Going back to work presents more than just juggling child care. Another issue for me is providing enough expressed milk for the carers while I am away. In the beginning, I was able to double pump and easily fill two 6+ ounces bottles. I was a veritable cow. Moo moo moo. But as the boys have increased their solids, and stopped a night feed or two, I now wait impatiently while the little drops, drop, drop, drop barely manage to measure 2 ounces. I would wonder… if I am nursing every few hours during the day, when should I pump? I started expressing at the end of the day, just as I would get into bed, and hardly gather a thimbleful. Should I set my alarm to wake at 2am and pump then?
Then the other day, after a swim at the lake, when I tried to nurse the boys upon our return, both of them snubbed me. Ryan clenched his teeth and turned his head in the most disapproving manner. Ummph! Then little Logie smiled his goofy grin and looked up at me in confusion. This was a first! So disturbing. What is wrong with me? Does this mean it’s time to stop nursing? Are they self-weaning? I felt a true sadness thinking about this. There is something very sweet about nursing. Curled up on my lap, their legs and arms dangling limply, both of our eyes closed in the quiet, cool darkness of their nursery. My bubba and I slowly rocking away on my cream micro-suede glider, with matching footstool. In my hectic day, this is a peaceful time I enjoy, strangely enough.
I thought I would do a bit of research on the matter. To find out if in fact they are self-weaning, whether I should worry or whether this is all part of the normal process. According to a popular breastfeeding site, true self-weaning before a baby is a year old is very uncommon. In fact, it is unusual for a baby to wean before 18-24 months unless mom is encouraging weaning. A baby who is weaning on his own:
is typically well over a year old (more commonly over 2 years)
is at the point where he gets most of his nutrition from solids
drinks well from a cup
cuts down on nursing gradually
Other websites informed me that there are many reasons why a mum’s milk supply will reduced, such as: a baby may become less interested in nursing or become too distracted; a consistent decrease in nursing frequency will signal your body to decrease milk supply; a sudden decrease in a mum’s calorie intake, combined with rapid weight loss (unfortunately not my situation!) can result in decreased milk supply; overly rapid increase in the amounts of solids or too early (before 6 months) and of course decreased nursing will lead to an even lower milk supply. If milk supply is low, baby may grow to prefer a cup or bottle simply because he can get more milk this way.
I also wanted to learn how milk production speeds up or slows. It only took me eleven and a half months to ask this question, but better late than never…
Milk contains a small whey protein called Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation (FIL) – the role of FIL appears to be to slow milk synthesis when the breast is full. Thus milk production slows when milk accumulates in the breast (and more FIL is present), and speeds up when the breast is emptier (and less FIL is present). Cool! I’m more than ever amazed at the human body.
The question remains as to why I no longer seem to be able to pump much milk. Supposedly, the pump cannot remove milk from the breast as well as an effectively nursing baby. Most moms who are nursing full-time are able to pump around 1/2 to 2 ounces total (for both breasts) per pumping session. Many moms think that they should be able to pump 4-8 ounces per pumping session, but even 4 ounces is an unusually large pumping output. It seems that the amount of milk that you pump is not a measure of your milk supply. Researchers have observed that milk volume is typically greater in the morning hours (A-Ha! So 10pm is not the time to do it), and falls gradually as the day progresses, conversely, fat content tends to increase as the day progresses.
To speed milk production and increase overall milk supply, the key is to remove more milk from the breast and to do this frequently, so that less milk accumulates in the breast between feedings. Tips include:
Cluster pumping – instead of a regular nursing/pumping session. Sit down with your baby and your pump, and nurse and pump every half-hour to hour for several hours. (Umm, no thanks!)
Do a 2-3 day long power pump every couple of weeks to “super charge” their milk supply. On these days, get lots of rest, nurse very frequently and pump after as many nursing sessions as possible. (Sounds like too much work to me)
Eating oatmeal has been found to be very helpful for increasing pumping output. It can also be helpful to snack on protein-rich foods during the day and to have something to drink every time you sit down to pump or nurse. Although there is no scientific evidence regarding oatmeal and milk supply, in some countries, “traditional wisdom” recommends eating oatmeal as a way to increase milk supply. A number of lactation consultants recommend eating oatmeal as a way to increase supply. (Alright! We have a solution – I love oatmeal!)