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Pumping Breast Milk Questions Answered

Breastfeeding & the NICU

By Amalah

Dearest Amalah,

Let’s just start by stating that you are my mom hero. I stumbled upon your pregnancy calendar and got hooked on the advice column. Later, I found your blog. You are highly entertaining and uplifting. I know you don’t have any first hand knowledge of this, but I am way too exhausted to do any research and I’m hoping you can point me in the right direction.

I had my sweet baby boy at 32 weeks. He is currently in the NICU and is expected to have no long term complications. He receives all of his nutrition through a feeding tube. Our hospital has a donor breast milk program and he receives my breast milk supplemented with the donor milk through the feeding tube. Although the NICU has a few “boarder rooms” available, they make a pay by the hour motel room look like the Ritz and it is highly discouraged by staff to stay there for mom’s sanity.

My problem is milk production. My milk came in quickly, but hasn’t kept up with the baby’s feedings. In the last week, I have not seen an increase in milk production. I can only pump until next week, when my baby may be able to take in some milk orally while still being able to gain weight. I just started supplements and got the “mother’s milk” tea. I pump for 15 minutes at a time, every three hours. I only get a solid milk “flow” for the first 6 minutes or so.

So my question is, what advice do you have on how to increase milk production when you can only pump? When the baby comes home, will my milk production naturally increase?

Yours truly,


So believe it or not, I think it sounds like your pumping is actually going pretty well! It’s really important to remember that no matter how great of a pump you’re using, your boobs can tell the difference, and will behave accordingly. Thus, the amount of milk you’re able to pump will generally be less than you’ll produce when your baby is nursing directly from the breast.

So I would advise you to keep doing what you’re doing, with the goal of keeping your supply stable in the interim, rather than hoping and expecting a steady increase via just the pump. As long as you’re not seeing a DECREASE in milk production, you’re in good shape, I’d say.

I always found pumping was easier if I had something that smelled like my baby, so if you can snag one of his little hats from the hospital, keep that with you to sniff and see if it triggers a more forceful let-down or keeps the milk flow going a tad longer. (Looking at photos helps too.)  Give the supplements and mother’s milk tea time to start working, and try to not freak out over your output quite yet. Once your baby is able to latch on and nurse directly, your supply should naturally increase. Not sure if you’re able to hold him yet, but once you’re able to do direct skin-on-skin contact with him against your chest, do it as often as the nurses will let you, then pump immediately afterwards. Naked baby skin and head nuzzling kicks boobs into overdrive like nothing else.

At the same time, give yourself a heapload of credit for any and all milk you are able to produce, in the face of an obviously less-than-ideal situation. The donor milk program is a great, awesome thing and you’re both very fortunate to have it, so please please please don’t look at needing to supplement now or down the road as a bad thing, or a failure on your part. You’re doing GREAT, REALLY GREAT. And it sounds like your baby is too! And that’s what’s most important.

Commenters? Any other breastfeeding in the NICU tips/advice/experience to share?


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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