[This post was written as part of my paid brand ambassadorship with Philips Avent and contains content about items that have been gifted to me for an honest review. I’m so pleased to announce that I am one of Avent’s Virtual Mummy Mentors!]
When my daughter, Vita, was born last November I knew two things:
1. that I wanted to breastfeed
2. that I needed to be able to return to work when Vita was two weeks old
(When I mention my decision to return to work so swiftly after giving birth, people are always shocked. So let me take a moment to mention now that my babies are left in the arms of their loving mother, my partner Kirsty, who is the SAHM in our family. They don’t suffer a bit. And let me mention also that although I’m not coerced back to work and my employers are extremely supportive of me and my life choices, my job role is not one that can easily be handed over to somebody else and it’s to my best advantage to return to my career as soon as possible after my children are born.)
Feeding babies is such a personal choice and you have to do what is best for your baby. Of my four older children, two have been exclusively formula fed and two received mostly breastmilk and it is impossible to distinguish which is which from looking at or interacting with them; they are all healthy, happy and, though I say it with my mummy goggles proudly balanced on my face, rather bright. So I wasn’t concerned about relying on formula at all aside from, somewhat selfishly, that I didn’t want to have to get up in the night in order to make bottles!
In order to achieve both goals of breastfeeding and returning to work whilst my baby was still effectively a newborn, I knew that I would need a strong expressing routine from the start. Vita is now three months old and all of the milk that she has ever consumed has been either directly or indirectly from my breast, so I thought that I would share a post today about my feeding relationship with Baby V and the expressing routine that allows me to produce enough milk for her in spite of spending most of my week physically disconnected from my baby. If you are considering returning to work early and plan to express, or if you need to express breastmik for a small baby for another reason, I hope that this post will prove useful to you.
Vita was born at 42 weeks exactly after a long labour and a somewhat traumatic birth, resulting in two hours in theatre immediately after she was born to repair the damage that her disproportionately large head had caused as it smashed its way out. Consequently, although I did get a magical twenty minutes of skin-to-skin cuddles with my newborn before she was taken away, we did not attempt breastfeeding until she was about three hours old and I had been stitched up and then warmed up in a bundle of heated blankets in order to calm down my shaking! I remember feeling impressed at how easily she latched, although she kept getting tired and falling back off of my nipple.
A difficult birth can result in milk coming in reluctantly, so I was surprised to note that by the end of that first day my body was producing milk rather than colostrum.
For the first couple of days after Baby Vita was born, I didn’t try to express at all; I just snuggled my new baby and let her feed. In retrospect, the damage that I incurred when Vita was born was probably a blessing for our feeding relationship as I was completely unable to do anything for the first fortnight aside from lay in bed with my baby.
On day three, I started to sit up and express on the other breast when Vita fed, sometimes. I didn’t do this every time, as she was cluster-feeding and I would have been permanently attached to the breastpump if I had done so, but every six or seven hours I would express on the other breast, trying to keep it even, and in that way I started to build up a little stash of frozen milk for when I returned to work. At first, I only got 2oz at a time but with perseverance that volume increased.
When Vita was one week old and sitting upright was beginning to feel a little easier, I decided to express on the other breast every time the baby fed. By then, she was reliably feeding for about forty-five minutes every three hours and then sleeping the rest of the time. At that point, I was producing about 2.6oz (75mls) on the breast on which she wasn’t nursing. All of the milk that I expressed went straight into the freezer rather than saving it for her next feed, as I wanted to encourage my breasts to produce more milk. We did make an exception to this twice: once so that Kirsty could give the baby a bottle, with the first bit of milk that I ever expressed when she was three days old, and once when I was enjoying a very long, very leisurely bath a few days before my return to work and we wanted to check that she would still feed from a bottle. She pulled some hilarious and bizarre faces at finding a rubbery teat in her mouth, but took to the bottle well – perhaps because the Philips Avent bottles that we use are breastfeeding-friendly and designed to promote a natural latch-on similar to the breast. Breastfeeding Vita is my favourite way to bond with her, and it was wonderful to see her mama bonding with her by feeding her too.
I had planned to return to work the day that she turned two weeks old. As it was, I was still barely able to walk on that day and so I delayed my return until she was two weeks and five days old. Every day, I left the office at 7am and I was usually home at about 8pm or so. Since that time, my expressing schedule has looked like this:
Expressing Schedule During the Working Week:
02.30ish: Be woken by hungry baby. Feed baby on one side and express on the other until breast felt empty. If the baby came off of that breast before I had finished expressing, express both. If not, express the second breast once the baby had finished nursing to ensure that both were fully emptied and to encourage greater production.
06.00ish: Baby would doze on the breast, ‘snacking’ occasionally, and I didn’t bother to express.
07.30: Express both breasts before work.
10.30: Express both breasts at desk.
13.00: Express both breasts at lunch.
16.00: Express both breasts at desk.
19.00ish: Express both breasts at desk before leaving for home.
22.30 or so: Feed baby on one side and express on the other until breast felt empty. If the baby came off of that breast before I had finished expressing, express both. If not, express the second breast once the baby had finished nursing to ensure that both were fully emptied and to encourage greater production.
Each time that I expressed breastmilk for my daughter, it was with the aim that I would stay attached to the breastpump for a full thirty minutes in order to ensure that my breasts were fully emptied and to encourage my milk glands to produce more milk at the next feed. Realistically though, there were often times where I would only manage twenty minutes or I would reach a point where I knew that my breasts were mostly empty and struggled to justify the time away from my work. It definitely helped that my boss at work and my colleagues were supportive of my endeavor to continue to breastfeed my baby and I felt very comfortable expressing at my desk in order to continue working, albeit at a somewhat slower pace simply because it’s a bit distracting to be attached to a breastpump!
These days, I expect to express 4oz at a minimum and usually closer to 5oz from each breast, at every ‘feed’. At the end of each expressing session I empty the milk into the Philips Avent breastmilk storage cups and pop them into the office fridge – I’ve cleared some space on a shelf just for my milk. I nearly had a heart attack a few days after my return to work when my Managing Director sent a message into one of our group chats thanking whomever had bought the ‘delicious coffee creamer in the little blue-lidded cups’ but thankfully he was only joking (bastard). Funnily enough, my concern wasn’t so much for the man who had potentially accidentally ingested my bodily fluids but for the amount of milk that had potentially been wasted! These storage cups are really handy because the lid has a secure seal for safe transport (it doesn’t matter how much they get jostled about on the train during my commute, I haven’t spilled a drop) and they are suitable for both the fridge and the freezer so can be popped straight into the freezer as soon as I get home.
Vita is two months old now and I find that I’m expressing about 30oz/day on top of feeding her when I am home. Of that, she drinks about 20oz per day, so my freezer stash is steadily building. In fact, I have just bought a chest freezer to keep in our bedroom as we were running out of room for food in our own freezer!
I thought it would be useful to share a list of products that have been useful to me on my breastfeeding/expressing journey. As I mentioned above, we are working with Philips Avent on a paid brand ambassadorship and I have been gifted all of the Philips Avent products in exchange for an honest review, but I am not working with any other brand mentioned in this post either on a paid or gifted basis.
Philips Avent sent us the Single Electric Breastpump, which I use to express on the side from which Vita is not feeding. My favourite thing about this breastpump is that as well as operating from the mains it can alternatively be powered by battery and so if I’m out and about and Vita needs a feed, I can express at the same time – especially as it’s so small, it’s easy to stash in the changing bag. They also sent us the Ultra Comfort Double Electric Breastpump, which I mostly use in the office as it does need to be plugged in. It has a ‘massage cushion’ which is designed to encourage the letdown of milk by simulating a baby’s suckling, and it is said to be their quietest pump yet – which is useful to me as, whilst I’m not especially bothered about being discreet (I mostly express under a baggy top, sat at my desk!), I don’t want to be actively disruptive to my colleagues as they are trying to focus on work.
Breastmilk storage cups:
Philips Avent also sent us storage cups, referenced above. I use these to store milk in the office fridge, and then to transport home to freeze. They store 180ml/6oz of milk, which is the perfect amount for me in terms of production and also a little more than Vita consumes at each feed, making them very convenient both in terms of being able to pop them straight into the freezer when I get home at night and also to pull out to defrost if I’m ever away from home and we have run out of milk in the fridge. The lids have a secure seal and I do feel confident that even when I’m being elbowed out of the way on the busy Underground, I’m not going to suddenly find myself and my fellow commuters dowsed in breastmilk!
We were sent breastfeeding-friendly baby bottles by Philips Avent. Two of my biggest concerns about maintaining my feeding relationship with baby Vita whilst I returned to work were a) that she would lose interest in feeding from the breast in favour of the convenience of a bottle and b) that she would refuse to take a bottle in favour of the breast. It was really important to me that she develop the inclination to feed from whichever medium was offered to her, according to which mother was available to feed her at the time. The Philips Avent baby bottles have a soft, textured teat designed to closely resemble a human nipple and promote a natural latch-on as with the breast. As the baby ages, these teats should be swapped out for a faster-flow teat so that the baby doesn’t get frustrated. It has worked really well for us and although Vita has a slight preference toward the breast, particularly at night, she is happy to feed from the bottle when she is in Kirsty’s care.
It’s really important to keep well-hydrated when producing breastmilk, and most women find that they get ragingly thirsty as soon as the baby latches on and milk begins to flow. I try to keep a bottle of water within grabbing distance when I am at home, and a couple of cups of water on my desk at work. My ‘rule’ for myself when feeding is to drink one cup of water to replace the liquid that I have just expressed, and one cup to encourage the production of more breastmilk – so at least two glasses of water every three hours. I also drink hot drinks during the day.
I read somewhere that coconut milk is good for breastmilk production, so I’ve started to add coconut milk and coconut water to my online food shop and to keep these in the fridge. Whenever I walk into the kitchen I try to drink a glass of coconut water, and I have a glass of coconut milk every morning. I’m not sure whether it really helps or not but I buy it because it might be helpful, we like the taste and we can afford to do so. I would expect that water works just as well or nearly so well so if you don’t like coconut milk or struggle to justify the expense of it, please don’t stress about it! We buy the Vita Coco brand because it amuses me that it shares a name with my daughter.
I’m a bit obsessed with TREK Protein Flapjacks and I eat at least one per day and sometimes two (and then I whinge that I’ve gained rather than lost weight whilst breastfeeding…). There is some correlation between the consumption of oats and an increased breastmilk supply, and apparently some link between lack of protein and a decrease in breastmilk supply, so there are two reasons that these bars might be useful for breastfeeding. Their main ingredient is oats and they contain 9g of protein per bar, plus they are vegan-friendly. Sometimes I scoff one on the train on the way in to the office, especially if I have been too busy feeding the baby to feed myself – after all, they are practically porridge! The cocoa one is obviously my favourite. Again, we only buy these because I enjoy the taste and can afford to do so. If they’re not something that fits into your budget, or you don’t want to fork out for expensive protein bars, please don’t worry about it… just eat a bowl of porridge and make sure to get enough protein in other ways.
After two anxiety-riddled breastfeeding journeys with each set of twins, such a peaceful and easy experience with baby Vita has felt like a gift and regardless of how the rest of our journey pans out, I will always treasure the memories of the last two months of feeding her. It wouldn’t have been possible without expressing to keep up my supply, and I am grateful that I have managed to do so and to find products that have worked really well for us.