I make no secret of my struggles with my first breastfeeding journey. As with anything else, it’s not the struggle itself, but what you do with the lessons you learn that makes the difference. So this time, I’ve made small changes – things I didn’t do or wasn’t even aware of the first time around – and seen big results.

Have I magically become an overproducer? No. I’m holding steady at “mostly breastfed, with a bottle or two of formula thrown in there,” and I’m pretty darn happy and proud of that.

But what I have managed to do (so far-fingers crossed) is avoid the slow gradual decline that ended my breastfeeding journey with Little Dude at 9 months.

This time, I’m determined to maintain some sort of breastfeeding relationship up to and past 1 year, and with the small changes I’ve made, I think it’s possible. Here’s what I’m doing/what I’ve done:

I pumped early and often.

Definitely seek the advice of a lactation consultant on this one. This advice stemmed from diagnosed tongue tie and oral motor issues, and was designed to protect and establish my supply while we worked on those issues. It worked!

I’m paying attention to and troubleshooting volume decreases constantly.

While I don’t obsess, I do notice. Volume will understandably dip and fluctuate, but if I notice anything that looks like a trend, I’ll run through a mental checklist of reasons why to see what – from my diet to my parts to my fluids – needs adjusting.

I change out replaceable parts on my pumps with almost religious fervor.

Small sign of wear and tear? Decline in pump volume that lasts more than a day or two? I’ve reached the designated “you must replace by” date? No matter the reason, those parts get replaced and new ones get ordered ASAP. The first time around, I don’t even think I realized for quite some time that any of the soft silicone parts on my pump even needed replacing. Looking back, about the time my supply died a slow death was about the time the parts on my pump would have needed replacing. Really, it makes a difference.

I’m addressing nipple shrinkage.

Did you know your nipples can shrink in diameter throughout the course of your breastfeeding journey? Who knew! And yes, using the wrong size flange can absolutely affect output. In the span of a couple of months, I’ve switched from a 24 mm, to a 21 mm, to a 19 mm. Each time, I notice the difference. Again, around the time I made that first switch was around the time my first pumping journey started tanking.

I hand express after most pumps.

I discovered the lost art of hand expression by accident. The first time around, I was kind of squeamish about manhandling my boobs. However, one day I was performing a breast self-exam (long story short, I thought there was a lump there), and milk squirted out. I was partly fascinated, and partly surprised at how much milk was still in there (I’d just pumped). I kept playing around with it, and now I can get 10 or more extra mL per pump by hand expressing. I’m also signaling my body that more milk is needed for each little bit extra I remove. Pro tip: squeeze by the areola, not directly on the nipple. Oh, and have a cloth handy – the sprays have a mind of their own.

I invested in a good quality portable pump.

Okay, okay, so this one’s sort of a big one – those things cost money. But I reasoned to myself that I’d be much more likely to be able to stick with it if I had the option to be portable. I was right. I love my Spectra S9. I don’t use it as my all-the-time pump, but I’ve taken to grabbing it on the weekend when we’ve already got diaper bags and kids in tow, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to use then, or when I’m following kids around the house. Not that I would quit without it, necessarily, but I’d be much more likely to cheat and skip pumps, which would be much more likely to start hurting my supply.

If I’m absolutely exhausted, I skip my right-before-bed pump.

I try not to do this often, but if I’m just asleep on my feet, I call it a night. The sleep helps re-engergize me for the long haul, and sometimes even helps me get back on track production-wise. I just make sure I pick back up the next day.

I power pump.

Pretty sure I was doing this while EP-ing for Little Dude, but I’m more aware now of what it’s for and when/how to do it. Power pumping mimicks cluster feeding. Every couple of weeks or so, I’ll pick a few days and make my evening pump a power pump (morning’s actually the best time, because your prolactin levels are higher, but evening’s when I can manage). If I can time it with a growth spurt, even better!

I’m actually putting baby to the breast.

I know this option is not for everyone. I didn’t really have this option with Little Dude, but I really think that when this became an option with Tank, it really made a difference. It’s no secret the pump isn’t as efficient as a baby. So even though I will never be a full-on, 100% of the time when we’re together nursing mom, I nurse in the morning, before bed, and sometimes extra on the weekend. I think the combination keeps me motivated to pump, and has helped me hold steady.

I play with the pump settings.

I have a Spectra S2, and the different settings and options used to intimidate me. But then I learned on one of their awesome weekly Facebook Live sessions (check them out!) that their pumps are designed so you can fluctuate your levels during pumping. It makes sense – a baby wouldn’t use the same speed and pressure the entire feed, so playing around with settings could actually simulate a more natural feeding session.

When we know better, we do better, and we pass it along to the next mom so she can learn from our experience. I hope you’ve found one or two new tips and tricks to try. Happy feeding!

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