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Making It Work

Pumping Troubles

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 2, March-April 1999, pp. 52-54

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"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 lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


I went back to work full-time when my daughter was three months old. There is no electrical outlet in the bathroom near my office, so I use two battery-operated pumps to pump my breasts simultaneously. Occasionally, I am unable to get away from my desk but can sneak in a little time to pump in my office, where I use an adaptor to plug the pumps in. I use a hand sanitizer product to clean my hands and pump for just a couple of minutes when I get a chance. My daughter is now almost six months old and recently I've had trouble pumping enough milk to meet her needs while I am gone. I'm not sure if there is something wrong with my pumps or something wrong with my milk supply. I don't want to supplement with formula. What can I do?


I provided my twin daughters with expressed milk from four months when I returned to graduate school through the end of their first year. However, I was not able to get enough milk by pumping only when apart from the girls. Most of the pumping veterans I have known had the same experience. The pump just can't maintain milk supply effectively, let alone increase your supply, the way your baby can. There are two basic strategies to avoid or minimize the use of formula: using less milk and extracting more milk.

To economize on the milk you are able to pump, be sure that your child care provider is not wasting any. In addition, I nursed the girls when I dropped them off and picked them up. At six months you may wish to begin solids, and she can have those when you are apart. Finally, consider offering her more opportunities to nurse at night, but be careful because you do need rest to work and pump effectively.

To get more milk, I found it necessary to add at least one extra pumping session each day. Good times to do this included at night after the girls were asleep, on weekend afternoons while they napped, or immediately after a feeding. You describe pumping for just a couple of minutes. To maximize your output, try to pump at the same times every day and for 10-15 minutes per session.

Sara S.


I went back to work part-time when my son was 10 weeks old. I now work a 75% time schedule and am still enjoying a wonderful nursing relationship with my now-toddler.

You may not need to supplement with formula. It sounds as though your location, frequency, and duration of pumping habits at work are not regular. Here are some recommendations.

First, try to maintain a regular pumping routine. If you haven't done so already, talk with your supervisor or boss and discuss options for pumping locations and times. If you have your own office and can close the door for 15-20 minutes in the midmorning and the same in the mid-afternoon, use your break time for this need. I made a little sign that hangs on my door handle. Everyone in the office knows that when that little sign is up, I am pumping. If you don't have a private or semi-private office, then you certainly have the right to ask your boss for a more appropriate space. Forget the bathroom! Use a real room! Would your coworkers be comfortable preparing their lunches in the bathroom? Probably not!

Take your time pumping, using your allotted break time. With my pump, I manage to hold the barrels with my left arm; leaving my right hand free to answer telephone calls and even type or read work materials. Sometimes I just relax. I use my time wisely, and my boss knows it.

Since it sounds like your milk supply is reflecting irregular demand, it may take several days to improve. It will all work out. I remember how being concerned about my milk supply made a big difference in the quantity of milk I could pump. By establishing a time, place, good duration, and actively requesting support for your needs, you can eliminate a lot of the stressors that may be working against you. Keep in your mind that you are doing this for your little one and for yourself. Your boss will appreciate the fact that you will be more focused and much happier. And, of course, so will you! Good luck, keep breathing, and by all means know it will all be worth it.

Yvette E.


First, I commend you. It's not easy pumping and working but you're providing an excellent start for your daughter. I pumped for my daughters when I returned to work full time at about ten weeks after each birth. I, too, found the period at around five or six months old particularly difficult, both with my first daughter and her twin sisters.

I chose to begin introducing solid foods. It was difficult keeping up with the demand for milk during the day and the girls were showing signs of being ready to begin solids. The introduction of solids helped reduce their need for bottles during the day. I also found time to pump at different times of the day and night. With the twins, I would often pump one side early in the morning while one baby was nursing on the other side. I would sometimes get up during the night to pump. I tried to pump extra when I could and have an extra supply in the freezer, because I found keeping up my supply could be difficult during growth spurts and times when I was ill.

The pump could be a problem as well. I found that the single battery-operated pump I was using became unreliable when my twins were about four months old. I rented a double-sided pump and was relieved because I started getting a lot more milk. Also, it can take a little while for your milk to let down, so if you're only able to find a couple of minutes to pump, you may miss out on the most productive pumping time. You might find spending 20 minutes twice a day more efficient than more frequent shorter times.

I found drinking a lot of water very helpful as well. I carried a liter bottle of water with me wherever I went. Finally, I think another reason that I was (and am) able to continue the breastfeeding relationship for as long as I have, is that my daughters seem to make up for the missed daytime nursing during the night and on the weekends. I am able to sleep while the babies nurse and feel that they need this time with me since I'm not around during the day. Having a supportive partner, a local La Leche League Group, and a supportive workplace all help as well.

Diana S.


I returned to work when my daughter was three months old. I work 40 hours a week in a fairly stressful retail environment. I had a similar problem when Abbey turned about eight months. Until then, I had been pumping twice a day for about 15 minutes, and I was able to maintain an adequate milk supply for her while she was at the sitter. Abbey was an avid nighttime nurser, so she only took two bottles during the day while I was gone.

When I noticed that I was pumping less and less milk each time, I tried to pump longer and added an additional session. A pumping routine is very important. Mechanically expressing milk is not as efficient as your baby. I found that if I didn't take enough time to pump (about 15 minutes total time), my breasts would stay full. Eventually my body adjusted by producing less milk. I was very worried that I wasn't giving her enough, and pumping became very stressful. One morning, there wasn't enough milk in the freezer. I mixed up a bottle of formula, crying the whole time. Well, Abbey took the formula, and knowing that she had enough to eat took a huge amount of stress away. Almost instantly I was pumping better! I'm not suggesting that using formula is an answer, but one or two bottles could just be enough to help get past this rough time.

Above all, do your best to relax and try not to worry about your supply. Combining breastfeeding and working can be quite challenging, but always remember that your baby is getting the very best!

Becky R.


Your question about whether the pumps are working is a good one. Warranties on battery pumps are usually for three months, and they often seem to wear out at about the same time that their warranties end. Testing a different pump may give you an answer. If your battery pump is one that attaches to a rental pump, try renting an electric pump for a couple of days and see if you have better results.

Six months is a growth spurt time and a time when babies often start taking solids. If she is going through a growth spurt, you could try taking a "milk day" off of work on a Friday or a Monday so you could have three days to nurse as much as she wants. This should increase your supply. Starting solids is a gradual process, and usually babies don't take much at first. If she is sitting up and putting things in her mouth, perhaps the caretaker could give her a taste of mashed banana, decreasing the amount of milk she needs while away from you.

Knowing that your milk is best for your baby, you have made a goal to provide it for her, and you have done well. Your child is lucky to have a mother committed to giving her the best.

Becky A.


I returned to work when my daughter was ten weeks old. I work 32 hours a week over four days. I find that drinking enough water and establishing a routine helps.

Every morning, I make sure to get a drink before I pump. As only my left breast pumps effectively, I don't even bother pumping the other. Instead, before I go to work, my daughter only nurses from the right side. When I pump the left side at 10:30 am, it flows pretty well. It took some practice to learn to hold the flange of the pump against my breast firmly enough to form a seal, but not too firmly. If I applied too much pressure, it slowed down the flow of milk. Also, it has helped to pump on days I don't work. Having a three-day backup supply makes it a lot less stressful.

My daughter is more than nine months old and I'm still pumping at work. Good luck!

Paula M.

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