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The Science of Breastmilk and Pumping

Fcb33b7af6bc3fa2890946410f154034?s=47 Allison McMillan
September 01, 2015

The Science of Breastmilk and Pumping

Presented at an internal gathering to explain what pumping was, why new moms do it, and what's so special about breastmilk.


Allison McMillan

September 01, 2015


  1. The Science of Pumping and The Magic of Breastmilk Allison

  2. As some of you know, almost 10 months ago, I

    had a baby. So this is a continuation of my “pregnancy and motherhood” series.
  3. This talk is going to be all about pumping and

    breastmilk, mostly because since i’ve been nursing I’ve learned a ton about the science behind these two things and also, I’ve been asked SO many questions by fellow engineers both on this team and just in the community about the subject.
  4. So, today, i’m going to start with pumping. Now, what

    is pumping? Pumping is a way of extracting milk from your body without nursing your baby.
  5. people pump for a variety of reasons… most commonly, a

    majority of women who go back to work, can’t just nurse their baby during the work day so we need to pump out the milk in order for our babies to eat. There are other reasons though… I definitely didn’t realize this but breastfeeding is REALLY complicated and for a majority of people it isn’t this nice, relaxed thing you see in the movies. it’s difficult and sometimes painful and a lot of stuff has to go right in order for it to work. A lot of babies have issues latching on correctly or babies prefer a bottle and refuse to nurse which means lots of moms are even “exclusive pumpers” meaning they don’t nurse and they only pump. And as babies get more distractible it can also be more difficult to nurse them and so you end up pumping more. NOTE: this is NOT what it’s like to work and nurse a young baby.
  6. What is a breastpump? Well, here are some options… there

    are a lot of different styles and companies.
  7. and how does pumping work? well, it is really as

    simple as supply and demand.
  8. At the beginning, a baby eats about 12 times a

    day which means if you are just pumping and not nursing you need to pump 12 times a day.
  9. As your baby gets older, and especially as they start

    sleeping through the night you can pump less. The whole idea is that every day you produce at least as much as your baby eats and you try to trick your body into thinking you are nursing your baby.
  10. Meaning that you need to pump at the approximate times

    they eat.
  11. if you don’t, or if you skip pumps or don’t

    pump at the same times every day, then you body thinks your baby is getting enough and will automatically stop producing as much. again, simple supply and demand.
  12. so the next question is how long does pumping take?

    well, this depends on the person and the place.
  13. first, the place… do you see all these breast pump

    parts?! If you aren’t home then every time you pump, you need to assemble and disassemble each of those pieces. furthermore!!! If you aren’t home (or don’t have access to a fridge) you need to thoroughly clean each of the parts after each use. This is why having lactation rooms with fridges is vital. Not only do you have milk to store but if you can throw the parts into a ziploc bag and put them in the fridge, you don’t need to wash them in between uses (but you do still need to wash them at the end of the day and sterilize like once a week or so). So, the more inconvenient the setup… the longer time it takes.
  14. the other component about place is mental. Remember you’re trying

    to mimic feeding your baby. When you feed your baby, specific chemicals are released in your brain that trigger emotions and relax you and say “hey lady, everything’s great! you’re feeding your baby right now”. the release of those chemicals helps “letdown” which is the process of having the milk actually flow out of you and also affects how much milk you’ll be able to pump out. If you’re working, or stressed then you’re not going to get much. so, the more stressed, the longer time it takes
  15. finally, the person. Different people have different reactions to pumps

    at different times of the day. People commonly pump for 20 minutes at a time, but some only need 10, some need 30.
  16. What happens if you skip a pump? Well, a few

    things… first, you’re telling your body that it no longer needs to produce milk which can be problematic if you still want to nurse.
  17. second, all that milk gets stuck in there which can

    lead to plugged ducts (your milk comes out of milk ducts) and a plugged duct can lead to mastitis which is basically an infection in your breast which has flu-like symptoms (fever, aches and pains, etc) which sucks especially since you have to nurse or pump through it and you often need to be on antibiotics to cure it.
  18. Basically, even if you don’t get a plugged duct or

    something like that, it is just really really uncomfortable and usually in your first few months (like up until 5 or 6 months) you’ll leak if you’re too full and until you stop nursing, if you go too long without pumping it actually physically hurts
  19. so, pumping looks and seems crazy right? And just sucks

    up a ton of time from your day. Trust me, when it’s time to go to bed and all I want to do is go to sleep, the last thing I want to do is spend 30 minutes pumping but I do and it’s because breast milk is magic.
  20. Okay onto the benefits, so first, for mom… it reduces

    mom’s risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis
  21. and nursing helps you heal by getting your uterus to

    go back into place faster and lowers blood loss
  22. and burns calories!!! Making milk is hard work. You’re actually

    supposed to eat more calories daily when nursing than you are when you’re pregnant,
  23. Now, for some really amazing facts about the actual milk

  24. it changes in a variety of ways! The nutritional and

    immunological components of breast milk change every day, according to the specific, individual needs of a baby. your baby nursing actually tells your body what your baby needs and your milk changes based on that. now, that doesn’t mean you can’t give your baby previously frozen breastmilk (we have a whole freezer stash at home, otherwise I wouldn't be able to be here) but it does change it’s contents based on your baby’s age
  25. It also has all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals a

    baby needs until they are 6 months old. That means for the first 6 months your baby doesn’t need food, doesn't need water, doesn’t need ANYTHING except breastmilk (and up until a year, breastmilk is the most important food your baby gets). it is an ideal combination of proteins, fat, carbohydrates, and nutrients. As a mom that means you are literally sustaining a life with your body which I still find crazy to think about.
  26. The milk also has about 150 oligosaccharides which are complex

    chains of sugars unique to human milk. These sugars actually exist to feed the microbes that populate a baby's digestive system. and breastmilk in general has a ton of good bacteria that doesn’t only break food down for the baby but also feeds the baby’s gut bacteria so that they are developing a good digestive system.
  27. Breastmilk also changes based on the weather… in hotter weather

    it’ll be more watery to hydrate better and when it’s colder it’ll be fattier
  28. it changes taste, color, and texture based on what the

    mom eats and this is also how a baby develops tastes for certain things.
  29. Hormones in breastmilk reflect a moms circulation system so milk

    actually changes during the day and what’s going on with the mom. If mom is stressed there's more cortisone which makes baby stressed. OR in the morning, milk has more of a wake-up factor and in the evening it has elements that calm your baby and make them sleepy.
  30. When a baby is sick they often recover faster because

    the mom’s body will respond to whatever the illness is and will produce specific antibodies for that infection. This is also based on the baby backwash I mentioned before. When a baby latches, there is a vacuum- like seal and the baby;s saliva is sucked back into the mom’s body where the receptors in the mammary gland read the signals and produce milk specifically to fight the infection.
  31. researchers also recently discovered that stem cells that have the

    ability to form more than 200 different types of cells found in adult human bodies, are present in breast milk. The only other place these cells have been found is embryonic tissue.
  32. I find all of these facts really mindblowing and amazing

    and wanted to share them all with you because as I mentioned before, breastfeeding is challenging both mentally and physically and it’s something I’m committed to doing for a year. Knowing these facts has really helped me push through in the tougher times, and so when you see that pumping emoji in the slack channel or watch me duck out of a room or come in late… this is why.
  33. finally, I thought long and hard about how to approach

    and present this topic and how to present it so it’s informational but not weird but I’ve gotta say that most women, once they have babies, regard their breasts as a food source… like looking at a plate of spaghetti. So the next time you see a mom awkwardly (or not) trying to nurse in public she’s probably getting lots of dirty looks so be the person that says “good job mom! You’re doing great!”
  34. Thank you!! Questions?? Thank you and questions