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Two questions today! One about how to know when to wean and one about the mechanics of wearing a hands-free bra. (Have a question about pumping breast milk? Ask it here!)

I am exclusively pumping for my 19 month old who was born with a complex heart defect.  I’m struggling with not getting nearly as much milk as I would like (about 5 oz total/day with 5 pumping sessions of about 20 minutes plus hand expression).  I have three kids, so things like waking up to pump, pumping every 3-5 hours, etc just seem ridiculous.  But my milk is so good for him.  Any guidance on whether to try to push production back up?  Or how to know when to wean from the pump?  How do I decide to be done (I’ve been nursing for almost 6 1/2 years straight!).  I hate to see that relationship (albeit in altered form with my third) end prematurely.  Any guidance on the emotional side of things?  I’ve spent do much time grieving that he isn’t nursing at the breast it seems doubly unfair that I cannot control how long he gets breast milk!   Thanks for any support.

I’m so impressed that you have been breastfeeding for 6.5 years – that is awesome!

I totally understand not wanting to quit before you’re ready. I am struggling with the same thing with my youngest. She is about the same age as your little one, and I’m still nursing her in the mornings, but I can’t imagine my supply is more than an ounce or two at this point. Part of me wants to just quit completely and part of me is sad to stop because I know she’s likely my last baby.

As to what you should do – I think there are really two questions in your email: one about supply, and one about ending the breastfeeding relationship. As far as the breastfeeding relationship goes, I think that you should keep going as long as it works for YOU, as long as YOU want to keep pumping. If you’re not ready to quit, I don’t think you need to quit just because your supply isn’t what you’d like. But if you need more time to yourself/sleep, and you are ready to stop, I 100% think that you should stop. Breast milk is awesome but what your little one needs more than breast milk is a happy you. So I think you should do whatever makes you (more) happy.

As far as supply goes, I personally have not had much success with bringing my supply up after I got my period back (at 9 months) with each kid. Both times I had an awesome supply until I got my period and then a gradual decline no matter what I did. Everyone is different, though, and that might not be the case for you.

Best of luck to you with your decision!

I see you talking about using the hands free bra. I have one but find it very difficult to get on and hooked up. It’s not worth the effort to take off my shirt and regular bra and then put that on, especially at work. Any tips or suggestions on getting set up and going with the bra?  I’ve been using just one side at a time for the last 3+ months and it’s becoming exhausting.  Any help would be appreciated! Thanks!

What kind of hands-free bra do you have – is it the kind that you zip up in the middle (between your breasts)? What I did with this kind of hands-free bra was push my shirt UP and pull my bra cups DOWN (I always wore nursing bras even if I wasn’t “nursing” per se, so it wasn’t difficult to do this.) Then I zipped the hands-free bra up OVER my bra. I also usually wore a tank top under my shirt because I didn’t like the way that the pump bottles felt against my stomach – they were too cold.

And while I wouldn’t do this at work or leave the house like this, I will admit to just leaving the hands-free bra on all day sometimes at home (under my shirt and over my bra), because I’m lazy like that!

Please feel free to add any suggestions or thoughts in comments!

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At some point, it will be time to transition your baby from your milk onto something else, whether that is formula (if your baby is under 1 when you stop pumping, or if you need to supplement), or to milk if your baby is at least 12 months old. Here is how to do it.

Figuring Out What To Transition To 

If you stop pumping before your baby turns 1, you will need to transition to formula. After your baby turns 1, though, you have to figure out what exactly your kid should be drinking instead of breast milk and/or formula, such as cow’s milk or other alternative milks like soy milk. It’s a good idea to talk with your baby’s doctor about this – some doctors recommend whole cow’s milk for 1-year-olds, others say 2% or whatever the rest of the family drinks is fine (mine actually said whole for one kid and 2% for the other, so who knows).

It also might depend on your individual baby’s circumstances; for example, a doctor might be more likely to recommend whole milk for a baby on the lower end of the weight curve or an alternative milk for a baby who doesn’t tolerate lactose well.

Alternative Milks

If your baby has dairy allergies or doesn’t tolerate it well, there are alternative milks that you can feed your baby instead of cow’s milk:.

  • Soy Milk – Soy milk has about the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, and has some iron, but does not have sufficient calcium for babies. Some people have concerns about isoflavones in soy products and what is does to our reproductive systems, though the true effects are still being debated.
  • Almond Milk – Nut beverages (of which almond milk is the most popular) are created by grounding nuts, straining, then liquifying the final product. These milks tend to be deficient in Vitamin B12 and have little protein compared to soy milk.
  • Rice Milk – Rice milk is processed from brown rice, and it is the least allergenic alternative milks for allergy-sensitive families. The nutritional value of rice milk is very small, however, except for the fortified additives. 
  • Hemp Milk – Hemp milk appears to be a good alternative – it is a good source of protein, magnesium, iron, and vitamin E. It is generally well-tolerated by those with soy, dairy, and/or tree nut allergies. It is created from the seeds of the same plant used to make marijuana. 
  • Goat’s Milk – Goat’s milk contains lactose, so it might not be a good fit for kids with a cow’s milk allergy, but it is similar in composition to human breast milk and may be a good choice for some families. A multivitamin including iron and B-vitamins is needed for kids who drink goat’s milk.

Making the Transition

Making the transition to a milk other than breast milk (or formula) can be as easy as just going cold turkey: one feeding your baby gets breast milk in a bottle, and the next he gets the milk or formula that you’re transitioning him to.

You can also do it gradually. On my son’s first birthday, I put just a splash of whole milk into his bottle to see if he’d take it and whether he had an allergic reaction. He didn’t seem to care one way or the other – or even notice the change – so over a week I gradually began increasing amount of whole milk in each bottle. He was in daycare at the time, so I just kept bringing his milk in in bottles, as I always had, they were just made up partly of cow’s milk. Once he’d taken some bottles that were just cow’s milk, I stopped bringing in milk at all, and let the daycare serve him the milk that they had for the children as part of the program. At this point, when he got breast milk (I kept pumping for two months after he turned 1), I gave him only breast milk, and the same with cow’s milk, no more mixing it up.

Switching to Sippy Cups

One other thing to think about: if you’re switching to milk at age 1, you’re also at about the age that you make the transition from bottle to sippy cup. If you’re nervous about these transitions, it might make sense to tackle them separately: get your baby drinking milk first out of a bottle, and then switch from a bottle to sippy cup, or vice versa. (My son had a really challenging transition to sippy cups – I literally bought 10 different kinds before finding one that worked. Now we have an entire cabinet in our kitchen devoted to rejected sippy cups.)

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