Planning to breastfeed? It’s a great goal. Breast milk is uniquely formulated with the proper balance of nutrients for your baby, as well as antibodies and microflora that commercial formula can’t replicate.
If you’re worried about milk supply or have heard about building a “freezer stash” of expressed milk, you may be eager to prep for your baby early. Is pumping while pregnant the solution?
When Will My Milk Come In?
You might start noticing a yellowish discharge leaking from your nipples during pregnancy. Your body gears up for milk production while you’re expecting, so it’s normal (though not universal) to produce tiny amounts of colostrum before you give birth. You may even notice you’re more likely to have leaky nipples during or right after sex, thanks to a hormone response.
After you give birth, your body’s hormones signal your breasts that the baby’s on the outside now, and needs to eat! For the first day or two, you produce small amounts of colostrum — maybe only a little over an ounce over the entire first day. As you keep nursing, you’ll notice the milk changing color and consistency as you produce transitional milk (a mix of milk and colostrum) and finally mature milk by day 4 or 5, in most cases.
Sometimes having a C-section can delay milk coming in, although that’s not every new mom’s experience. Milk works on supply and demand, so keep the following in mind:
- Nurse early: Latching baby for the first time within an hour or two of birth is ideal
- Nurse often: Newborns may need to eat 12 times a day, and may want to suckle even more! It’s intense, but all that stimulation tells your body to go into milk production mode.
- Limit supplements: That means formula and pacifiers. If your baby wants to suck, offer the breast first. If there’s an issue and your baby truly needs formula, don’t withhold food, but offer plenty of skin-to-skin and nursing time.
- Talk to a lactation consultant: A pro can spot latch issues, troubleshoot, or reassure you that all is going just fine.
How Much Milk Do Newborns Need?
It’s easy to overestimate a new baby’s needs. A day-old baby’s stomach is about the size of a cherry. Producing colostrum a teaspoon or two at a time isn’t a problem; that’s what your body is supposed to do! For a 1-day-old baby, 7-14 ml is enough for a full belly.
By the end of the first week, the baby’s stomach is about the size of a small chicken egg, and can hold about 1.5-2 oz. of milk. So you’re still not looking at a full bottle-sized feeding.
Pumping before birth isn’t really necessary, because your body is good at responding to baby’s cues, and your baby’s stomach capacity is so small. Frequent feeding isn’t a sign of a problem. It’s a completely normal part of establishing a strong milk supply.
Dangers of Pumping While Pregnant
Even if you know your body will most likely respond to your baby’s needs, we get it: Many of us are hard-core planners, and prefer to have a fallback option, just in case. When it comes to breastfeeding and pumping, starting early can do a lot more harm than good.
Nipple stimulation triggers a release of oxytocin, which causes uterine contractions. For this reason, some expectant parents try to use nipple stimulation to induce labor. Scientific results are mixed, but your doctor may advise you to avoid heavy stimulation like pumping before your body is really ready to deliver a baby. What your baby needs first and foremost is the right amount of time to develop in utero. Taking a chance on prompting earlier labor for the sake of storing teaspoons, or even an ounce or two, of colostrum may be more trouble than it’s worth.
If you still want to pump before giving birth, ask your doctor first. They can answer lingering questions and weigh risks with you. In most cases, though, it’s really best for you and your baby to let your body follow a natural course and save pumping milk for when your baby arrives.