Friday, December 21, 2012

Exclusive Pumping: Supply

I've been worried about my supply since before Dylan was born.

My sister had her first in June and has struggled ever since with low supply.  It's been so frustrating for her.

Then, after Dylan was born, the lactation consultant put the fear in me even more!  It's so important to follow a few rules at the beginning and if you don't, you potentially won't be able to make up for it.  Premie moms typically have a harder time with supply so she really drilled the rules in my head.

The basics:

  • Pump between 8 and 12 times each day.  I'm sure you can do the math, but this means every 2-3 hours.  To me 8 times doesn't sound like a ton.  Every three hours sounds like a bit more...  But what I didn't take into consideration was that pumping takes 30 minutes itself, then add another 10 for prepping/cleaning and it feels like you've just finished when it's time to pump again!  Nuts!  I stuck with 8 pumps a day.  I honestly cannot imagine doing even one more.  If you!  I had a lot of trouble waking up in the middle of the night.  I'd sleep through my alarm with no recollection of hearing it and then feel guilty the rest of the day.  But missing a pump every once in awhile is not a big deal as long as it's not every day.  You can always add a pump in later...they do not need to be evenly spaced.
  • Pump until you are empty.  This one is so hard at the beginning.  First - I never felt empty.  Second, I didn't even know what empty felt like.  Until one day...  An empty breast feels completely deflated - not firm at all (really weird).  Basically, you want to pump until 5 minutes after the last milk comes out while trying to build supply.  You are training your breasts to make more milk.  "They" say you only need to pump for 15-20 minutes at the beginning.  I probably did that for the first 2 days until my milk came in, but as soon as it did I went all the way up to 30 minutes because the milk never really stopped coming!  I think this was key in establishing a good supply for me.  The number of minutes in a day that you pump is just as important as the frequency.
  • Keep up this schedule for at least 12 weeks.  This is the amount of time that your body is learning how much to make - basically through supply and demand.  The more often you empty your breast the more your body is told to fill the breast.  Makes sense, right?  I've cut down a little bit quicker, but I've been really careful about watching to see if my supply has dipped.  If you are worried about supply, do not drop pumps until after 12 weeks.
  • I guess the last thing would be to use a hospital grade pump (or at least a quality double electric).  I use the Medela Symphony and I love it.  It's much quieter than most pumps which is nice when I'm pumping in the middle of the night.  I also think it's two-phase system helped build my supply.
I've been saying I have a good supply, but if you're new to this, you probably wonder what that means.  A baby eats approximately 30 ounces (give or take 10).  Some people make upwards of 60 ounces a day!  But oversupply can be just as big of a problem as under supply.  So when I consistently hit about 35 ounces a day I dropped to 7 pumps a day.  When my supply stayed put for awhile at 7, I dropped from 30 to 20 minute sessions.  I'm now at 6 pumps a day, 20 minutes per session, 10 weeks in.  This is earlier than the 12 weeks and I agonized about dropping, but I went slowly and I can always add more time back in if I notice a dip.

Here's how my supply came in:

Week 1: maxed out at 10 ounces a day - I seemed to add an ounce a day after my milk came in (But at the beginning it's literally a few drops, then 10 mls, then maybe an ounce.  It starts very slowly...don't worry!)

Week 2: maxed out at 23 ounces - about 19 average

Week 3: average - 25 ounces (max 28)

Week 4: average - 29 (max 31)

Week 5: average - 31 (max 34)

Week 6: average 31 (max 36) - dropped to 7 pumps a day

Week 7: average 36 (max 39)

Week 8: average 34 (max 38)

Week 9: average 36 (max 39) - dropped to 20 minutes a session

Week 10: average 33 (max 39) - dropped to 6 pumps a day

I currently get between 4 and 5 ounces a session with somewhere between 6 and 9 ounces during my early morning sessions. (You make more milk during the night - I also go longer between pumps.)

I still worry about my supply each and every day!  But I'm a worrier.  But Dylan is only eating a little over 10 ounces a day right now so I have frozen a ton of milk.  A TON.  I even had to throw away about a quarter of my supply about a month ago because someone left the freezer door ajar and I didn't even cry.  Because I have SO MUCH MILK.

Don't believe me?

Check it out. 

Our regular freezer.  They are stacked 2 deep.  Each bag hold between 3 and 9 ounces!  (Average 5.)

Thank goodness Mr. GG had just bought a new fridge for the garage.  Also 2 deep.

Ooh...some room left in the door!

There are also about 100 frozen bottles at the NICU.  I've been a busy girl.

If you are having a difficult time pumping, just remember that it gets better.  It really does.  It took about 2 weeks for me to not feel desperate, but every now and again I'll have a bad day.  And also...pumping more will help with all problems.  Don't skip pumps - just power through and it'll get better!



  1. Those freezer pictures are *gorgeous*!!
    And I love your detailed record-keeping and averages; I did that for the entire 2 years I pumped at work. I loved being able to track my supply and feel confident it wasnt dipping without being noticed.

  2. That is one freezer full of milk! I would think it is safe to say you have plenty. LOL

  3. You were so much smarter than me in laying your bags flat...I made the mistake of not doing that and it was not efficient with space saving. I have however been told never to store any milk in the door of any freezer. Just be careful. That milk is precious. You can also ask the NICU to find more storage if you run out at work so you don't have to throw any out any more. Once Dylan's up to full feeds and he grows and starts taking more you'll go through that milk faster than you think. As an exclusive pumper myself, I can sympathize and definitely recommend like you to power through :).

    Great job on sticking with it. Sometimes it's so easy to give up because it is kind of a pain. But it is so worth it as you watch your child grow knowing you are providing your child with sustenance. It's such an amazing feeling.....You are amazing!

  4. I'm so glad your supply is so good! Mine is not so much. I'm keeping up with him for now but he will surpass me very quickly as he grows. You are so right though exclusive pumping is beyond a full time job! Keep it up mama!

  5. When I read this post, I didn't think I'd ever need to know this. Two weeks later, here I am with a preemie, pumping 8 times a day! I came back and read this, and I just have to say, wow. These are good rules, but I think you must also have a naturally good supply. I do pump 8 times a day, and as of this weekend I'm able to nurse once or twice a day, too. But still, I only pump a fraction of what my daughter needs (yesterday she was 7 days old. I pumped 4.5 ounces). The NICU nurses keep telling me not to worry, my milk supply will increase, but it does make me worry. So, I think you're a rockstar.

  6. THIS ROCKS! YOU ROCK! i am only getting about 9-12oz in a 24hr time span. waaaaah. i am so glad i am reading all of these posts now! better late than never, but my i wish i read them sooner!