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Top 5 breast milk pumping problems and how to fix them

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Top 5 breast milk pumping problems and how to fix them By Mim Jenkinson

Breastfeeding can be one of the most memorable and bonding experiences you can have with your baby. It can also be challenging, especially in the early days, and can have a big impact on the confidence of a new mother.

Many mums choose to express breast milk to help increase breast milk supply or to store for future feeds and with that comes questions about how to do it correctly.

We’re sharing the top five breast milk pumping problems and how to fix them with some expert advice from our sponsor, Medela.

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1. When should I start expressing breast milk?

A mum’s decision to start expressing breast milk can vary. She needs to increase her supply by stimulating breast milk production, build up a supply for her to return to work or want to share some feeds with others.

Katie James, Education Manager at Medela, advises to wait for around six weeks until your try out expressing.

Katie says “this is because the first month is about working out how to get your milk supply off to a good start as well as finding your feet with breastfeeding. Those first 4-8 weeks can be highly challenging for many mums just getting breastfeeding down-pat. So, unless you have to, leave the expressing until you are feeling confident with breastfeeding. For most new mums this is around 6-8 weeks).

Katie adds that “the milk cells are laying all the foundations to create a brilliant milk supply in that first few weeks. The breasts need your baby to be feeding frequently to keep stimulating further milk production.

Sometimes the idea of expressing a lot of milk in the daytime and getting a partner to feed it to baby all the way through the night sounds absolutely perfect but in these early stages, long gaps between feeds can sometimes hinder your milk supply. So, it is important to get it right.

Read Medela’s blog for more info here.

After the first four to six weeks, a milk supply is established, and this will allow the introduction of an expressed feed.

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 2. How can I express breast milk when I’m away from my baby?

A hormone called oxytocin is responsible for allowing breast milk to flow, or “let down”. Otherwise known as the “love hormone”!

The hormone is released from the brain to help muscle cells to contract around the milk cells, which pushes milk towards the nipple and the milk is pushed towards the nipple to baby.

But how is oxytocin released?

Gazing into your baby’s eyes during cuddles and breastfeeding play a big part.

What happens when you’re not with your baby?

Medela has some practical advice to help you relax and set yourself up for expressing success:

  1. Find a quiet and relaxing place without distractions.
  2. Close your eyes and take five deep breaths before expressing.
  3. Gently massage, stroke and compress your breasts.
  4. Look at pictures and watch videos of your beautiful baby to stimulate oxytocin.

 3. How much expressed breast milk should I give my baby at a feed?

Medela says “the average baby drinks about 800ml per day from one to six months in age. Some babies will drink all this over 4-6 feeds per day, whilst other babies need 9-12 feeds per day to drink the same amount.”

 For breastfeeding mums, the amount of milk they can make and store varies greatly. No two mums are the same.

You will soon get an idea for how much breast milk you are able to express at each pumping session and how much your baby drinks at each bottle feed.

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4. How often should I express breast milk to build a supply for when I return to work?

When you’re planning to return to work, also factor in when to start to build your expressed breast milk supply. Returning to work after maternity leave can be both exciting and challenging and forward planning can help to minimise any stress.

To build a supply, Katie advises that “a good guide is to start expressing about six weeks before returning to work”. This should mean you can create a good batch of stored milk without getting too stressed out trying to express really frequently before you return to work! This way you can gradually build up a supply of expressed milk in your freezer and feel ready in time for when you finally return to work.

Katie also recommends that mums “try expressing in the mornings as often your baby will have a certain time frame where they sleep well and our milk supply is often highest in the early hours. Depending on how much milk you express you may want to express once or twice per day.”

5. How can I safely store breast milk at work or home?

There are many reasons why a breastfeeding mum might choose to express and store batches of breast milk. Perhaps you want to share more feeds with your partner, you’re going to be out for a day without your baby or you might be returning to work.

To safely express and store pumped breast milk at home, you will need a great breast pump, room in your fridge or freezer and breast milk storage containers.

Breast milk can be stored at room temperature, in the refrigerator or in the freezer and you can find out more about Medela’s safe breast milk storage guidelines here.

Freezing breast milk can save space in your fridge and help build a long-term supply of breast milk. To find out more about how to freeze and thaw expressed breast milk, click here.

When returning to work, find out from your employer what options you have there for expressing and storing breast milk. More importantly you will need a safe, clean and comfortable space to express and time to express. It is important to find out about your rights when returning to work and expressing and have had a discussion with your employer in advance.

Many breast milk expressing concerns resolve themselves over time and your confidence in expressing will grow.

It is never too late to seek more information about combining breastfeeding and expressing with your maternal child health nurse, lactation consultant or Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor.

For any further questions you might have on breast milk pumping problems, or to check out the full Medela breast pump and accessory range, visit their website here.

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