It can help your baby to breastfeed effectively if you understand some of the basics of breastfeeding. This includes how to use pumped breastmilk and how to help increase your partner's milk supply if it begins to decrease.
Pumping and Storing Breastmilk
There are many reasons why your partner may want to pump and store her breastmilk for use later on. Some of these reasons include that she may be at work and unable to breastfeed all of the time, or she may have to go on a trip without her baby and isn't ready to wean. Some babies are also fed pumped breastmilk if dad wants to be able to feed his exclusively breastfed baby some of the time or if you get your milk from a human breastmilk bank.
There are many different types of breast pumps available for your partner, from manually operated hand pumps to hospital-grade electric pumps. There is even a hands-free pump that operates on batteries. Any of these can get the job done, but if your partner is going to be pumping a lot or is pumping to build up her milk supply, you should try to get a hospital-grade pump. These are more expensive, but they often can be rented from a lactation consultant.
The following guidelines from the AAP and La Leche League International will help you decide how long you can store pumped breastmilk. According to these guidelines, stored milk can be kept:
At room temperature for four hours
In a small refrigerator or cooler at work until you get home to store it in your refrigerator or freezer
Unfrozen in a refrigerator for three to eight days
In a freezer that is in the same compartment as the refrigerator for two weeks
In a freezer with a separate door from the refrigerator for one to three or four months
In a chest freezer for six months
Frozen breastmilk can be thawed by moving it into a refrigerator for up to twenty-four hours. Once you are ready to use it, refrigerated breastmilk should be warmed by running it under warm water, and then it should be shaken and put in a bottle or cup for your baby to drink. Like formula, expressed breastmilk should not be heated in a microwave oven.
Increasing Breastmilk Supply
Although there are other reasons to have a poor milk supply, the amount of breastmilk a mother has usually is based on basic supply and demand. As a mother's breasts are emptied of milk, it signals her body to make more. If a baby isn't breastfeeding often enough or doesn't latch on and suck well, then there is no signal to make more milk and her supply probably will decrease.
If a mother has a low supply of milk, giving the baby formula and hoping her supply eventually increases is not the answer. Instead, make sure that your baby is latching on and sucking well and is eating at least every two or three hours. Extra pumping after each feeding with a hospital-grade breast pump can also help increase her supply.
How long should my baby breastfeed?
A good general answer is the longer the better, with two months being better than no breastfeeding at all and six months being better than two or four months. Ideally, your baby should breastfeed until she is at least twelve months old. Keep in mind that this is really a minimum recommendation, and that your baby can continue to breastfeed after she is a year old if she and mom want to.
It's also important to make sure that your baby's mother isn't overly stressed, anxious, or depressed and is getting enough to eat and drink. She might want to try one of the herbs that can help to increase a mother's supply of breastmilk, such as blessed thistle. These are available over-the-counter in capsule form and as dried herbs to make teas. However, she should be sure to consult with your pediatrician or her obstetrician before she takes a supplement while breastfeeding. Most important, you should consult a lactation consultant to help your partner get her milk supply back up so that your baby can be exclusively breastfed.