Thoughts about breast pumps, part 3: Troubleshooting

Third in a series

Contributed by Christy Porucznik

Troubleshooting

This is a common scenario presented at LLL meetings, “I have returned to work and am pumping for my baby and suddenly I am not getting as much as I did before. I guess I am losing my milk and will have to start using formula.”

Maybe, but it is more likely that something else in your environment has changed.

Milk production is a demand and supply system. The more milk that you remove from your breasts, the more milk your breasts will produce. If you notice less production when you can actually see it, then the most likely cause is that less has been demanded from your breasts.

First, check the pump.

Is there a cut in one of the tubes? I accidentally ran over the tubing once with my office chair and cracked it, resulting in dramatically different suction. If there is a break in the tube, do not despair, depending on where the break is you can simply cut it and then replace the flange attachment at the new cut site. This can get you through until you can buy a new tube (so that it is long) or forever. I have been using one short tube for months.

Is there a tear in one of the white flexible membranes? You need to pull on them a bit to see if they are completely intact. Often there will be a tear that you can’t see if you just look at it, but if you pull a bit you will see the hole. This ruins your suction. Keep a spare around. This is the 2 cent piece of plastic that makes the pump work after all.

Have you changed the way you operate the suction? Changes may help or hurt depending. Sometimes I find that I need to turn up the pressure a bit, but generally I use the lowest setting. Sometimes if the milk ejection reflex seems to be slow I will turn the pump off and then on again to get back to the initial fluttery sucking stage. This sometimes stimulates another round for me. Bottom line — play with those knobs and see what happens. Your baby doesn’t nurse the same way every time after all!

What day is it? Many moms find that they pump less volume each day that they work so that Friday they don’t bring home the least milk. This makes sense because if you have been away from your baby all week working you aren’t likely pumping as often as he is eating AND pumps aren’t as good at milk extraction as babies. Your breasts are compensating by not producing what isn’t being demanded. On the flip side, many moms report that they pumps lots on Mondays after nursing their babies all weekend. Production responds to demand.

Has your baby been nursing differently? For example, has he been sick and nursing less, or have you started more solids and perhaps cut back on nursing sessions when you are together? Production responds to demand.

Have you started a new medication or been ill yourself? Both of these can be associated with reduced milk supply.

What’s to be done?
Nurse your baby more often.
Replace any broken parts on the pump for when you can’t be with your baby.
Repeat.

As you remove more milk, your breasts will produce more milk. Elegantly simple system.

If none of these ideas seem to help or at any time, phone a La Leche League Leader. Helping women work through breastfeeding concerns is what they do.

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