Pumping milk is hard work as a NICU mom. Here are some strategies to help keep your milk flowing strong!
Making Milk When Away from Your Baby
The most important thing you can do to start making milk is to pump your breasts early and often! The goal is to pump 8-12x/day.
Why pump so often? Well, newborn babies eat a lot – sometimes every 2 hours around the clock. All that eating pulls a woman’s milk in and keeps her milk supply growing over the first two weeks of life. When you’re separated from your baby, your body doesn’t get those signals to make lots of milk. But that’s where the breast pump comes in! Pumping tells your breasts and your brain to start making milk, even when the baby is not there. The best way to make the most milk is to start pumping within 1 hour of your baby’s birth and then keep pumping at least 8x/day, or every 2-3 hours. It is very important that at least 1 pump is done overnight to keep the milk coming in. Newborns do not sleep through the night so no 8-10 hour overnight snoozes quite yet, Mom!
Remember, think of pumping like a feeding. Your breasts and your brain don’t know your baby went to the NICU. We need to trick them with the pump to get your milk flowing.
Skin-to-Skin Makes a Difference
Holding your baby skin-to-skin sends signals to your brain and breasts that your baby is near and needs to be fed. Pumping right after holding skin-to-skin will usually result in more milk pumped.
Skin-to-skin is also great for the baby! No matter how small, babies know their moms. When a baby is close, he/she can hear your heartbeat and smell your skin. Being near to you helps regulate a baby’s temperature, breathing, and heart rate. It’s a great opportunity for you to feel connected to your little one!
Ask your NICU nurse if your baby is stable for skin-to-skin and do it as often as possible.
Short Term Goals Work Best
If your baby will be in the NICU and unable to nurse for a long time, it’s easy to get discouraged with pumping. Only set short term goals!
Focus on the first two weeks to start. The first two weeks after your baby’s birth are the most important for following a regular pumping schedule. Studies show that frequent pumping in the beginning sets the tone for the future. If you can build a big supply early, then it may be possible to back off pumping later.
Give Your Milk Supply Time!
In the first few days after birth, getting drops to nothing with pumping is normal!
Your early milk – called colostrum – is very thick and does not always move as well with the pump. It’s different than the milk that will flow easily after your milk comes in. This early colostrum is still very important for your NICU baby. Even if you’re only getting small drops or a little wetness while pumping, colostrum is packed full of infection fighting cells that help a baby build his/her immune system. Talk to your nurse about how you can save even the smallest drops to give to your baby!
If you’re pumping and not seeing drops or wetness, keep going! You might not see the milk but your brain and your breasts feel the suction of the pump and are getting ready to bring your milk in. There are things happening inside your breast tissue that you can’t see. Don’t give up!
Remember, it takes the average first time mom 3-5 days for her milk to come in. It can take even longer (up to 7 days) depending on your delivery and health. Keep pumping, Mom!
Keep Logs & Set Reminders
Whether on paper or in a mobile phone app, keeping logs is proven to help you make more milk! Write down when you start pumping and how much for each session. Then total it all up for 24 hours blocks of time.
Use your phone, alarm clock, support person or nurse – no matter how you choose to remind yourself, just set times to pump. Hours pass quickly and days can blur. Give yourself a little help.
It’s important not to obsess too much about what you make per pumping session. It can vary between breast, time of day, and how long since you last pumped. The most important thing is to see is an upward trend in your 24 hours totals. Depending on a variety of health conditions, it can take as long as 2-3 weeks to fully establish your supply – so keep going!
Plan for Rest
If mom’s not happy, no one’s happy!
Pumping is a lot of work and great for your baby but you also have to find time to take care of yourself. Make sure you’re eating and drinking. Even we frequent pumping, you can still get creative and find a way to set aside a 4-5 hour stretch for uninterrupted sleep. You can still meet your goal of 8 pumping sessions/day.
Hope these tips and tricks help you on your pumping journey, always feel free to reach out the Keriton team for any support.