Breastfeeding & Expressing – Establishing & Maintaining Your Supply

Breastfeeding & Expressing - Establishing & Maintaining Your Supply

Do You Plan On Breastfeeding?

There is so much pressure on new mums these days to breastfeed.

It’s one of the questions that you are asked on a regular basis by the midwives and health visitors. They say they there’s no pressure but everything you read has an oversized headline ‘why breast is best’ and the way the midwives word their questioning about it…. ‘so do you plan on breastfeeding?’ It feels a like it’s naughty to even mention the word formula, like it’s a taboo subject!!!

Before having Maisie, I’ve always been one of those who felt a little bit uncomfortable at the sight of someone breastfeeding. I always feel like I don’t really know where to look. One part of me thinks I’m really uncomfortable seeing women breastfeeding in public places and another part of me thinks ‘well why shouldn’t they, it’s absolutely natural and it’s what us mom’s are meant to do!’.

When I was asked the all important question by the midwife at my antenatal appointment, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. Of course, giving a child breastmilk probably is the best thing to do, breastmilk surely provides baby with everything that they need however, on the flip side, this would mean that daddy wouldn’t be able to feed Maisie, nor would anyone else and in all honesty I wasn’t all that struck on the idea of breastfeeding.  The thought of it made me cringe a little bit.  The idea of a baby stuck on the end of my boob wasn’t really that appealing and doing it in public?? No way!! There was no way I could do that! Lots of people told me that as soon as Maisie arrived I would feel differently and it would feel like the most natural thing ever so I was happy to go with that thought and resided myself to giving it a go.   I thought if I combined it with expressing, that would be an ideal scenario as other people would be able to feed her as well (oh and daddy could help with the night feeds!!)  I went ahead and bought my electric breast pump in preparation.

6 weeks before her due date, Maisie made an early appearance into the world by Emergency C-section. Although not a poorly baby, she had a stay in the Neonatal Unit and needed some time to grow and develop.  One of the conditions of her being discharged home was that feeding was established (breast or bottle) so as you can imagine I was keen to do all that I could to get her home ASAP!  I expressed a little bit the day that she arrived and when I say a little bit, I mean a little bit. The nurse literally took it in a tiny syringe. Although this seemed crazy to me, when I actually understood that the size of a newborns tummy was no more than the size of a cherry,  I soon realised that this tiny amount was plenty!

Size of Newborn Stomach
Size of Newborn Baby’s Stomach

When you first begin to express/breastfeed, what comes out is just colostrum, also known as liquid gold! This sticky substance is full of antibodies which help to protect your little one from bacteria and viruses. It also has a laxative effect which will help baby expel the first tar like black poo, known as meconium. After a couple of days, the colostrum amount increased and I could see that it was turning more and more liquid like, although it was still very orange.

Despite my initial reluctance about breastfeeding, Maisie’s early appearance made me want to do all that I could to help her grow in both size and strength to get home. As well as expressing (which was fed down a nasogastric tube) we were also trying to breastfeed. Unfortunately, Maisie being premature meant that she was very sleepy and also her little mouth was so tiny that she was struggling to latch.  After over a week of trying to breastfeed and lots of uhm’ing and ahh’ing, we decided to try Maisie with bottle of expressed breastmilk.  I didn’t think that the Nurses on the Neonatal Unit would be keen on the idea but I couldn’t have been more wrong. They encouraged me to do what I felt that I should do and were very positive about giving it a go!  This was a huge relief and Maisie loved it!! The first bottle was a huge success!

Maisie First Bottle Expressed Breastmilk
Maisie First Bottle Expressed Breastmilk

I expressed every 3 hours or so using the hospitals Medela electric pump. I also expressed once during the night.   After a few days I could gradually see the amount increasing and I was soon producing way more than Maisie needed. Fortunately, breast milk keeps really well. People are told different things but I was told to remember 6, 6 and 6 so 6 hours fresh, 6 days in the fridge and 6 months in the freezer.

Arriving Home with a Newborn

When Maisie and I finally got home, I must admit that my ‘every 3 hours’ routine went to pot a little bit.  Being a first time mom is difficult, there is so much to do at first, before you settle into a routine, particularly when baby has arrived unexpectedly.  It seems like we had a constant stream of visitors and fitting in pumping sessions every 3 hours was difficult!!  Some nights, we would have a slice of toast for our dinner at around 11pm!!    Anyway, I digress….. my point is that maintaining the 3 hourly pumping session when you are exclusively expressing is difficult.  Not so bad when you are breastfeeding as you have no choice but to feed but when expressing, it is easy to put it off until later.

Looking back, my putting it off until later meant that when I did express, I expressed for a longer period of time.  Each session would take me 50-60 minutes (25-30minutes each side) and in hindsight me doing that has slowed the let down of my milk. This has resulted in me needing to express for a longer period of time each session.  I probably should have expressed more regularly but for a shorter period.  I also used to time from the end of the last session rather than the start, meaning that actually, i was probably doing it every 5 hours rather than every 4. It is important to time from the start of each session.   I certainly could have improved my routine but again, as a new mom it is all a big learning curve and it is only when you have done it and tried different things do you know better for next time.

Whether you are breastfeeding, expressing or both, it is normal for a new mum to worry about her breast milk supply.  It’s normal to feel that you aren’t producing enough, after all, you just want the best for your baby.  When Maisie was around 4 weeks old, I felt that my supply really dropped.  I was probably getting half the amount of milk each session and when I could see that there was only 1 bottle of milk stored in the fridge for the next feed, this panicked me.  I think then the more pressure I put on myself and the more I worried about it, the worse it got. I didn’t want to be in a situation where the next feed was reliant on me expressing enough.  I talked to my midwife and she recommended taking Fenugreek. Fenugreek is a herb commonly used in Indian cooking and has what i would describe as an aniseed/maple syrup flavour to it. One of the side effects of taking Fenugreek is that it helps increase milk supply and as it is 100% natural, i thought i would give it a go!   The lady in the health food shop warned me not to take the amount recommended on the bottle (which was 4 capsules if i remember rightly?) as she said it was very strong so  I only had 2 in the first day.  Well that night, it seemed that the greatest effect that it had on me was a laxative effect!! Not wanting to pass this on to Maisie through my breast milk, I stopped taking them straight away.   This is not to say that it would be the same for someone else, everyone’s tummy reacts differently I guess.

Lactation Cookies

After my laxative experience I googled and researched and many websites talked about lactation cookies.  Firstly, the word cookie drew me in but then when I read about how beneficial they could be I thought it was definitely worth a try. There are lots of recipes free to use online for lactation cookies but I am no Mary Berry at the best of times, nevermind with a newborn so i thought it best to just buy some.  I couldn’t find any in the high street shops but i did find a small company where I was able to order online.   Before I continue, I just want to make clear that I am in no way affiliated with with this company, nor any others mentioned in my blog and i have not been compensated in any way for my mentioning of their brand in my blog.  This is simply my experience and personal recommendation.

The company that I used for the lactation cookies was Boobbix.   When I first found them and i was looking through the different flavours I was a little taken aback at the price. They were £9.00 a box.  Because of this, I looked into the key ingredients of lactation cookies thinking I would be able to make my own for much less, however, I couldn’t.  A few of the ingredients weren’t readily available in the supermarket, especially not in rural Shropshire where I live and had i have bought/ordered online all of the ingredients, that plus my time would have been far more than £9.00 so to me this was justifiable.  Plus, if they actually worked, I couldn’t put a price tag on the relief that would bring me.   I ordered the Cranberry and Almond and Chocolate Chip & Oat. For the first couple of days I ate 3/4 a day as thats what the lovely lady at Boobix had suggested when I contacted her to ask the recommended amount.  To be quite honest, eating 3/4 a day was easy as they were delicious!  I would sit down with a drink, a cookie and relax whilst expressing.  I made myself stop looking at the bottle and watching every little drop go into the bottle and instead, I would cover it and think about something else or just watch something I enjoyed on TV. After 4 days, I noticed a huge difference and felt that I was back on track with my supply. Get your feet up, have a coffee, eat cookies, produce milk!!!  Dream!

Nursing Tea

At around week 9, the same thing happened again. Immediately I ordered a box of Boobbix lactation cookies but I also ordered some Neuners Organic Nursing Tea. This tea had won awards for it’s effectiveness at increasing milk supply. This combination of the Boobbix cookies and the Neuners Tea was definitely the way forward!!! I noticed a difference almost immediately!  The tea is 100% natural, there are no nasties in it and it isn’t an unpleasant flavour.   I would say it tasted rather like aniseed, that would be the Fenugreek making an appearance again.  You’ll be pleased to know that this time the amount of Fenugreek was less than when I took the capsules and didn’t result in me spending my evening in the bathroom!    For the first time in 10 weeks, I was beginning to build a stock of milk in the freezer!  I’m sure that knowing this also helped me as there was no pressure on me then, I felt far more relaxed about it and i truly believe that not stressing about it is half your battle fought.

Neuners Tea
Neuners Tea

So, there are LOTS of things that you can do to help build, maintain and increase your milk supply and I have merely touched on these things here.  But what I have done is talk about what worked for me. Not all mummies are the same and not all babies are the same.  What works for one may not necessarily work for another but the most important thing in my eyes, is to try different things to see what works for you. Be this breast or be it bottle.  Remember, happy mum = happy baby.

In Summary

Here are a few pointers to help build, maintain and increase that I found to be helpful (probably moreso to mum’s who are exclusively expressing):

  • From the day that your baby is born, try to express some colostrum.  This is so important as is full of antibodies.
  • Express regularly – every 3 hours at least and always time your next pumping session from the START of the last one. Try and fit in around 8-10 pumping sessions a day for the early months)
  • Continue to express for 2-5 minutes after the last drop of milk.
  • Always pump at least once during the night until a good supply is established.
  • Don’t sit and stare at the milk going into the bottle, cover up and relax.  Put your feet up, watch some TV, drink tea and eat cookies! Lol.
  • If you are trying to build supply, have a weekend of pumping and nothing else.   Express every 2 hours or so, regardless of how much milk you get.  The stimulation will mimic baby feeding and will make the body believe it needs to produce more.  I did this for 2 days and it did seem to help.
  • If your stock in the fridge is low, perhaps combine what you have with a little bit of formula to make it go further for a day and during that day, you can rebuild your stock of breastmilk.
  • Power pump – this mimics a baby cluster feeding and helps to increase supply. Try spending a whole hour where you pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes etc.  This will signal to your body to increase the milk supply.  It isn’t intended to replace your usual pumping routine, merely to enhance it.

I have found Kellymom to be a fantastic website with lots of insightful information and help on this subject.  Well worth a visit. 🙂 Click HERE to visit Kellymom.

Do you have any tips that you could share to help other moms? Please share in the comments box below! 

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