This year I planted an experimental garden. Among the plants I chose were cherry tomatoes. These little tomatoes are very prolific. So prolific in fact that I cannot pick them all and handfulls of them fall to the ground to rot and be eaten by insects.
They over-produce. We get several pounds of tomatoes each day.
When my daughter was born, I over-produced too.
This led me to have engorgement, mastitis and painful leaky breasts. It led my baby to have frothy green poops and painful gas that kept her up at night crying because her belly hurt from all the milk.
I was able to pump 9 ounces in a single session after she took a longer nap, and then wake her up and nurse her until her belly was full.
This is TERRIBLE.
Unless you are exclusively pumping (in which case you want to pump as much milk as you can to overcome supply stabilization and the difficulties of exclusive pumping), pumping large amounts is never a good thing.
With her oldest brother I was barely able to pump, and I was so jealous of the women who could pump ounces at a time. At most I was able to pump a quarter of an ounce from both breasts combined. He exclusively breastfed for 6 months, gained like a chubberoo, and then went on to continue nursing until he self-weaned at 3.
With her middle brother I was able to pump a lot. But by then I understood that is not necessarily a good thing.
Like the cherry tomatoes, when you over-produce the leftovers go to waste. If you do not remove the milk from your breasts, it can cause mastitis. If you do remove the milk from your breasts you maintain an oversupply that eats away at your nutritional reserves in order to feed bags in a freezer. Bags that pose just as much of a threat to your supply as those cans of formula I refused to bring home.
Oversupply is not a good thing unless you’re looking to feed another baby from the pumped milk.
Ideally you make exactly what your baby needs, no more and no less. When your baby’s needs change the change in nursing patterns tells your breasts to adapt the milk to meet baby’s needs without stretching his belly. Through this he learns to nurse until his needs are met. Not to stuff himself. Not to over-eat. But to nurse until his needs are met and he pops off ready to explore the world.
I realize now what I didn’t realize before. Breastfeeding is not a milk making competition. A stockpile of hundreds of ounces is not always necessary and is not always good. Pumping that much milk destroys mom’s nutritional reserves, and weaning from those pumping sessions can be hard. Too many bottles from a stockpile can destroy mom’s milk supply or give baby bottle preference causing her to go from oversupply to a bottle fed baby while wondering what happened.
Breastfeeding is supply and demand, not something that needs to be stockpiled. Even if I have to return to work it’s best to pump what you eat while we are separated rather than having massive stores of milk that make it tempting to skip a pump break here and there and that allow my supply to slowly spiral.
I like to keep an emergency supply on hand, but that can be built up without needing to pump huge amounts.
a half ounce to 3 ounces is average pump output and does not run that much of a risk of mom having too much oversupply. I tend to stop pumping once I hit the three ounce marker. That’s three hours worth of milk in a bag that I label as “three hours” just so no one will be confused about how much to feed the baby while I’m gone.
A healthy supply is maintained by feeding baby from the breast whenever possible, using bottles as seldom as possible, feeding smaller amounts by bottle, and not being tempted to maintain or use a huge stash of either pumped milk or formula.