Today’s question is about engorgement and whether or not pumping too much can be a problem, particularly for exclusive pumpers.
My daughter had complications after birth and had to stay in the hospital for awhile. Now it seems like she likes the bottle and won’t nurse, so I’ve basically become an exclusive pumper. I’ve been dealing with engorgement, and someone told me that I shouldn’t be pumping too much. Is this true? I don’t want to be engorged all the time, but I also want to be sure I have enough milk.
In most cases, I think that the “you shouldn’t pump so much” advice – while good for some nursing mothers – doesn’t really make sense for exclusive pumpers. (I’ll talk about exceptions to this below.) However, since most people don’t understand exclusive pumping, they might not realize that it doesn’t apply to you.
There are reasons that nursing mothers might want to limit the amount that they pump. If you pump a lot in addition to nursing, you are telling your body that you need more milk than your baby is drinking. You might do this to try to build up a freezer stash, donate milk, or for other reasons. However, the downside is that oversupply can lead to issues with foremilk/hindmilk imbalance as well as overactive letdown (where the milk sprays too quickly for your baby to handle it).
Neither of these things are an issue for exclusive pumpers because you’re feeding your baby from bottles that will not spray your baby in the face, and that already have all the milk mixed together.
However, some exclusive pumpers do have extreme oversupply that can cause issues – like the engorgement that you mention or recurrent clogged ducts and mastitis. It might make sense for these women to try to reduce their milk supply and how much they pump.
So, are you one of these women? It depends on how old your baby is, and whether or not your supply has regulated.
Your supply usually regulates within the first 12 weeks or so postpartum, and if this hasn’t happened yet, it will probably fix your issue when it does. More details from kellymom:
During the early weeks, assuming nursing is going well, a mom will often have more milk than baby needs. Many moms also experience varying degrees of leaking and/or breast fullness/engorgement in the early weeks — this is not the norm for the entire breastfeeding experience but simply a period of adjustment as mom’s body determines and adjusts to the amount of milk her baby (or babies) actually needs.
I would lean towards sticking to your current pumping schedule while waiting for your supply to regulate. Cabbage leaves might help with engorgement in the meantime.
If your baby is older than 12 weeks and/or you think your supply has regulated, it might make sense to pump less and try to reduce your milk supply. You didn’t say how much you’re pumping now, but in general, exclusive pumpers should aim for about 120 minutes a day; if you have extreme oversupply, you may want to adjust that down.
A few bonus “questions” that are search engine queries:
How will my baby get fed at the hospital if I exclusively pump?
If you decide to exclusively pump before you have your baby (meaning that you don’t intend to nurse at all), you can see if you’re able to pump colostrum, and supplement with formula if necessary until your milk comes in. I personally was never able to pump more than a few drops of colostrum (and I had a good supply when my milk did come in), but I know some women have better luck.
Here is more information on exclusively pumping from birth.
Best time to take fenugreek in relation to pumping?
Good news! You can take fenugreek anytime that you want to – it doesn’t have to be a certain amount of time before or after a pumping session. Lactation consultants generally recommend taking 3 doses per day with food, so taking it with meals is one strategy to make sure that you remember to take it.
Please feel free to add any suggestions or thoughts in comments!References
- Bonyata, Kelly, IBCLC. “Frequently Asked Questions About Milk Production.” https://kellymom.com/bf/got-milk/basics/milkproduction-faq/