By Yvette O’Dowd
If you express your breastmilk in the early days after your milk comes in, you will probably get more than your baby needs for a feed – indeed, you might feel you have enough milk for all the babies in your ward! You head home confident that expressing is quick and easy and start to plan for the extra freezer you will buy to store all that expressed breast milk in.
So, you are really disappointed when you try expressing for the first time after the early postnatal period and only get a few mls for your effort. If you are expressing to have a supply of milk for your return to work or a special occasion away from your baby, you will probably start to panic and worry that you need a different (better) breast pump or you have a poor milk supply.
Guess what? Everything is OK!
Once breastfeeding is established and milk production is in sync with the baby, the breasts no longer stockpile excess milk, just in case it is needed. Instead, baby’s feeds are made-to-order, with just a little spare kept on hand in case it is needed.
So, instead of you having an endless supply you can call on whenever you want – like an unlimited credit card – now you are living a credit-free life where you need to save up for what you want. Just like the financial world, now you need to think about a savings plan and how much you need to put away each week to meet your goals.
You might like to think of these first few goes with your breast pump or hand expressing as practice sessions, where you learn the tricks and tips to maximise your expressing skills. Then, once you have worked it all out, you can start banking your milk towards the future. Most mothers find it takes about 15-20 minutes after the let-down to pump each breast and they can collect more milk earlier in the day than in the afternoon or evening.
If you just want some breastmilk in the freezer for a “rainy day”, then you can just express whenever you have a little time between feeds. But if you have a set goal in mind – enough milk for the first week or two back at work; two or three feeds to cover your sister’s wedding day or one feed each week while you are at yoga class — then you will need to do a little maths and work out a plan.
Say you find you average about 20-50mls each time you express and you work out your baby will need about 70mls each feed, then you will know it takes you roughly two sessions to save up one feed. A few practice runs with your partner or other caregiver feeding your baby EBM will help you estimate how much you might need. But remember breastfed babies take varied amounts at each feed and you can never accurately guess an exact amount, so divide your “piggy bank” into small amounts of frozen milk until you get an idea of what he/she needs. You can buy breast milk freezer trays which hold 30mls per section and this is a good amount to work with.
So, just as you did when saving for your childhood hearts-desire, get into the habit of putting a little bit away on a regular basis and you can be confident you will have enough when you need it.
Yvette O’Dowd probably isn’t your typical grandmother! This purple-haired mother of three and granny of two has been a breastfeeding counsellor for 25 years. Founder of the popular Southern Natural Parenting Network and South Eastern Babywearing Group, she is also the Early Parenting Editor for www.bellybelly.com.au/Yvette has lived on the Mornington Peninsula for more than 40 years. In her spare time, she is a keen photographer and scrapbooker and is keeper of a fairy garden.