After your milk supply regulates after around 12 weeks postpartum, hormones play less of a part in terms of your milk supply and instead, demand dictates it a lot more. Because of that, I wanted to wait until after I reached 12 weeks to start dropping pumps. Even though I was only pumping about 2-4 times a day in the first week of my baby’s life, and then six times a day in the next three weeks, I increased to seven times per day to increase the demand that would fuel my supply based on what I had read on exclusive pumping via the exclusive pumping mamas website as well as the Facebook support group. These have been my two sources of truth on EP since starting. The exclusive pumping guidelines strongly urge that in the first 12 weeks postpartum, pumping moms pump at minimum 8 to 12 times per day around the clock, every 2 to 3 hours. I knew I would never be able to do that and retain my sanity, and so my compromise to myself was seven pumps per day. Even for those rare moms who have an over supply in their first 12 weeks, if they do not pump at this frequency around the clock, their supply will likely plummet quite drastically after 12 weeks, and so their oversupply tends to be a bit of a false security.
When I reached the 13th week, I finally decided to drop a pump. Instead of pumping approximately every three hours during the day and four hours overnight, I would pump about every four hours around the clock, with a five hour gap between pumps from 3 AM to 8 AM to allow me to sleep a little bit more (yeah, like 3.5 hours vs. 3 – very luxurious as you can tell). Also, it makes sense that I would pump six times a day if my baby eats six times a day. In an ideal world, the amount I pump per pump session would match the amount that my baby needed to eat. This has never been the case, as my supply has always fluctuated throughout the day and yielded very different numbers, so every time I started pumping, it would always feel like a crapshoot as to how much I would produce. However, I have read that this is very common with most women who are lactating, as your prolactin level is constantly fluctuating throughout the day and tends to peak in the middle of the night through the early morning. The only time I could semi-accurately predict what I would produce at a given session at a given time was during the middle of the night pump as well as my very first morning pump when I woke up.
Anyway, I was really scared to drop a pump because I wasn’t sure how my body would react. I was especially scared of losing supply, but I knew that as I approached returning back to work, my eventual goal was to get down to five pumps per day as well as to cut out my overnight pump. And so, dropping at least one pump at this point made sense for me. So I sucked it up and told myself, even if my supply drops by an ounce or so, there is really no going back once I drop pumps. Once I start dropping pumps, the number of pumps per day will only go down, never up again. I had to do this for my sanity, for my own mental health. I really need to start getting my life back again and not constantly focus on the number of milliliters of breastmilk that I was producing for my baby to eat. As my night nurse always says, this is only for a short time, and this will not last forever. And so, that short time is being defined partly by my return to work date, as well as my own sanity and desire to be unshackled from my pump.
So now, it’s been about one week since I took the plunge and did it. Well, I was pleasantly surprised after dropping a pump: all of my outputs at every session increased dramatically, with the exception of my first morning pump, which tends to be pretty similar to before I dropped pumps. Every other pump increased: it was like it was almost predictable at this point and very even. The amount that I was producing per session on average increased about 20 to 70mL and it ended up evening out to more than what I was producing when I was doing seven pumps per day. In fact, it was like my supply had increased over the course of the last week with just six pumps a day. I was almost matching how much my baby was eating in a single day! I could not believe it. I never thought that I could get to a point where I could even call myself “a just enougher,” But it looked like there were a couple of days where I could actually have given myself that label. I had a late start to priming my body for exclusive pumping because of the crappy advice I was given early on from the lactation consultants that I had met in person. I was not forward thinking enough at that point to think about a life of potentially exclusively pumping for my baby given her weak suck and poor milk transfer. I didn’t start doing my research on this until about a week before her one month check up. In retrospect, I really regretted not looking into it sooner or being more prepared. I just didn’t have the information early on enough to establish my supply early enough, as those first one to two weeks postpartum are really crucial in terms of establishing one’s milk supply. Timing REALLY matters here. And when I spoke with another lactation consultant through Cleo in March, I told her that my goal was to get to 75 to 80% breast milk for my baby. I would obviously love for it to be 100%, but I would be OK if it never got there; I had made peace with this at the end of January. Given my late start with aggressive exclusive pumping, she told me that 80% was a realistic goal given the trajectory I had shared with her, but 100% would be unlikely. It would not be impossible, she said, but it would be quite difficult and against the odds.
Well, here we are looking at the data and we have achieved that in two days in this last seven day period, when I was able to match my baby’s needs 100%. We still gave her one bottle of formula on these days as we normally do because as per usual, I was scared that my supply would not be that consistent, and I wanted to save for a “rainy day,“ which could easily be tomorrow when I may not produce as many ounces. But if we wanted to, we could’ve easily given her just breast milk that day. My fear in that, though, which has always been a fear, is that my baby will get so used to having breastmilk that she will start rejecting any and all formula. And that will be particularly difficult and scary when eventually, my period returns, which will inevitably result in my supply tanking. That happens with literally every woman who lactates, and every lactating mom dreads that time. Well, fingers crossed that my period does not return until at least 8 to 9 months postpartum.
It’s funny how things turn out. It is true what they say: once you stop worrying about your milk supply and just throw in the towel and say, it is what it is; I will produce what I produce. I will make peace with it. I will drop pumps and accept whatever supply dip comes — At that point, when you least expect it, you actually end up producing more.
Well, I hope this keeps up. I only have seven days of data right now, so I am looking at the next seven days to see how consistent this will stay, if at all. Because if the next seven days look good, then after that, I will try gradually weaning myself off of my middle of the night pump. Then, I will have five pumps from the time that I wake up to time that I go to bed and actually… Have a real, full night‘s sleep for the first time since two days before my baby was born. And I am really looking forward to that happening. I really deserve it.