tips + tricks for nursing and troubleshooting your pump


Oh, what a whirlwind nursing can be. As a previous mother/baby nurse, and now a full-time mama, I have gained a lot of experience with breastfeeding, pumping, etc. I am, by no means, an expert; but I thought I would answer some of the most commonly asked questions about this topic.

When I worked mother-baby at the hospital, we would help mamas + babies learn how to breastfeed for the first few days of life (ie positioning, making sure baby is getting enough to eat, getting used to on-demand nursing sessions).  However, mamas take note: it is a WHOLE different world when you get home. When your milk comes in, it’s a total game changer>>no one can prepare you for that. My experience with that could write an entire second post, but we will discuss that later! Nevertheless, when I had Cam, I thought I would be a pro at breastfeeding since I knew how everything from my RN experience. NO. I have taught myself so much through my own experience, talking with my sister-in-law, and honestly> trial and error.

Cam and I went through so many obstacles breastfeeding>>engorgement, thrush, oversupply, dips in supply (after returning to work), latch issues on one side (using nipple shield), etc. I totally feel ya, mamas! No woman is perfect, we all have struggles. Some just may choose not to talk about it. I am just an open book and hope that some of our struggles or tips from our experience help another mama out! Here are the questions I am asked the most:

How do I wean off the nipple shield?

Cam loved my left side, but hated nursing on my right side at the beginning, plus I had major engorgement- hence, the dreaded nipple shield was brought out. We used it only on the right side and it was SO annoying. But, you know what? It worked. As he became a more efficient nurser, I would try to start him on my right with the nipple shield and let him get a few sucks in to trigger my letdown. Then, I would take away the shield and try to latch him on without it (but my milk was flowing at this point). It really helped. There were definitely times it just wasn’t going to happen without the shield, but I started trying without it slowly>>and it worked! By the time he was 2 months, he was a pro on both sides sans shield. I would not recommend just taking it away cold turkey. I would also recommend in the beginning stages of weaning, make sure your milk is flowing first before taking away the shield.

How do I increase my supply, fast?

The best way to increase your supply is to nurse, nurse, nurse! Babies will extract milk from your breast way better than any pump could. However, if you’re pumping, or your baby is having trouble nursing- bust out that pump and go to town. Milk is supply/demand. When your breasts are “empty” (they’re never truly empty) from nursing or pumping, it signals your body to create more milk. When it’s being used, your body knows more needs to be replenished. Dry pumping is really helpful as well. I also recommend taking a supplement such as fenugreek. I had a great experience with this Lactation Plus supplement by the Honest Company. Remember, it’s not a magic pill. However, if you combine taking this supplement + diligent pumping/nursing, I promise, you’re golden.

When nursing on one side, the other is constantly leaking and I feel like I am losing milk- what can I do to save it?

Buy this thing. I WISH I had known about this when I was in the early stages of my breastfeeding journey. While your baby is nursing on one side and the other is letting down or leaking as well, this will collect that extra milk. I went through so much wasted milk since I didn’t have or know about this! All my extra milk ended up in my nursing pads I would stuff in my bra so I wasn’t soaked at the end of a nursing session. So blissful.

What is foremilk and hindmilk?

Oh, this is such a debacle. Foremilk is the watery milk that quenches baby’s thirst and provides them with so many great nutrients as well, but has little fat. Hindmilk is the thick protein-rich fatty milk. BOTH are important and everyone has different amounts of each. That is okay! I really struggled with oversupply at the beginning, therefore, I had way more foremilk and not much hindmilk. Foremilk is usually a watery consistency and has a bluish tint. Hindmilk is thicker and creamier. I know women that have more foremilk (myself) and some that produce more hindmilk. Both are fine. As long as your baby is gaining weight properly and nursing well, it does not matter. Do yourself a favor and DON’T stress about it. If I had a penny for every time someone told me I had “skim milk” because Cam is not chunky, I’d be rich. I always worried-what if he’s not getting enough? Is this a bad thing? Don’t compare. It’s annoying, fed is best, and no one can control the type of milk their body produces.  If your baby is happy, nurses well, and seems content- THEY ARE.

What is dry pumping?

Dry pumping is pumping past your milk’s initial letdown. Essentially, you will be pumping and nothing is coming out. This is signaling your body that more milk is being requested, but it’s not there. Therefore, it will create more for the next time. Do this for a couple days to about a week and it’s a HUGE supply booster. I would dry pump after I nursed Cam and put him to bed. This would finish “emptying” my breasts, then tell my body that I still needed more. It has helped my supply majorly. I still do it every night before bed. I think this is especially important if your baby sleeps through the night.

What if my pump isn’t suctioning very well?pump membrane

Check. your. membranes. This was a tip my sister-in-law gave me and it was GOLD. The membranes are the little white rubbery flaps attached to the phalange that screws onto the bottle. The should be changed every 4-6 weeks. When you go past that time frame, the membranes get flimsy and don’t help much with suction. You can test by holding your pump phalanges upside down. If the white membrane is not flush with the yellow piece, it’s time to change.  When you change them, it’s a night and day difference. You will be much more efficient at “emptying” your breasts. If this doesn’t work- try replacing the tubes. Otherwise, call your pump brand and most will send you a new one for free.

What is the extra button on my double-electric breast pump?

letdown button pump

The small button with drops near it on your pump is a “letdown” button. This thing is so useful once you realize what it does! It changes the frequency of suction. Once your milk lets down, you can press this button to cause longer, slower “sucks”, just like a baby’s suction pattern changes when they’re nursing and your milk lets down. After letdown, you’ll notice your baby doing longer, slower sucks to get as much milk as possible with each gulp. I like to use this button as a supply booster too. Once your initial letdown has already occurred and milk is no longer coming out, I will hit this button again to cause the short, fast burst of “sucks”. Doing this for a little while will eventually trigger another letdown and this mimics a long nursing session from baby. Play with it and see what works!

How long should I be pumping?

It’s up to you. If you’re trying to increase or maintain your supply, I would say 15-20 minutes. That might seem long to some, but you do what you gotta do, amiright? Some women do just fine with 10 minute pumping sessions, but I always wanted/needed more time. Everyone is different! Would your baby be done in 10 minutes? If so, that might be great for you. Cam was always a long nurser and nursed often- so once I returned to work, I had to try my best to mimic it. The times I didn’t, I definitely noticed a dip in my supply.

I will do another set of questions like this in a couple weeks. Just remember, we are all in this together! Don’t feel defeated- know that this too shall pass. Everyone’s experience is different so PLEASE don’t compare! I wish I would have had someone to tell me that at the beginning when I felt like a huge failure. Cam and I went through many struggles, but we are 8.5 months in and he’s never had anything but mama’s milk (and solids), and that is something I am very proud of. Do keep in mind- FED is BEST. For those of you that may have to supplement, there are so many great ways to do it!

Please let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them in a timely manner!

xx karrie

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