A Glimpse Into A Series Meeting: A Pumping Discussion

Lindsey Smith, Columbia, Missouri

“Welcome to the evening meeting of La Leche League. Does anyone have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding as we get started?”

With those words, my co-Leader and I opened the January meeting of our night Group. Right now our Group is mostly members with toddlers, who are adorably clad in pajamas and prepared for the sleep that will inevitably overcome them on their way home from the meeting.

Amy*, keeping an eye on her new walker who is staggering towards the toy box, speaks up: “So, I’m wondering about pumping, especially now that he’s 16 months old. I’m so tired of pumping at work and wondering if I need to keep it up.”

Pumping is a big topic at our night meetings. The members at this meeting almost all work outside the home: they are a wealth of knowledge about managing pumping and breastfeeding. They also share a love/hate relationship with their pumps. On the one hand, it makes it possible to provide breast milk exclusively. On the other hand, most can’t wait to reduce the number of pumps at work or eliminate it entirely as their babies’ diets shift to include more solids and sometimes other liquids at around a year.

My co-Leader elicits a little more information from Amy. She pumps twice at work every day and her son only nurses before bed and in the morning before work. She feels like her pumping output is decreasing.

Mothers start to weigh in. One asks how long her pumping sessions last. Amy admits they are shorter lately as work has been busier. “I know the length of the session is definitely affecting how much I get, but honestly it’s getting hard to find the time to do it at all.”

Carrie*, whose daughter is a few months older than Amy’s, speaks up first. “I was so ready to be done pumping! I dropped down from three pumps to two at a year and now I only do one at work.”

Amy wonders if dropping pumping will reduce her supply.

“It could, but if you’re not getting much then it probably won’t affect it that much anyway,” another mother points out. In my role as a Leader, I mention that when mothers want to increase their supply, they often add a nursing or pumping session, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be at work.

One mother suggests nursing as soon as Amy picks up her son from daycare. “That can be a great time to reconnect anyway!” Since Amy’s son goes to bed a couple hours before her, I suggest she could simply pump before her own bedtime if she wanted to keep a pumping session in her schedule.

“I think I’m mostly worried that if I stop pumping he’ll stop nursing.” Amy looks a little teary at this point. The Group members immediately go into comfort mode. “Dropping a breast milk bottle or sippy cup a couple times a day at daycare won’t affect his need to nurse at all,” Carrie points out. “Nursing is so much more than breast milk for him at this point.”

“I stopped pumping completely at about 15 months. Lilly just stopped drinking it when I was gone, and it was such a hassle to pump. But whenever I’m home she still nurses…a lot!” adds Amber. Other mothers agree that just discontinuing pumping wouldn’t alter the nursing sessions they still enjoy. Angela, mother of two-and-one-half-year-old Stella, rolls her eyes in mock dismay. ”I stopped pumping at work more than a year ago and, well, she’s still going strong!”

Amy looks reassured. I ask her if that helped and answered her questions. “Definitely,” she said. “It’s just weird to think about giving it up after all these months.”

These mothers are generally proactive and positive about nursing their toddlers. I take the opportunity to share the great nutritional benefits toddlers are getting, sharing a resource that states that in the second year (12-23 months), 448 ml/15 fl. oz. of human milk provides:

  • 29% of energy requirements
  • 43% of protein requirements
  • 36% of calcium requirements
  • 75% of vitamin A requirements
  • 76% of folate requirements
  • 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
  • 60% of vitamin C requirements

(Dewey KG. Nutrition, Growth, and Complementary Feeding of the Breastfed Infant. Pediatric Clinics of North American. February 2001; 48(1). Pediatr Clin North Am. 2001 Feb;48(1):87-104.)

“Everybody can feel good about that, right?” I say. A tiny girl falls over with a bump and her mother picks her up and starts to nurse almost before she cries (demonstrating one of the best benefits of nursing our toddlers!), and we move on to the next topic.

And so it goes. La Leche League members make LLL what it is—a place for both the head and the heart. Although my co-Leader and I are always ready to share evidence-based information about breastfeeding, it is the people in our Group who tie our facts and studies with the heartstrings that bind us to this elemental way of feeding—and loving—our children.

*All names have been changed.