We’ve all been there. The baby is born, we desperately want to feed our child breastmilk, and so we wait… and wait…
The child is screaming, she is HUNGRY, and you look at your bottle of expressed milk that you’ve pumped to help stimulate your production, and the measly one ounce looks pathetic. You wonder if this will ever change, if you’ll ever be able to produce enough milk to feed your child.
I’m here to say that there is hope yet! Phew… It might be hard to believe while you’re trying your best to get that breastfeeding relationship to grow strong and it seems like nothing is working, but it takes time.
Always remember that for the first few days, your baby won’t be needing much breast milk to get by anyway. If he or she is on your breast, it might look like they’re suckling for a long time, but they’re actually getting a tiny quantity of colostrum, and that’s enough for them.
You might be waiting for that infamous milk surge to happen. You might be worried that your baby will die of hunger before your milk actually makes its way! But it’s okay, it can take a bit of time (up to a week). In my case, it took 4 days (and for Rachelle it took about 2 weeks). And once it came, good lord, it was an intense moment.
I encourage you to research before giving birth on how to express your milk manually. For instance once your milk production kicks in, it’s possible that your breasts will be so engorged (and rock hard) that it will be impossible for your baby to latch on. With your fingers, you can take out excess milk by squeezing your breast around your nipple. Once you have taken out some expressed milk (that you can store for later), your baby will be able to take what’s left in your breasts. Personally, this trick didn’t work so well, I just couldn’t get much milk out at one time, and after 10 minutes, I got one sad drop…
It might be a good idea to purchase a breast pump (you don’t need to splurge on an expensive one if you don’t plan on pumping exclusively, you can get a good quality manual pump in that case), or rent one for the first few weeks. You can often get a breast pump at your local pharmacy or baby accessory store, or ask your local health clinic for a list of providers. The breast pump will become your best friend if you want to stimulate your production!!
However, if you try pumping and nothing comes out, remember that it’s not necessarily because you don’t have breast milk. It’s possible that your breasts are insensitive to the pumping motion. That’s because a pump only does a suction motion on your breast, whereas a baby does both a suction motion and a squeezing motion. Don’t lose hope if you see nothing in the bottle!
I remember the first few days of trying to give my daughter breast milk as being highly stressful… I’ve already explained my difficulties in getting my daughter to latch on. However, I was stressed out also because I wanted to make sure that I had enough breast milk for her… I would try pumping my milk every 1-2 hours to stimulate my glands. After a week and a half of doing this, I would say that I started being able to pump approximately 3 ounces every 3 hours.
There are a few other tricks that are not scientifically proven, but I did anyway, just in case. I mean, at the end of the day, it can’t hurt, right? I did take some fenugreek and blessed thistle in gel caps every three hours. Once a day, I would indulge in a beer. It’s reported that barley and hops are “lactogenic” ingredients that have been used for thousands of years to help increase milk production. If this didn’t help increase my milk production, it sure did a lot to calm my nerves!! I made sure I drank enough water (but not too much). And finally, I tried to relax. I know… it’s hard to do, but so important!!
If you decide that you want to do exclusive pumping like I do, here are a few things to remember: you might be tempted to pump bigger quantities less often, but this isn’t as good for your baby. For the first 4-6 weeks, always try and pump every 3 hours. If you can get up during the night to pump during this time, it helps, since the best milk is produced at night. After the first month, you can stop getting up to pump ;). Even after the first month, try to pump every three hours as often as possible. It will help maintain your production, and it will give your baby the highest fat content in her milk (the longer you wait to pump, the less fat will be in your milk). It can sometimes be challenging to find the time to pump when taking care of the baby. During the first few months, I would wait for her to go to sleep before I pumped. Don’t stress out too much if you don’t stick to the three hour schedule on the dot! It’s not the end of the world ;). Don’t feel obliged to drag your pump around with you everywhere either. There is nothing worse than feeling chained to that pump!!
When pumping, they always say to wait two minutes after you’ve stopped getting milk before stopping the pump. This is because you’ll most likely get a second surge of milk (and this milk is the hind milk, which is the fatty part – oh so important). Always make sure that you pump out all of your milk to make sure that your baby gets all of the nutrition he or she needs!
When pumping on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to invest in a high-quality and efficient pump. Forget about pumping your milk manually every three hours!! Both my sister have the Medela Pump in Style breast pump. I have the backpack and she has the shoulder bag (so discreet)! I love this pump because it is a dual pump, which means that you can pump both your breasts at the same time (sexy, I know…). It’s also portable and comes with a battery pack, which means that you can even pump in the car on your way to an event if you’re squeezed for time. A cooler with an icepack is provided which is practical when you want to go out with your baby. And finally, the pieces are all separate, which makes for easy cleaning, and for easy replacement. Please purchase some extra valves from the get go (the little white plastic flaps) because they get used really quickly and your pump will seem less effective!
One night early on, with my daughter shrieking of hunger because she drank everything I had, I was desperately pumping away, hoping to give her enough to last her a few hours… a few minutes later, I had a good two ounces ready, got up and started to walk towards my boyfriend… and I dropped the opened bottle to the ground. I swear, I still see that moment in slow motion in my head, and hear the NOOOOOOOO! sound so clearly. There was only one ounce left. She downed it, and thank god it was enough. But I looked at my boyfriend, and said “enough”. The pressure I was placing on myself to produce and the frustration of dropping that one bottle pushed me over the edge. I asked him to go to the pharmacy the next day and buy some formula until I could get enough breast milk going for my daughter. Never again did I want to be in that situation!
And so the formula was a very satisfactory plan B for the times between pumping sessions. Don’t get me wrong. I hate formula (not what it stands for, but the smell and the texture of it)! But it won’t kill your baby ;). Don’t be afraid of having both on hand. It might save your sanity.
The good news is that I’ve been able to save up a lot of breast milk over the course of the last four months by using these tricks! It now means that I can have a few drinks worry-free, and in that time before I started to integrate food when my production wasn’t high enough for her needs, I had some frozen milk on hand to give her. You can store your milk for 2-3 months in a regular freezer, and for up to 6 months in those huge freezers.
Don’t give up hope! Give yourself a good month to get your production up and running. There is nothing wrong with you if you don’t produce that much in the first week. You’re not a fountain! You’re a mom. And you’ll most likely do just fine :). Your body will produce exactly what your baby needs to drink, whether you express or breastfeed. And if that still stresses you out, you might find this information comforting:
At the age of 1-2 days, a baby’s stomach can hold approximately the volume of a cooked chickpea. From 3-6 days of age, it can contain 1-2 oz, about the size of a grape. By the end of the first month, the stomach can hold food about the volume of a strawberry.
For more information: