The common answer I get to why a mom stopped pumping while struggling with a low supply is “because the last time I pumped, nothing came out”.
But I can’t judge. At all. That’s the reason I would skip a feed back in the day at work as well. Why sit there for 20min and only get out 5ml? Didn’t make sense to me and I fully understand why its doesn’t make sense to you either. But let me tell you about a very important term that I wish I knew (or didn’t, maybe I wouldn’t have created the bars if I suffered through the low supply period). There’s something called “dry pumping”. And it is exactly what it sounds like. Pumping even though the bottles remain dry. Or getting out just 5ml. Let me explain to you why it is crucial to still pump that 20min and never, ever skipping a feed.
Let’s look at Mary. Mary just started menstruating, during a stressful time at work, and her supply hit rock bottom after a few days of missed pump sessions. She used to pump out 120ml per breast 3x a day at work, but now she’s only getting out 90ml per session. During the first pumping session at work she collected her 180ml, but decides to skip her lunch time pump and only pump out at 15:00 so that she has “more milk” due to skipping a feed. That is what the moms on her social media groups suggested. It will fit her work schedule better anyway. She pumped out 120ml per breast at 15:00. “Wow, this worked so well.” She had 420ml in total to take home. “Not bad at all for today, especially since my supply is low”. Or is it? Even though she “had more milk” at 15:00, she lost 120ml in total for the day that she could have had if she pumped at lunch. What? Yes. 90ml per breast x 3 pumps = 540ml. 120ml lost just by missing a pumping session. Even though her breasts were engorged by the 15:00 session, she pumped out less when looking at what she could have had with the lunch time and 15:00 session combined.
So what does she do tomorrow? She skips a feed again. She collects her 180ml from both breasts in the morning, but because she told her body yesterday that she doesn’t need milk over lunch time anymore by not pumping, her supply adjusted and now she only manages to pump out 100ml per breast at 15:00. 160ml lost that she could have had. She only takes home 380ml. Now what? Tomorrow she tries to pump out at different times to manipulate her supply. Collects 300ml in total. The day after she decides to pump out 3x at work again. 90ml in the morning, 80ml over lunch and 10ml in the afternoon. Same story the next day. Eventually she just drops the afternoon session, because then she’ll have more milk when she gets home for the baby, and what’s the point of collecting 10ml anyway? Get where this is going?
You need to pump every 3 hours away from your baby. There’s no way around it. You need to keep up the demand for it. Even if literally nothing comes out. Because even though there wasn’t a demand for milk at the time you pumped today, if you keep on pumping nonetheless, your body will recognise the demand and soon you’ll have milk at that pumping session. The key is to never stop telling your body that you have a demand for the milk its so working hard at to produce. Just as most moms fall into the “formula trap”, the “dry pumping trap” is second in line to why your “supply just dried up by itself”. It didn’t. You just told your body that it doesn’t need to make milk at frequent intervals to the point that it actually started to believe you.
So what should Mary have done? Pumped religiously. For the full 20min every 3 hours. She could also have sent us a message for advice. She could have consumed lactation bars to support her body and milk production and get back on track much faster. But whatever way she chose to go, it was utmost crucial that she kept a demand for milk and never, ever, skipped a pumping session.