With many of my readers & friends / followers knowing about my nursing career in mother-baby, as well as being a mother, myself, my inbox gets flooded with questions all about breastfeeding. Struggles, triumphs, questions & then some. I am by no means an expert, but so happy to share my advice from personal experience, as well as professional experience with helping new moms.
I did a breastfeeding FAQ post last year that you can find here. It goes through more breastfeeding questions in the first weeks and troubleshooting your pump. This post will be more about breastfeeding questions later on, milk storage, etc. All things either you all messaged me about, or things I get questioned about often at work!
s t o r a g e ||
How long can my milk last?
This is a question I get asked all of the time at work! After speaking with our lactation consultant, a lot of our patients are shocked to find out that your breastmilk can still be ‘good’ after being left out (at room temp) for ~10 hours! It can be stored in the refrigerator for 5-7 days, freezer 6+ months, and deep freezer for 1 year.
How do I know if my milk is ‘spoiled’ or unsafe for baby?
So many moms will google this question at some point in their pumping career. Breastmilk can smell and even taste slightly different from day to day depending on a couple factors: hormones, foods mom has eaten, and supply. Foremilk is more watery and what baby gets when they begin their nursing session. This provides them with hydration and some nutrients. Sometimes it can smell a little strong if you’re engorged when you pump (full of foremilk), this is normal. Hindmilk is the thick, fatty milk that helps babies gain weight and it’s full of nutrients as well. Milk will smell like rotten eggs if it’s spoiled (trust me, there’s no ‘guessing’ when you smell it). If you don’t like the smell, your baby probably won’t like the taste.
Can I mix pumped milk from different times or days?
Depends. It’s not going to hurt baby. I actually do this a lot. There are mornings where I wake up super engorged, especially when my babies start sleeping through the night. When I pump, I feel like I will pump 10 oz of straight foremilk. It’s watery, has a blue tint, and only gives me a little relief. I will attach new bottles and continue pumping until the hindmilk comes and my breasts are empty. I am not going to let my baby have a bottle of straight foremilk. She will likely not be satisfied, and I want to make sure she is getting all the fatty nutrients she needs with each feeding as well. Therefore, many times I will mix some of the foremilk from my morning session with milk I pumped late at night after Nora nursed and went to bed (knowing that most of it is hindmilk). Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m genius. I am sure many other moms have done this. Plus, my babies have never had an issue with it!
How should I store my milk if building a ‘freezer stash’?
This is completely up to you. However, I feel that it’s best to freeze your milk soon after you pump it, if you’re not going to use it within the next 24 hours. Some women really like to pump into the breastmilk freezer bags, but for some reason I just never have done that. It would make things really easy, but I like to ‘sort’ what I pump in bottles, then pour how ever many ounces I need to freeze in each bag. This way I can be specific about what I am freezing. You may want to have some 4oz bags, some 6oz bags, etc depending on what your baby needs- and pouring milk from bags to bags can be difficult and spills happen that way! No thanks. Here’s how I like to do things:
- p u m p – into bottles
- s o r t – pour how ever many ounces you want to freeze from bottles to bags
- l a b e l – (name, date, time, and ounces)
- l a y – flat in freezer (I use my freezer connected to my fridge to freeze originally, then move it to the deep freezer once it’s frozen.) It’s way too hard to try to freeze bags by laying flat in a deep freezer.
- o r g a n i z e – once I have a couple frozen bags, I will put them all in a gallon Ziploc freezer bag labeled with the corresponding dates for that milk. This way I can organize my deep freezer and use as much room as possible by stacking freezer bags on top of each other.
d i e t ||
What foods can I not eat when nursing?
I get this question all the time at work. You can eat whatever you want– really- it’s true! We usually tell new moms at the hospital to avoid foods that make them super gassy, just in case it would pass to baby. However, honestly, so little of what we eat passes to baby through breastmilk. You would have to eat major amounts of gas-inducing food to really have an effect on baby. I know some may find that hard to believe, but it’s very much the truth.
What foods will increase my supply?
There is unfortunately no ‘magic potion’ that’s going to increase your supply. The only food with any relevant research behind it increasing milk supply is oats. However, some moms swear by Oreo’s (hey, it’s another excuse, right?!). Fenugreek is a supplement many women recommend for increasing milk supply, and it does work (slightly) if combined with other methods. However, the supplement, itself can make baby gassy. This is because you are dosing your body with way more fenugreek than it’s used to (way different than eating small amounts of foods that make mom gassy). Also, it is a MYTH, yes a myth, that increasing your water intake will increase milk supply. Shocking, I know! I am sure it doesn’t hurt whatsoever, but making yourself chug gallons of water per day is not going to magically help increase your supply. Some moms will absolutely disagree with this, but there is no proven scientific relation between the two. I was just as shocked as you are, folks. If you want some information about increasing supply, keep reading.
s u p p l y ||
Why is my supply dropping?
Supply drops can happen for many reasons: stress, return to work (those 2 go hand-in-hand, right?!), baby becoming a more efficient nurser, etc. It is super frustrating and can play into a vicious cycle (low supply –> stress –> low supply).
First thing to realize is that just because your breasts don’t “feel” as full, does not mean your supply is dropping. Your body begins to adjust to exactly what your baby needs when you are a couple months postpartum. The first few months after your baby is born, your body is trying to ‘figure out’ how much milk is needed. It will begin by making WAY too much (hello, engorgement!) and slowly fluctuate throughout the next couple months, until it settles down and figures things out.
When your baby goes through a growth spurt, they will nurse very frequently- which tells your body to make more milk to satisfy them. This is normal. Your body is an amazing being and will adjust itself to what the baby is requesting.
Some reasons that supply can actually be decreasing all has to do with supply and demand, which I will get to in detail in a bit. Basically, what is repeatedly requested will be rewarded with time. If you are noticing bigger gaps between nursing sessions (baby sleeping through the night, better naps, etc)- your body realizes that milk isn’t being requested as frequently, so it adjusts itself to respond to this decrease, by decreasing the amount produced. Another reason would be starting baby on solids around 6 months. Some babies will eat more food and take in less milk, therefore telling your body that not as much milk is needed. This is all normal as well.
If you truly feel that your supply is dropping, there are absolutely ways to get it back up-keep reading!
What can I do to increase my supply?
Here is the most requested question, ever. I get this at work all the time, and from many of my readers/ followers as well. Again, it is proven. science. that demand=supply. The more you ask for something, the more reward you will receive. However, what people don’t realize is that you have to be consistent. This is huge! The more you request milk (nursing, pumping), the more you’re going to get! This is not an overnight fix (newsflash: nothing is). This is why when your baby goes through a growth spurt and cluster feeds (nurses constantly), your milk supply increases after a couple days! More milk was requested, so more was made. BUT it took a couple days of constant nursing to increase. Remember that.
With all that being said- when in doubt: remove milk (whether this be with nursing or a pump). The ’emptier’ (your breasts are never truly empty) your breasts are, the more milk your body will produce. When I felt like my supply needed a boost with Cam, I would nurse him so he could get whatever he needed, then I would pump to fully empty my breasts after some of the feedings. If you continue pumping past the point of milk removal (no milk is spraying or even dripping out), this is called “dry pumping” and it really can be a game changer if done properly. Sometimes, if you dry pump long enough, you can initiate a second milk let-down reflex. This really tells your body that more milk is needed. Remember- you can’t just do this for a day or two and then quit. I would say 5-7 days of pumping after a few nursing sessions will show results. Once you get your results of increased supply, many moms will quit doing whatever it was that they did to increase it initially (dry pumping), so their supply will slowly decrease back to where it was before, and you’re at square one.
Another way to increase supply is to ‘power pump’. You only need to do this once or twice a day to see results. It would probably work best to do this once your baby goes to bed for the night. This does work if done for 2-5 days or so. It basically simulates a baby who is cluster feeding. Here’s how it works:
- p u m p for 20 minutes
- 10 minute b r e a k
- p u m p for 10 minutes
- 10 minute b r e a k
- p u m p for 10 minutes
l e t d o w n & pumping ||
How do I build a freezer stash?
One of my most asked questions at work. I don’t think you need to worry about doing this until you’re about half way through maternity leave. I started around 7 weeks. I would honestly recommend the ‘haaka pump’. It is a silicone device that attaches to the breast with negative pressure suction and collects your letdown. This works best for women who letdown on both sides at the same time. It also works best for women who nurse only one breast per nursing session (your baby decides this). You attach the device to your breast that you aren’t currently nursing on, while your baby is nursing on the other breast. You can seriously collect major ounces for storing, all while not causing oversupply. Simple! Another option would be to throw in an extra 15-20 minute pump when you put baby down for bed. It can increase your supply slightly because you’re telling your body that another feeding is being requested at that time- but hey, that’s cool!
Why can’t I respond to the pump at work?
Some women & their bodies become so used to the baby nursing to initiate milk letdown, that they don’t respond well to a pump. It’s just not the same. Sometimes it can be helpful to play on your senses to help initiate that letdown- look at pictures of baby, bring their favorite blanket or clothing to smell while you pump. This can play on that hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin will be released when you see or smell your baby, because it gives you the feeling of that closeness- therefore- milk.
Am I supposed to have pain with my let-down?
Each woman is different. It can be normal to have pain or even nausea when your milk lets down. This is due to the hormone oxytocin. Some women claim to have a “tingling sensation” when their milk lets down, while others cannot feel it at all.
How often should I be pumping, & for how long?
Do what you can. However, it is important to note that when your baby gets a bottle, you should be pumping. This way you can “keep up” with him/her. I usually have my babysitter text me when Nora gets a bottle and how many ounces she took. This way, I am making sure that I at least pump what she ate. I try to allot 20 minutes to pump in order to fully ’empty’ the breasts. You have to remember, even if your baby guzzles down a bottle in 5 minutes, that does not mean you only have to pump for 5 minutes. That’s not how this works. You want to remove as much milk (or more) than your baby took in their bottle. A general rule of thumb would be to try to pump every 3 hours for 15-20 minutes, or until no more milk is coming out.
o v e r a c t i v e letdown ||
Do I have an overactive/ fast letdown? Is it a bad thing?
If you notice that when your milk lets down your baby cannot keep up with the flow; you may have overactive letdown. It’s usually caused by oversupply. Basically, your baby is used to having to suck (short, quick sucks) in order to initiate the milk letdown, which will cause them to change their sucks to a long, drawn out pattern, with audible swallowing . If you have oversupply, your breasts’ storage compartments are already full of milk, as well as milk that will come with the let down reflex. As soon as your baby latches on, they’re already getting milk and don’t have to do those short quick sucks to initiate the reflex- however, the reflex will initiate anyway, causing more milk letdown and a baby drowning in liquid gold. I have had this with both my babies and it can be a blessing when your baby is ravenous, but also a curse. Not only does it interrupt your nursing session when baby pulls off the breast choking and gagging- it also can cause both of you to be covered in milk. Aside from this, it can cause gassiness & fussiness because usually baby will be gulping air when they’re trying to keep up with the milk flow. All in all, not the worst thing to have, but also can be tough, especially when you’re out in public.
r e f l u x ||
If my baby spits up, does that mean they have reflux?
Ugh. the dreaded word. I have learned so much through work & Nora having this. A lot of new parents ask me about this when their baby is spitting up. Just because your baby spits up, does NOT mean that it’s because of reflux. All babies will spit up here and there for different reasons and that’s ok. Reflux is a bit of a more intricate process. Basically, think of acid reflux for adults, but in a baby! ouch! Their stomach acid creeps up into their esophagus, causing a lot of pain and a lot of spitting up. Babies all have different symptoms with reflux alongside spitting up: fussiness, gassiness, stridor, back arching, crying during feedings, etc. Usually, if they’re spitting up after every feeding, the worry is weight gain. Some babies (like Nora) didn’t spit up a lot & not after every single feeding, but she was incredibly fussy and gassy. She would cry and I could tell it was a painful cry. I know something wasn’t right and medication helped get my baby girl back! If you wonder about your baby having reflux- consult your pediatrician.
w e a n i n g ||
How do I start the weaning process?
This is not talked about enough! I was so glad some of you sent me this question. First of all, it is important to remember that everyone is different. What works for some, may not work for others. However, go back to the demand = supply motto. The less you ask for something, the less you get it in this case. If you’re wanting to begin the weaning process, only feed your baby when he/she needs it, not any extra. For example, if you’re nursing 3 times per day still, maybe try cutting down one nursing session per day for a week or two and see how they do. Most mamas I know have the hardest time getting rid of the nightly nursing session (comfort nursing) to sleep. If this is the case for you and important for you to keep for a little while, only nurse them then. Don’t rush yourself with weaning!
How do I keep from getting engorged?
If you feel yourself beginning to feel engorged at any point in the weaning process, throw the pump on for 2-3 minutes (just enough time to relieve yourself). You don’t want to pump much longer than that because you will be telling you body that you need more milk, not less. I would also advise using a pump for the times when you just need a little relief, instead of your baby. Remember, if you’re trying to wean, it’s a process for them too. If you were trying to cut back nursing sessions, then start putting them on breast periodically for relief, they may get used to this and expect more nursing sessions per day. This is ok, if that’s what you are wanting! I’m just letting you know that weaning is totally a 2 way street. Big time attachment is an amazing aspect of the nursing bond, but can make things hard when you’re wanting to cut back. Slowly as you decrease sessions and only pump quickly and only for comfort, your supply will keep dwindling.
I hope this helps answer your guys’ questions!