the highest setting when I started it would hurt, but if I started at the lowest setting and then increased it slowly to the maximum it would not cause me pain.

There are a number of things you can try to help you get a let-down when pumping. Without a let-down, you won't be able to get much milk. Having a picture of your baby to look at helps a lot of mothers when pumping. A friend of mine used to pump while holding the receiving blanket her baby slept with the night before-she said the smell helped her to have a better let-down. Another thing to do is visualize running water, like waterfalls or heavy rain. For some reason, this helps to increase the amount of milk you can pump. A positive attitude is also essential! You must convince yourself that you will be able to pump all the milk that your baby will need while you are at work.

Cindy Minear
Westminster CA USA

Response

I know exactly what you are going through. I went back to chiropractic school when my son was three-and-a-half-months old. I didn't even try to use a pump until a few days before I needed the milk. That was a big mistake! It can take a while to get used to a pump, so I would start pumping now even if you don't need it for a few months.

One thing that really saved me was breastfeeding on one side while using an electric pump to pump the other said at the same time. This way, the let-down is activated by the baby sucking on the breast. When I am away from my son I use a manual pump and I can usually get a pretty good amount of milk as long as it has been a few hours since he fed.

Pumping shouldn't hurt, so maybe try a different type of pump. I had to work at trying different positions with the pump, pressing down more on one side than the other or just the top or just the bottom. I have also found that pumping earlier in the day helps me a lot. I can hardly get much out in the evenings.

Another thing I've noticed is that drinking a lot of water keeps my supply up. I also eat plenty of food that is healthy and good for me. I tried dieting at four months to speed up my weight loss and my supply went down drastically, so I had to stop.

Pumping regularly can be a hassle but once you get used to it, it gets a lot easier and, in my opinion, is worth the effort to give my baby my precious milk when I am away.

Julie Nichols
San Ramon CA USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
Page last edited .


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