Ways to Maintain Breastmilk Supply When Sending Your Baby to Daycare
If you have an infant enrolled in daycare, you know the daily routine of pumping (...and bottle washing, and bottle prepping, and labeling, and the list goes on!) It can feel like a full-time job to make sure your little one has enough to eat every day.
It’s a common occurrence to experience a dip in breast milk supply when you are away from your baby. It’s not your fault, it’s purely biological, but it can cause stress at a time when you least need it.
While everyone is different, here are some methods that can help maintain your breastmilk supply if you are pumping during the day while your baby is at daycare.
Nurse When You Can
Nursing your baby is the best way to keep up your milk supply. The best tip is to get a nursing session in whenever you can—for example, right before daycare drop-off, or right when you pick them up. Work with the teachers to make sure your baby is hungry at the end of the day if you want to prioritize that post-pick-up session.
Pump When the Baby Eats
We all know it, but it’s worth saying. If you're trying to get more milk, then you need to pump more often. Nothing will create a letdown quite like your baby at your breast, but if your milk supply is decreasing check in with how often you are pumping.
A good rule of thumb is to pump at the same intervals that your baby is eating. Typically, this is every three hours. If your daycare sends updates throughout the day, use their updates as a reminder to pump. If you have the time, add in an extra session once a day to keep the momentum going.
For working moms, it can be next to impossible to squeeze in pump sessions in between meetings and projects, especially if the place you pump isn’t close by. Set reminders on your phone or calendar to ensure you can protect your pump time. It’s so important to keep your sessions at regular intervals to maintain your supply.
Make Sure Your Pump is Right
There are so many pumps to choose from it can be overwhelming. The ones that will give you the best suction are those with a strong motor, and that usually means a wall-connected, hospital-grade pump.
Some aspects of your pump that may be hindering your milk supply include:
Flange size. Think of a flange like a baby’s latch. There’s a way that it can go very right and many ways it can go very wrong. With the correct sized flange, you will absolutely pump more milk. Not only will your output increase, but it will also be more comfortable (it should never hurt!), and you will have fewer issues (no more nipple soreness!). Here is a guide to finding the right flange size.
Suck strength. The suction level can be adjusted on many breast pumps. It’s a common myth that the higher the suck strength the more milk produced. That's wrong. You need to find the right suck strength for you. If you think this might be an issue, lower the suction for one session and see if any more milk is released. Move the suction up gradually each session until you get to the place where you are producing the most. Here’s more about suck strength in breast pumps.
Session length. If you don’t pump a full session, you’re not going to get enough milk. Try pumping for a few minutes longer than you normally nurse your baby. If you think you’re done, watch the pump for a minute—if milk is still coming out, keep the pump going. The average pump session for most women is between 15-20 minutes, but it varies morning to night, and session to session.
Pump After Feedings at Home
If you aren’t able to pump as many times during your workday as you’d like, try getting the pump out after nursing your baby at home. This will help extract whatever milk may be left from your letdown. It may not be a lot of milk but can add up over time.
For the weeks or days that you find yourself with your baby all day (weekends, daycare closure, or vacation weeks) add a pump session after one or two feeds throughout the day. You might be surprised how much you can collect. Stash the extra in your freezer.
Bring Your Baby to You
If you are pumping all the time, with the correct suction strength and still not getting much output, try and conjure up the feeling that your baby is with you. By imagining holding your baby your body will release the same hormones that you get when nursing. Some helpful suggestions:
Watch videos of your baby. Listen to their sounds and let yourself respond with joy.
Look at photos of your baby. Imagine being in that moment with your baby.
Smell their clothes. Bring yesterday’s onesie along with you and hold it up to your face.
Imagine your baby. Close your eyes and think about holding and nursing your little one while you pump.
Take Care of Yourself
Many nursing mothers feel stress when their supply decreases. If this is you, you are not alone. There is a direct correlation between your health and well-being and your ability to produce milk. Take care of yourself in the following ways:
Relax. Stress is a big killer of milk supply. The hormones prolactin and oxytocin are what cue your milk production and its release (respectively). Any hormonal imbalance (like excess cortisol from stress) will inhibit your milk flow. While you’re pumping, put your work down for the session. Breathe deeply and try and let some calm into your body and mind.
Hydrate. Breastfeeding requires a ton of water. You should be drinking more water than usual to maintain your milk supply. Get a new water bottle and stash it in your pump bag to make it easier to have on hand. If plain water is getting boring, add some fruit slices to your water bottle, a squeeze of lemon or lime, or a small splash of juice. Coconut water is a great secondary beverage, it’s sweet and very hydrating.
Snack. You also need more calories while breastfeeding. Stash some of your favorite snacks in your pump bag to have them on hand while you sit. Let these be guilt free, just indulge in the time you can easily eat with two hands!
Sleep. This one is hard. With an infant keeping you up all night, it’s hard to get enough rest. But it is important for your overall health. Book a babysitter or mother-in-law to come hold the baby on the weekends so you can get a little extra when you can.
Get Out Your Haakaa
A haakaa is a simple silicon cup that collects excess milk from your breast. It can be used in the following ways:
While nursing your baby, attach the haakaa to your other breast—it will catch the milk that leaks as you nurse.
After nursing use the haakaa to collect any excess milk that your baby didn’t drink.
Apply the haakaa to reduce engorgement in the early days of postpartum, or while weening.
Note that a haakaa isn’t technically a pump. It can extract small amounts of milk that would otherwise not be collected, but in no way is it a substitute for a pump.
Bring on the Heat
While a hot compress or heating pad may not increase milk production, it will allow milk to flow more freely.
Use a hot compress or spend some extra time in a hot shower before you pump. This is particularly helpful if you experience any engorgement, blocked ducts, or mastitis. The key is that moist heat works best. But if you only have a heating pad or dry heat, that’s a good second option.
Eat the Right Foods and Herbs
There is inconsistent data about foods, herbs, or supplements that increase milk supply. Some mothers report the following to be helpful: oats, fenugreek, milk thistle, fennel. Here is a list of more lactation herbs that some women find useful. Some simple, and delicious ways to implement these into your diet include:
Mother’s Milk Tea
Cooking with fenugreek or fennel seed
Oatmeal, oat bars, or oat cookies
When adding new herbs or supplements to your diet, it’s important to consult your doctor. While some may be great for one mom, they might hinder another’s supply.
Contact a Lactation Consultant
If you are still in a bind and not able to produce enough milk to send to daycare, call in the professionals.
The hospital where you gave birth should have a lactation specialist. Some OBGYN offices also have practitioners you can see. If nothing else, ask your pediatrician for a referral or recommendation.
How to Properly Store Breast Milk
If you are pumping, you know that the amount you pump can vary. This means some days you’ll have lots of extra, others you’ll need to dip into your freezer stash.
When sending breastmilk to daycare, it’s important to ensure proper storage. Communicate clearly with your daycare providers when milk was pumped, and if it was frozen or not. If you switch between breast milk and formula, this is very important information to let them know as well.
Here are the CDC’s guidelines:
If breastfeeding isn’t going as you planned, and you need financial support for formula, reach out to WIC Maine. This is a federal program designed to support mothers and infants with their nutritional needs.
This post is in no way promoting breast milk as the best or only option for infants in daycare. A fed baby is best and there are many ways to feed yours, whether that is with breast milk, formula, donor milk, or any combination of the three.