This is actually a post I told myself I wasn't going to write. There are so. many. freaking. mommyblogs that talk about pumping, and breastfeeding in general. And it's great! I love that so much of this information is available now.
BUT, even with the prevalence of blogs talking about pumping, some of the information which helped me the most still took me a while to find. I've made no secret of the fact that Baby and I had a rough start to breastfeeding, and it made me very nervous to only be pumping during the weekdays, since that can decrease supply. But things are going really well so far, especially after I did some research, not only online but also asking people I know and love for their advice. One of my cousins pumped so much extra milk that she literally donated gallons of breastmilk to her local breastmilk bank (seriously, she posted pics to Facebook that made me envious), not just once but several times.
So, after all of my research and asking, here's what's helped me the most and a few facts which might be hard to find.
First, there's the amount you pump at a given time. So many of the blogs with posts about pumping show pictures with two VERY full bottles. Like, 5 ounces in each. Or more. This can make the rest of us feel a little inadequate in our pumping. However, most of these women are pumping full time. If you start off with only pumping (and there are a variety of reasons why women need to do this) then your body will begin to respond to the pump as if it's your child and you'll get a lot more from the pump at any given time. For the rest of us, our bodies don't like the pump as much because they know what it's like to have a baby suckling, and the pump is just second best. It is perfectly normal to only get a few ounces each time you pump. On a really good day, and if I've had to push off pumping for a little while so that my boobs feel like they're going to burst, I can get a bit over four ounces. (I would show a picture here, but my iPod died so I don't have a camera handy.) I think the most I ever pumped at one time was about 5 ounces, total. And this is fine! Don't expect to fill up both bottles each time. I aim for eight ounces each workday, and just cheer for myself if I happen to get more.
It is perfectly normal to get more milk from one boob than from the other. Again, you'll see all kinds of pictures online of perfectly even bottles completely full of breastmilk. Again, these tend to be from full-time pumping moms. For the rest of us, baby drank from one boob after the other, and and boob #2 might not have filled up as much in the intervening time. Or one side just plain doesn't respond to the pump as well. One of my boobs literally squirts milk for the pump, and the other tends to have more of a slow dripping leak for the pump. THIS IS NORMAL.
You might not leak at all. I saw so many things about how you NEED to get breastpads so that leaking doesn't seep through your shirt. This has never really come true for me. I've had noticeable leakage a grand total of four times, and each of those times I was at home, feeding my baby on the other side. Even for women who start off leaking, this sometimes stops after baby and body adjust to each other. Leaking doesn't necessarily mean you're a super breastmilk making machine, and not leaking doesn't necessarily mean that you're not making enough milk. Don't worry.
If you're breastfeeding the rest of the time, you might produce less at the end of the week than you did at the beginning. That's ok, if you breastfeed all weekend (even better if you can fit in a pumping session or two) then it'll be sky-high again on Monday. I tend to get 9 1/2 ounces on Monday, and by Friday I'm a bit under 8 ounces total. Sometimes even down around 6 ounces. It all works out, though, and if I can pump a bit over the weekend I can leave 8 fresh ounces in the fridge for Monday.
Big boobs do not necessarily mean big nipples, and small boobs don't necessarily mean small nipples, and the flanges that come with the pump usually fit a little less than half of all women. If you have an improperly fitted flange, you'll regret it. I ended up buying new flanges after Christmas because I'd end up sore after using the pump. Turns out, I'm in the small group of women who actually needed smaller flanges. Since my boobs are normally an overly-large D, and I don't even know what monstrous size they are now (I've been using sizeless bras), that was a bit of a surprise. But pumping is no longer in the least painful and I get a lot more than I was, so I've clearly found the right size for me.
Move the flanges around while you're pumping. My cousin mentioned that no one had told her this the first time around, but having the flanges always in the same places, putting pressure on the same spots, can set you up for mastitis. Ew.
While pumping, many people say to massage the breasts. In my mind, this implies lots of movement, which doesn't work for me. What I do is, after milk stops freely running out, run my thumbs down from the direction of my armpits and wait until I see milk coming out again. (It usually doesn't take long the first time.) I stop there and just hold pressure on that spot until the milk stops flowing. I keep doing this from various directions (working down the sides of my boobs, back up toward my armpits, a little bit on the insides and undersides of my boobs, then back up to my armpits again, etc.) and it's made a noticeable difference. Once I get all the milk I can this way, I move on to....
Hand expression. You'll probably need to do some hand-expression after pumping. I thought it was just me who still felt pretty full after pumping, but I'm not alone. Most women can get quite a bit more from hand expression. (I generally get at least half an ounce, and could get more if not for the time involved.) And if you're feeling like it's painfully slow to hand express milk, don't worry. You get much faster. (If you don't know how to hand express, there are lots of videos on Youtube.) I've found that the best way to do it is actually to switch off between breasts. I do two, er, squeezes on one side, then two on the other, etc. For some reason, having a bit of a rest in between makes everything so much easier.
Getting enough sleep is also crucial. If you're tired, your body is going to prioritize taking care of you. So get enough sleep. With Baby Girl, now that I'm working she wakes me up a bit more often to eat because she doesn't eat as much during the day as she would if I was home. On weekends, when she has free access to me all day, I get woken up once. During the week, it's usually two times, but sometimes even four wake-up calls. So we start getting ready for bed by about 9:30 so that I can get enough sleep, and so that she's not a tired mess when I hand her off to Shane the next morning.
A lot has been written about what you should eat and avoid while breastfeeding and/or pumping. Oats are great, yes. I realize there's no scientific proof that it works, but it does seem to help me. I mean, I ate oatmeal the day my milk finally came in (a few hours later), and this isn't proof but...yeah, I'm a believer.
But the one thing that I didn't really see mentioned in all those lists of what to eat is just an incredibly simple rule: eat a high protein diet. Milk is made of three basic components: water, fat, and protein. Of course it's got all the other good minerals and vitamins and whatnot that your baby needs in it, but the bulk of it is composed of those three things. Everyone emphasizes drinking lots of water, and unless you're under-weight your body has plenty of fat to provide, but I was puzzled for a long time as to why I still wasn't producing much milk even while drinking what felt like gallons. We tend more toward a plant-based diet in our household, with not much meat. So I finally found the advice to eat a bit more protein and HOLY BREASTMILK, BATMAN! Since upping my protein (a little bit more meat and cheese, some cow's milk for me at least most days, and lots of nuts and beans) I haven't had a single day where my supply was inadequate for Baby Girl. Damn, that feels good. I just wish I'd been told about this earlier; it would have made life so much easier.
I said above that I aim for 8 ounces each day, but if I don't get it all I don't stress and here's why: Baby Girl prefers mom over bottle. I wouldn't say that she's "rejected" the bottle, as some people say is a possibility, but she's not a huge fan of it. I freaked out the first week I was gone because on Wednesday I got a call from my mom around noon saying, "She's eaten everything you left in the fridge. Now what?" That was TWELVE OUNCES! That week she ended up drinking everything I produced plus three of the packs from my precious freezer supply. Turns out, she was starting a growth spurt. (I don't have a giant baby, but by the next week she'd grown out of several outfits which had fit her perfectly just a few days before.) For about a week and a half most of my thoughts centered around how to increase my supply (which is where most of my research came from) and what I would do if I just couldn't produce enough for her. Well, my worry was a bit needless because after the growth spurt she's settled into a routine of drinking about 1 1/2 bottles (about 6 ounces) while I'm gone during the day. Since I feed her right before I leave and as soon as I get home, this is working well for us. By the end of the week there's a surplus of milk in the fridge and some of it gets frozen for future growth spurts. Baby Girl spends a good portion of the evening eating and eating and eating, so I know she's getting enough food, and now I don't have to worry about producing enough.
I hope this helps other moms like me, who might have a rough start and who can get discouraged about breastfeeding, especially after returning to work. You're not a failure and you can produce enough food for your baby. It just takes a bit of research to find what works best for you.