With my baby turning 8 months, I can’t believe I’ve been I’ve been breastfeeding/pumping exclusively this entire time. I’ve gone through ups and downs of uncertainty if my supply would keep up thanks to illness and everyday stresses. But the other day, I opened up our deep freeze and saw over 100 bags of my liquid gold and rejoiced.
I’ve calculated that if I wanted to, I could quit pumping in about two months and have enough milk in my stash to feed my son through his first birthday. This is very tempting. As much as I’ve enjoyed being able to provide my son with nourishment, hauling around my breast pump, parts, ice packs, and bottles of milk every day is tiring. Not to mention, the CLEANING.
So while I have an internal debate about when I will pack away my pump, I thought I would share with you all how I grew my generous milk stash. I realize how lucky I am to have made it 8 months of producing more than enough milk to feed my little one. Many women struggle with breastfeeding and supply for reasons outside of their control, but if there are any tips that may help, I’m glad to share.
So, how did I do it?
1. I didn’t start routinely pumping until I went back to work when my son was 3 months old.
With my first son, I started pumping the day I got home from the hospital when my milk came in at the direction of several people. Big mistake. This was unnecessary stress I put on myself with a newborn and resulted in an oversupply that ultimately gave me mastitis. I was producing way more milk that my little newborn could suck down, and pumping between feeding him and trying to figure out my new life with a baby was beyond stressful.
So I knew better the second time around. I did start pumping in the hospital since my second son did a brief stint in the NICU. As soon as they wheeled me back to the recovery room from surgery, the nurses got me hooked onto the pump so that they could take my colostrum to my new baby, and encourage my milk to come in. So I was on a three-hour pumping schedule right out of the gate.
Boy did that work. By the next day, my milk was in. Nurses were shocked. My body apparently had no problem making milk.
But I knew I didn’t want to keep this up. I couldn’t go down that road again. So once I got home, I fed my baby on demand, but that was it. I did have to express a little if I was overly engorged and it was uncomfortable, but I only expressed enough to provide some relief.
The first few weeks of breastfeeding are kind of awful. Figuring out your baby, getting them to latch, a good feeding position, and then regulating your supply is work. Engorgement is very uncomfortable. Your boobs feel like they will explode at even the gentlest touch.
I went the first few weeks leaking milk everywhere. My night shirts were typically drenched when I’d wake in the morning, even with using nursing pads. I’m sure there are some women out there horrified that I didn’t express and keep this extra milk that my body so easily produced. But I wasn’t willing to put myself through that again. As a second-time mom who struggled with postpartum anxiety, I’ve learned not to any more onto your plate at such a vulnerable time.
Within a couple weeks, my supply had regulated to what my baby was eating and things were good. The only times I pumped was when I was away from my baby or he went a little long between feeds. When I did pump, I only ever used a hand pump and pumped just a couple ounces for relief, but enough to store and feed him later.
I did start pumping more frequently a couple weeks before I was due back to work to build up a supply to take to daycare. By my first day at work, I had about 20 bags frozen.
And that’s when I started pumping routinely. I have two pumping sessions while I’m at work, producing 15-20 (sometimes more in the early days) ounces of milk total. My son usually eats about 10-15 ounces at daycare, so my output has been greater than his input for months. This has obviously let me build my freezer stash.
2. I’ve used milk-boosting foods/supplements
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My milk supply took a hit when my first son was 8 months old. I had to start supplementing with formula once or twice a day. My son took to formula like there was no difference, and all was well. But I think there’s something about pride and not being able to produce what my son needed that bummed me out. So it became more of a goal for myself to be able to exclusively breastfeed/pump my second son for the whole 12 months.
I started using supplements when my son was probably around 5 months old. I picked up a bottle of Fenugreek pills, and some Mother’s Milk tea (Traditional Medicinals Organic Mother’s Milk Women’s Tea, 32 Tea Bags (Pack of 3)). Fenugreek is not my favorite and makes me smell like black licorice. The tea I don’t mind as much, so I was drinking a couple cups of that a day. I wasn’t being diligent with these supplements, so I really didn’t see much of a difference.
I took to Pinterest and found a recipe for homemade lactation cookies. These were surprisingly delicious and I noticed more of an increase in my milk. But since time is a luxury these days, finding time to whip up these cookies every few weeks just wasn’t realistic.
I had come across some lactation cookie bites at Target (also on Amazon here: Milkmakers Lactation Cookie Bites, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, 10 Count) one day, and bought several packs. These were great snacks for work and seemed to do the trick.
And then, it was divine intervention. I came across the Colson & Joe subscription boxes and in my first one was a sample cookie from Baba Bellas. Now, this isn’t an ad and I don’t receive any kickback if you purchase cookies from them. I am just a straight up fan. I like their small business, their cookies are delicious, and they actually work. I have ordered several, several dozen over the past few months and I am convinced it is one of the defining factors of keeping my supply going strong.
On top of all the supplements, I try hard every day to suck down a lot of water. I have a 32 oz. water cup at work that I try to fill up 3-4 times a day. Once at home in the evening, I drink at least another 32 ounces.
3. I like to eat
Like everyone told me, my body did not recover the second time around like it did with my first child. My stomach is still squishy and I have 20 pounds of pregnancy weight left to lose. Breastfeeding my first son, it was like the weight just fell off. I was back to my pre-pregnancy size within a couple months. But, once I quit breastfeeding, I gained about 10 pounds.
So I started my last pregnancy off heavier than my first, and gained about 10 pounds more during pregnancy, so there’s an extra 20 pounds right there. And in all honesty, I actually think breastfeeding is making my body hold onto these extra pounds instead of burning them off this time.
Of course, I would eventually like to lose this extra weight and get more active, but I’m not quite there yet. I try to limit my calories and am feeling good one minute, then the next I feel ravenous hunger and want to eat like an animal. Breastfeeding while trying to limit calories is a delicate balance that I haven’t quite conquered yet.
I mean, come on, I’ve been eating cookies most days for weeks, telling myself it’s “healthy” because it’s for the baby. And all the best foods have the most calories. Sigh.
I’m sure there are nutritionists or experts I could work with to figure out a good caloric intake to keep up breastfeeding while also losing some weight, but I’ve decided to just try it out myself and not be too obsessed about it. I won’t be breastfeeding forever, and there will be time to get more strict on my diet.
Some days I surprise myself by how much I could eat and how hungry I really feel. It’s just as strong as when I was pregnant, if not more so. So, if you are breastfeeding, be prepared to be hungry and eat ridiculous amounts of food.
So there it is. A lot of diligence and a lot of food have managed to serve me well and stock pile my breast milk. While I am looking forward to one day claiming back my body, I am grateful for all the goodness it has provided for me and my babies.