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I Quit Pumping and Finally Made More Milk

Photograph by Twenty20

Pumping has always been the bane of my existence. I don’t think anyone really loves pumping, but as a low-supply mom, my efforts were rarely rewarded with more than two or three ounces. All that work for so little milk had left me quite sore, both emotionally and physically.

My first attempt at nursing nearly failed when I didn’t produce milk for three weeks and spent the first few months of my son’s life power pumping every two hours. The whole experience left me totally depleted, to the point where I decided I wouldn’t have any more children because I felt like such a failure as a mom. Fortunately, I ended up changing my mind.

The second time around, I had less supply challenges, but I can’t say I enjoyed pumping any more. My breasts had gotten softer and would literally get sucked into the pump, and the constant whee-whoo-whee-whoo of the pump brought so many memories of cold, lonely nights huddled over my breast pump. Add to that a whining toddler who demanded to be played with (because clearly I wasn’t busy) and I got so tense that it was no surprise my supply dropped.

As part of my plan to get my supply up, I hired a Chinese lactation masseuse (yes, that’s a job, and most women in China use them) to help get things flowing again. She covered my bed in doggy pads, asked me to lay down and then carefully covered me with warm blankets, exposing one breast at a time as she started her massage, which ended up lasting nearly two hours.

As she kneaded through my breasts, she observed blockages, areas of swelling and backed-up milk, and even analyzed the spray from my nipples. (My right side is a total underperformer!) I was shocked when she managed to extract another four or five ounces from my breasts, even though I had done a warm compress and pumped for 30 minutes before she came over.

She explained that breast pumps—even ones that are properly fitted (believe it or not, I bought six different sizes of flanges before I found two that fit, and they happen to be two different sizes)—do a poor job of emptying the breast, so it was crucial that I followed up with a massage after every feeding and pumping in order to maintain my supply.

As part of my plan to get my supply up, I hired a Chinese lactation masseuse (yes, that’s a job, and most women in China use them) to help get things flowing again.

Following her advice, I was, indeed, able to keep up my supply and, for the first time in my fraught relationship with pumping, I was able to produce just a little bit more than I needed. But I still hated pumping and my Chinese mother-in-law refused to use frozen milk, so I was technically overproducing.

Then one night, as I was lugging my freshly pumped milk downstairs, something occurred to me: I technically didn’t need to pump anymore.

The next time I finished nursing, I simply grabbed a washcloth and quickly expressed the remainder of the milk, threw the cloth in the laundry and went back to sleep. I got out more than my pump and, despite the fact that I didn’t save it, it magically reappeared for my next feeding.

My nurse’s technique was super simple and slightly reminded me of the cows I used to milk as a young girl in the German countryside. I simply start by gently wiggling the breast (which always makes me grin) and then pinching the nipple while pushing down gently on the breast. It usually takes a minute to get started, but once it does, you can slow down a little and you’ll see long streams of glorious milk flying everywhere.

Once I mastered the technique, I was finally able to rid myself of the pump. If I had to drive into LA for business, I no longer carried my pumping bag with my Freemies (which all working moms should get, if you ask me!) and an ice pack. Instead, I simply grabbed a bottle, did a quick express and was able to get it home in time for my daughter to drink. Sometimes I even popped into the bathroom during small breaks to relieve myself (of milk), rather than waiting until there was a convenient time to take a long break, messaging my brain to make milk much more often than before.

And the results? Well, they were awesome! This approach not only helped me make more milk, but it also prevented the blocked ducts and swollen breasts that I would get whenever I couldn’t pump in time or when my baby slept through the night.

For the first time in my life, I finally have enough milk to feed my baby when she’s hungry—and now that I can actually pump out at least one serving at a time, I feel so much better about pumping, overall.

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