Pumping Basics Part 1- What The Experts Say To Do To Get Started Pumping Your Breastmilk

by Jessica Martin-Weber with Rene Fisher, IBCLC

This article made possible by the generous support of Ameda.

Ameda Finesse Double Electric Breast pump

When my baby was 4 weeks old, it was time for me to get started pumping not only for my baby to be able to receive my milk when I had to be away from her for work, but also for me to donate my milk to other babies.

To help me get started pumping, I spoke with Rene Fisher, IBCLC from Ameda, Inc. She helped me pick out a pump, the new Ameda Finesse Double Electric, and got me all set up. Via video chat and live stream, Rene got me all ready to go and before I knew it, I was filling milk storage containers with my milk. Thanks to Rene’s help, for the first time ever, after pumping through 6 babies, I’m finally using the right size flanges and pumping pain-free. See what I learned in the video and points below.

Setting Up Your Pump

Carefully read your instruction manual and ensure you have all the parts you need. Follow the directions for preparing your pump and setting up. Wash each part that comes in contact with your breast and milk including the flanges, milk storage containers (unless you intend to pump directly into bags such as the Store and Pour Ameda breastmilk storage bags), valves, and diaphragms. Do NOT wash the tubing. Plug in your power adaptor or install batteries. Wash your hands and assemble the kit (tubing, flanges, diaphragms, valves, milk storage containers, etc.).

Determine Your Flange Size 

Flanges are the horn shaped pieces that hold the pump and storage containers to your breasts. Correct fit of the flanges can prevent tissue damage and improve the effectiveness of your pump. All nipples are different and dynamic and the size of your flange may determine how you respond to pumping. Too small may cause pain and stress, reducing your output to the pump. Too large may cause too much areola and breast tissue to be engaged and not enough stimulation for let down or may result in reduced output. If your nipple presses against the flange or rubs, you may need a larger size. If there is a significant amount of space around your nipple and additional breast tissue is entering the flange which may rub, you may need a smaller size. Because nipples are dynamic, they may change during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and pumping. You may even need a different size flange mid-pumping session. See this video below and the information here to help you determine correct flange size.

Beginning: Set Up

If possible, set up in a quiet, relaxing space. Have a drink and a snack. Get as comfortable as possible, having read the manual prior to beginning.

Beginning: Positioing

Position the flange centered over your nipple, pressing in lightly to create a seal. Without a seal there will be no suction. If you are double pumping you can use your arms to help hold the flanges to your breasts but you may want to use a hands-free-pumping support.

Beginning: Before You Start

Relax. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Think of your baby. Focus on why you’re pumping rather than the output itself. You may want to watch a video of your baby, look at a photo, or smell their clothing.

Beginning: Turn Your Pump On

To get started with pumping, if your pump has individualized speed and suction settings, set your pump on the highest speed and, following the instruction manual for your pump, turn your pump on at the lowest suction level. Gradually increase suction strength to the highest comfortable level. Pumping should never hurt. It is not necessary to go to the highest level if it is painful for you and doing so could interfere with the milk ejection reflex and let down and result in reduced milk output to the pump, potentially causing tissue damage.

Beginning: Let Down and Expression

Stimulate let down with a high speed and the highest comfortable suction. Once let down begins (marked by spraying or flowing milk), reduce speed. You may feel ready to increase the suction level but only do so the the highest comfortable level. When the flow of milk slows to drips or a trickle, return to a higher speed and the highest comfortable suction level to stimulate another let down. It is possible to get up to 9 let downs in a 20 minute pumping session by adjusting speed and suction levels. It may be helpful to observe your baby’s pattern at the breast and mimic it as closely as possible with the pump during your pumping sessions.

When To Pump

When you pump for the first time will greatly depend on why you are pumping. If your baby is in the NICU and there is clinical separation from birth, you will need to begin as soon as possible and plan to pump 8-12 times within a 24 hour period for exclusively pumping. If you are pumping to return to work at 6 weeks postpartum, it is advisable to wait until 3-4 weeks postpartum and your milk supply and breastfeeding are established to protect your supply. If possible, introduce pumping gradually for partial separation giving at least an hour before breastfeeding again after pumping (though let your baby feed at the breast whenever they want to!). Many breastfeeding parents find they get more milk pumping first thing in the morning. Pumping one side while baby is latched and feeds from the other can also lead to more let downs while pumping.

How Long To Pump

Many breastfeeding parents find that 15-20 minutes is adequate time to pump. Some may find it takes longer but with the right pump and proper flange fit, 15-20 minutes will be plenty for most. Utilizing hands on pumping or breast massage while you pump can help encourage your breasts to empty fully, signaling your breasts to produce more milk for your baby. When you pump will depend on your reasons for pumping, how long you are away from your baby, and the amount of milk you need. Every breastfeeding parent and baby are different, figure out what works for you. For more on when and how long to pump, see here.


Mother of 4, Rene Fisher has been an IBCLC since 1998. Rene has worked in private practice before going on to be a hospital Lactation consultant for 10 years where she was responsible for nurses and patient education and hands on assistance with breastfeeding mothers. Rene got started in lactation support as a La Leche League Leader 1993 and became a member of La Leche League Area Professional Liaison Department from 2000 -2010. Today, Rene supports families in reaching their baby feeding goals working with Ameda breastfeeding products.



Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, freelance writer, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. Jessica lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest and co-parents her 7 daughters with her husband of 21 years.

My Mommy Bliss

I peeked around the corner into where I heard the sounds of baby babble.  She had been on the look out for me, immediately rolling over onto her tummy and smiling tentatively.  Stepping into the room I greeted her softly and she laid her head down and smiled, a shy lopsided smile.  She was happy to see me and I her.  We had been apart for several hours.  Now, after a long nap, we were finally reconnecting.  I told her I missed her, she lifted her head and kicked excitedly, a grin filling her face showing off the 2 tiny white teeth that protruded from her bottom gums.  Both legs kicked the bed, arms flapping rapidly, broken only by the super baby pose and intense grins at me.  Overwhelmed with excitement she buried her face in the mattress, her body tense with an excited delight.  I leaned in, nuzzling her cheek and kissing her neck and she squealed glee, a squawking sound that dissolved into a giggle and ended with a sigh.  My whole being sighed too.  This was right.  This was mommy bliss.  She rolled toward me and I kissed the top of her head, breathing in her intoxicating smell, treasuring the velvety softness of her peach fuzz.  Her diaper still dry, I climbed onto our bed to snuggle and feed her.  Expectation and excitement mingled as she realized she was hungry and her kicking intensified, she began to fuss lightly.  Her hungry sound.  Little hands opened and closed, grabbing at the bed.  Her eyes watched my every move, anticipation building, I was not moving fast enough now.  As I got comfortable, I encouraged her to make her way to me but desperation set in quickly, we had been parted too long and she needed to eat now, not a second later.  Drawing her to me and lifting my shirt, I watched her calm with knowing.  More skilled at this than anything else, she was like a artist at work, anxious and itching to get started, smooth and calm in the moment of delivery.  Her mouth enveloped my nipple, her hand rested on my breast.  Laying side by side our breathing synched and I watched as she got in the zone, filling her tummy with my milk.  My milk let down quickly to her masterful technique and soon she hummed contentedly between swallows.  Finally she lifted her eyes to my face and I smiled my own lopsided smile at being noticed again.  Still in the zone, she held my gaze, never interrupting her pace as she satiated her hunger.  Her soft hums felt like a lullaby and a content relaxed sleepiness came over us both and I closed my eyes.  A contented gurgle beckoned me to open my eyes and I looked down to see her gazing up at me, no longer latched to my breast.  When our eyes met her face relaxed into the lopsided smile and she raised a hand to my face.  Staring and smiling, we stroked each other’s face, savoring the contact.  She told me about her day and I murmured about how I missed her.  Contentment in this moment of perfection clouded the reality of dirty dishes, unanswered emails, and a thousand other tasks requiring my attention. There was just her and me.


This is right.  This is my mommy bliss.


Zutano supports breastfeeding with their Bring Your Baby to Work Program

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk with Michael Belenky, CEO of Zutano.  The unique baby clothing company stands out not only for their fun, bright, and different clothing for babies and young children but also with their progressive Bring Your Baby to Work program.  Father of 2 grown daughters, Sofia (21) and Ella (23), Michael and his wife Uli understand the challenges parents face.  Placing a high value on family is a foundational building block of the company they started and supporting breastfeeding is a natural part of that to them.  A fitting value for this maker of baby and children’s clothing.

I was curious as to how the Bring Your Baby to Work program worked and how it got started.  Michael was happy to answer my questions and though I already loved Zutanos products, I’m an even bigger fan of their family supportive policies.

The program has really been a part of Zutano since the company’s inception.  Back in 1988 the company was run from Michael and Uli’s dinning room table.  Inspired by their new baby, the couple wanted fun, comfortable, playful prints in baby and children clothes and created their own.  New baby and a new company, it was bring your baby to work from the very beginning.  More than just inspiration, the couple’s children were a part of the business early on.

After moving the company to Vermont, Zutano expanded and when their production manager Denice announced she was pregnant the idea to provide a more physical support for the families of their employees was born.  While they would have supported her taking time of to raise her family, they offered for her to remain at Zutano and bring her son with her after her maternity leave is up, saving the company having to hire and train someone new, letting them keep such a key person in the company, provide a practical application of their commitment to supporting families, and having the added bonus of built in tester of their product.  That product manager not only stayed with the company but has had 3 lovely babies go through the office with her.  Zutano is family.

Since then, over 25 babies have come through the office in Vermont from the end of mom’s maternity leave, up to a year.  With pure delight, Michael shared with me that he really can’t remember a time when there hasn’t been a baby in the office.  If a mother didn’t have a private office where she could close the door prior to her maternity leave, when she returns to work with her baby in tow, they have rearranged offices and set up a crib, even installing blinds if she desires more privacy.  Mothers are free to nurse and deal with whatever they need to deal with for the baby.  Four years ago there was a point where there were 6 babies at one time.  When I asked about how it works out, he explained that everyone is happy to pass the babies around, they all pitch in and help with the babies.

Surely all this baby passing and pitching in has to be distracting?  How can anyone get work done with babies being passed around?

“Anybody that has babies knows that they are incredibly inconvenient but for the most part little babies sleep a lot.  I think it’s a myth that babies are always crying, always miserable and making you miserable but we’ve seen that when babies have that connection with their parents, specially mothers, they feel secure.  For the most part then they are really happy campers.  People find ways to get it done.  That may mean working extra at home at night.  The idea that you hand your baby off at 6 weeks is a problem.”  says Michael.  Babies in a professional environment sounds like an oxymoron and sure, it helps that Zutano is a baby clothing company but Michael explained how everyone pitches in and it is just a part of the accepted culture in their office.  “There have been many meetings where someone was nursing through a meeting, babies crawling on the floor.  It’s just part of what we do, maybe there’s the sound of a gurgling baby in the background, it’s just the music of what it is.”

“Everybody is so great in the office- babies get passed around, customer service is more than just phones they’re always passing a baby around”  Michael shared.  “Breastfeeding is not only about that amazing nutrition, it’s about that strong connection that babies thrive on.  We really see the difference between the babies that are well nurtured through breastfeeding and physical connection.”

But Zutano’s Bring Baby to Work program isn’t just good for the babies, it’s good for the company too.

“The program benefits Zutano in many ways.  Employee retention.  The people that have been in our company the longest, most important to our company are the people that have brought many babies, participated in this program.  From a financial point of view this program costs us nothing.  No liability, babies are with their parents.  Offers a priceless benefit.  Also, for a baby clothing company, it helps us be in touch and know what we’re about.  We literally breathe baby every day.” Says the company’s CEO.  “Having a baby in the office ads a social dynamic.  There’s not been any big issues with resentment but it really has helped bring people together.  You’re sharing a really big part of your life, people are much more connected.  Everybody pitches in.  if somebody has to go to a meeting where they can’t bring the baby, somebody steps in.”

When I asked about someone possibly being offended seeing breastfeeding in public, particularly a professional setting Michael sounded flabbergasted: “I find it astonishing that feeding a baby could ever be seen as inappropriate.  There are people here that are more shy than others, one woman requested shades in her office, Zutano installed them to afford her that privacy.  Having a healthy environment where someone should feel comfortable bring in a meeting, something we have to deal with in our society.  People need to get over it.”

Michael points out that Quebec is just 2 hours from Zutano’s main office and moms there have a year’s leave available to them and he’d like to see that available to families in the USA too.  “Families are really stressed people have to make decisions where children lose out in the whole thing.  We need bigger investments, not just what companies can do, society.  You do need to have a year to focus on your baby when your baby is born.  But what can we do creatively to make it work now?  In safe environments, like offices, what can do we do?  It’s valuable to keep people for a long time, to support your people you get it back.  So many of us now are working in front of computers in offices, for a log of people it can work.  We have to have that understanding and flexibility, it’s really important, it’s why we’re here.  Not just for baby clothes companies.  If we don’t support moms and babies, families, we’re going to pay for it as a society.  That first year is so important, a good start and you’re on your way.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Hopefully more and more companies will follow Zutano’s example of valuing family and supporting moms and babies leading to a stronger and healthier society for our future.


 Zutano is showing it’s support for The Leaky Boob by offering a giveaway from August 8,2012- August 16, 2012.  One lucky Leaky will win a $75 gift card to the company’s website.  Use the widget below to be entered for not one, not two, but three chances to win and please go comment on their Facebook page (where they do regular giveaways) showing your support for this supportive company.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Up close and personal: Leakies Q & A on TLB, personal, and “other”

This is the last of what could have been called “more than you ever really wanted to know about me.”  I responded to your questions about pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding here and family, children, and work here.  In this post I answer some of your questions about The Leaky Boob, more personal questions, and the proverbial “other.”

Photography by Kelli Elizabeth Photography in Houston, TX

TLB, personal, and “Other”

Q: How do you eliminate negativity in your life?

When I figure that out I’ll let you know. 😉

Ok, that was a major copout answer.  I don’t eliminate it.  I’m an artist by nature, it’s a huge part of who I am and how I see the world.  I am prone to times of depression, part of the ebb and flow of life and a crucial part of the creative process.  For a long time I denied and suppressed that part of me but after one particularly difficult time with postpartum depression I’ve learned to embrace it.  By accepting negativity, including my own, for what it is when it arises I’m more equipped to leave it and not let it effect me.  Too much.  I have found that acknowledging it has made me see that there isn’t as much as I once thought.  Additionally I have learned to recognize it, identify the source, call it what it is, and if need be put boundaries in place.

Q: What inspired you to begin TLB?

You can read about that here.

Q: Tell us more about your faith – where do you go to church and can you tell us anything about your plans for Paris?

I am a protestant Christian with a huge passion for social justice and mercy ministry.  We attend a local Vineyard church and consider ourselves Christ-followers, not affiliated with a denomination.  Our plans for Paris have been delayed a few months due to the pregnancy (we’re already supposed to be there) but we are in non-profit arts, family, and social justice work.  Tentatively the plan is for us to be in Paris come late this summer.

Q:  What particular challenges did you face as a busy mom and writer? And what tips/tricks/advice helped you overcome those challenges?

Sleep.  Sleep is always my biggest challenge.  I’m a night owl but several of my kids are early risers.  When I’m not pregnant I overcome that with coffee.  When I’m pregnant, I fall asleep on the couch.  Often.  😉

What works for me is to be honest with myself and with The Piano Man about what I need and I expect the same from him.  I grew up seeing us kids as the center of my mom’s world and while that was really nice, it also made me feel responsible in the long run for her having a center of her world.  By the time I was a preteen I desperately wanted her to do something, ANYTHING, that was for herself and pursuing her own interests.  As a young adult I vowed not to have kids because I watched my mom flounder.  Not to mention the shock when the rest of the world wouldn’t let me be the center of their attention until I proved I deserved it.  There was quite the adjustment for me there.  So I’ve always made it a priority to have my kids see me into other activities that don’t involve them and I encourage them to pursue interests that don’t involve me all the while coming back to our center in our home.  It’s like a base, not a focal point, and where I’m grounded.  It’s where we regroup and energize, not what defines us.

Meal plans, not every day but for several of our busiest days a week help but still afford us the flexibility we enjoy in our cooking.  Enlisting the kids to help with housework and accepting that it may not always be done to my standards teaches them responsibility and life skills and helping around the house.  We require a quiet time for all of us to get some space from each other and actively work on our own projects be it writing, knitting, coloring, napping, etc.  Insisting that the girls play outside and me joining them there on a blanket with my work to keep an eye on them as they have free play.   They are regularly actively engaged in healthy play and having a rough schedule or rhythm that doesn’t control our lives but does provide a framework to stretch our canvas in order to live it really helps.  But most importantly, lightening up.  Relaxing.  Deciding what’s really important and learning to accept a certain amount of chaos.

Typical day?  Different every time!  But I promise we do eat, sleep, play, work, and love like crazy.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing you have experienced as a mother?

I’m really not sure I could narrow it down to one thing but I can say that seeing my daughters grow in independence, confidence, and with character I’m pleased to see developing, I feel the most encouraged in my parenting.  But there’s also just those moments of little arms flung around my neck, squeezing tight that feel incredibly rewarding, even more so because that’s not at all how they are thinking of it, they’re just expressing their genuine feelings.

Q: What’s your go-to-dinner? How do you take your coffee?

Go-to dinner: beans and rice with a salad.

Coffee: when I’m not pregnant I either like it with cream and sugar or a strong espresso, black.  Always fair trade.

Q: Do you have siblings? What is your relationship with your parents? Where did you grow up? How do you balance your work and your family? How are you so freaking awesome?!

I do have siblings, an older brother and a younger sister.  That’s right, I’m the middle child.  Bum-bum-BUUUUUUUM!  I live too far from my family and don’t do as good of a job as I’d like keeping in touch and staying connected.  My relationship with my parents is constantly changing.  It’s a good reminder that we’re all still growing.  There is a lot of love and though we don’t always see eye-to-eye, there is a lot of effort put into understanding and accepting our differences.  I grew up in Florida (Yankee South), born and reared there.  As to how I balance work and family, it’s a constant adjusting.  Just when I think I have it all worked out, something shifts and we have to reevaluate and re-tweak.  The key for us is to be flexible and maintain communication so we can adjust where and when necessary.  As for the awesome thing, my family could fill you in that I’m not so awesome.  😉

Q: Besides the amazing benefits of bfing for mom and baby, what compelled you to be such a huge advocate for bfing? Was there one specific person/event that made you realize this to be a passion of yours? What are some other things that define you as a person beside family and lactivism?

Believe it or not, it wasn’t about breastfeeding to me really when I started it.  It was about women, children, and families.  It still is.  Breastfeeding is just a piece of it, a piece I can talk about and facilitate a community where others can engage in a safe dialogue about breastfeeding… and more.  As for what are other things that define me, you can find more of those in some of the other answers to the questions here.  I’m passionate about so much!

Q: How did you got into knitting!!

Bed rest with #2!  Took me like 7 years to knit one scarf.  Then Earth Baby started knitting in school and I helped her with a project and realized I loved it and it just took off.

Q: What are you other passions besides all things breastfeeding, mothering, and blogging….?

The arts in general.  I’m very involved in the arts, went to school for music performance and also have a love for visual arts, theater, and the written word.  Helping people connect with the arts, use the arts, express themselves through the arts is a passion of mine.  Building up and encouraging artists is another.  Challenging artists to use their voice to help tell the stories of others, particularly the oppressed, is a big part of my life.  

Social justice, specifically related to human trafficking is my heart of hearts though.  It’s what fires me up like no other and is what breaks my heart over and over again.  

I’m also passionate about birth, building up women and girls, and sexual abuse issues.

On the lighter side, I love to read, knit, dance, ride bikes, sew, paint, and more.

Q: What inspired you to become such a passionate breastfeeding advocate? What were your thoughts and opinions on breastfeeding before you had children? And while i have your attention thank you for what you started. I would not be sitting here nursing my lo if i hadn’t joined your page shortly before becoming pregnant 🙂

Congrats on your breastfeeding!  So grateful TLB could be a part of that journey with you.

I figured I’d always breastfeed.  I remember being weirded out by a friend’s mom breastfeeding when I was a teen but when I voiced that thought to my mom I promptly got put in my place about how breastfeeding is normal and I better never forget it as I was breastfed until I was 2.5.  Though uncomfortable a bit with the idea when my turn came, I did feel it was the normal way to feed a baby so I got over it.

Q: When was the last time you peed in private in your own home? Cause, idk about you but I usually have a parade follow me into the bathroom followed by a play-by-play commentary…lol

Recently, actually.  They entertain each other so well lately that going with mommy to the potty the 25 times a day she goes has gotten boring.  The real challenge for me is to not have to yell something while I’m on the toilet: “wait, what are we climbing?  I don’t think so, don’t climb the doll stroller to get on top of the shelves!  I can get the toy, just let me finish peeing!”

Q: Are you Canadian?

Nope, never even been there.  I do plan to rectify that some day.  As my friend Cindy would say, I only wish I was that cool!

Q: Are you able to keep up with everything else, like cleaning, paying bills, friends, etc.? Or are you like me with a dirty house, stacks of paperwork, and little time for friends?

Like you!  I make time for friends though, it’s crucial to my personal health.

Q: Are you making money doing this, I noticed you advertise. Which is fine, just wondering! And if you become rich from this, can you promise not to change? : )

I do get money from the sponsors but not anything I’m going to be getting rich with any time soon!  But I won’t change, the DNA of TLB is pretty set, I like what it is and want to keep it going.  I have a pretty big vision for TLB, one step at a time but at the heart, it’s going to stay what it is.

Q: I don’t have a question, but many of the above questions have been running through my mind since reading your posts! I’m excited to hear your answers. There’s much to admire about you … especially that you’re raising such an obviously loving family but are also able to keep your art alive. I guess I do have a question: how do you find the time for your art pieces?

It’s slowed down some during the pregnancy though I picked up my brushes the other day to work on a family piece I’ve been conceptualizing.  I find time by letting other things go.  Involving my children helps too, they love to get set up with paints, brushes, paper or canvas, etc.  They do their work while I do mine.  It’s more clean up later but clean up I enjoy because the time spent creating together feeds my soul.

Q: I know you were a coffee drinker while bf are you while pregnant?

More like a coffee puker while pregnant.  😉

Q: You inspire many women, what inspires you?

All of the Leakies!  And my children.  And beautiful art.  And seeing things that I feel need to change.

Up close and personal: Leakies Q & A on family, children, and work

Continuing with answering personal questions from the Leakies from way back in November (it took me a while to get through them!), I share here some of my answers regarding our family lives.  I could answer some but not all out of respect for my family, besides, I can’t imagine anyone really wants to know that much about me!

Photo by Click. Wind. Repeat in Houston, TX

Family, children, work 

Q: How did you and your hubby meet?

I like this story.  We were music majors in college and in the same music group.  I had noticed him and he had noticed me but we had never talked until one night in the music building practice studios.  Our practice rooms were right next to each other and as I struggled through a Bach piece a loud, an impressive display of Rachmaninov was shredding through the paper thin walls blowing me away.  Annoyed I went to see who dared to be better than me.  Just as I was peeking into the tiny window I heard the door to my room click and realized I had left my key in the room and was locked out.  Around that same time my best friend came out of his practice room and we talked about the show off between us, who, as it turned out, was lived on the same floor that my friend was RA for.  He must have sensed something because he interrupted the hot guy at the piano to introduce us.  My friend moved on but the future Piano Man and I talked for hours, he kept me company as I waited to be let back into my practice room.  Within a few weeks he was the student accompanist for my voice lessons and the rest, as they say, was history.

Q: I’d like to know how you afford 6 children. I love the idea of a larger family but I’m stressing about how we’re even gonna be able to have another baby and make a grand total of TWO children right now. Does The Piano Man have a great job or something?

Financially speaking, no, he doesn’t and neither do I though we both love what we do.  But we used to.  Once upon a time we both worked full time and were fairly well paid.  We had less kids then too.  One thing we learned though is that depending on how you live, it can feel like you never have enough.  We have chosen to live simply, a decision that was helped by us both losing our decent paying jobs within a month of each other a few years ago and following the sexual abuse and court case of two of our daughters.  Personally I don’t believe that anyone ever makes enough money to have a family and it’s never a good time, too many things in life are unpredictable and in a flash anyone’s status is subject to change.  Instead, we determined our family size on what felt right for us and then set about making it work.  These days we are very lower middle class and would qualify for all of the aid programs should we choose to utilize them.   Our expectations have changed and we’re pretty creative in figuring out how to afford things, assuming we actually need those things in the first place, which often we don’t.

Q: How old are you and your children?

I am 34 and our girls are 2, 4, 9, 11 and 13.

Q: I was wondering if you are a SAHM plus the blogging and this facebook page or if you have another job as well?

I am a work at home mom for the most part.  I do have another job outside of TLB, most of which I can do from home which gives me a lot of flexibility.  The same is true for The Piano Man.  We work together and love doing so and choose to live with less and having simpler lives to do work we love (in the non-profit sector), are passionate about, can share, and affords us more time with our family.  Having been in the fast paced world of music performance and production environment I sometimes miss that stimulation but I’m much happier finding this more simple balance for our lives.  We have both been the SAHP at some point and find that us both working, flex-scheduling, and equal share of the parental/work responsibilities work best for our marriage and family.

Q: The origin of your daughter’s names and any possible names for Sugarbaby?

All of our girls real names are taken directly from the arts, so far, all from literature.  The 3 eldest are from Shakespeare plays, then we have one from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline,” and our last one comes from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable.  A few requirements for our names: must work in both French and English (bilingual family, The Piano Man is from France), must not be in the top 1000 recently (or ever if possible), must not know anyone or know of anyone with the name, must have a meaning that we want for our children, and must appeal to both The Piano Man and me.  Sugarbaby names are being tossed around and we think we have one fairly firm.  However, we’re top secret about our names, they will not be revealed until the birth.

So we have:

Ophélia Chantelle- little helper, little song (Shakespeare’s Hamlet)

Lavinia Celeste Bailey- pure beauty of heaven or lady of Rome and heavenly (Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus)

Helena Christelle- light of little Christ (Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream)

Evangeline Claire- clear good news (William Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem Evangeline)

Cosette Marguarite Constance- constant flower, song of the victorious people (Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable)

Q: How did you come up with the nicknames for your children?

You can read about that here.

Q: Did you always want a big family our did it just happen that way? Do you or dh come from large families? Was your extended senility always supportive of bf?

I wasn’t sure I wanted children at all.  But then I had Earth Baby when I was 20 and I was then certain I didn’t want more than one.  Ha!  Over time and after getting over the shock of having unplanned #2, obviously that plan changed.  I’m one of three, The Piano Man is one of four.  For the most part, yes, our extended families have been supportive of breastfeeding, with a few exceptions.  However, our nearest relative is 1800 miles away so it doesn’t really effect me if they’re not, we only see them occasionally.

Q: How do your family planning?  Do you just let it happen when it happens?  Use birth control?

We have used a variety of contraceptions over the years.  A couple of our children weren’t planned but very welcomed.  We are done now though, Sugarbaby was a surprise that we’re very grateful for happening outside of our plans.  It’s snip-snip here for us, all done.

Q: How you space children & whether or not the spacing has any impact on their relationships with each other.

Our spacing wasn’t exactly intentional.  We just let it happen how it happened though we thought we were preventing some of them.  The spacing does impact their relationships with each other but I have noticed that they are pretty tight no matter the distance.  Certain things seem easier/harder depending on the spacing and hands down having an almost 5 year gap between babies was the least stressful on me physically.  There are advantageous either way I think.

Q: Have you ever received any negative comments about having so many kids and if so, how do you respond to them?

Yes, we have received a lot of negative comments.  Interestingly enough, we had more with Smunchie than we have with Sugarbaby.  Maybe because they figure we’re aiming for 20 now?  Not sure.

As to how I respond, I usually just ignore it and call the person names in my head.  Or if they are super rude about it I just go for rude right back and bring out the snark.  My favorite is asking them if their mom taught them anything about manners and being rude.  It usually shuts them up.  

Q: How do you make time for all of your children? It seems my 2 keep me busy nonstop.

Time is a strange thing, we only have enough for what we have to have it for.  We all share each other.  My house is usually a disaster because I could choose between cleaning or experiencing life with my kids.  I pick living with the mess and having time with my kids.  We date each other too, all of us.  The girls love having sister dates, mommy dates, daddy dates, etc.  We’re creative about those, it could be cooking together in the kitchen, painting, playing duets on the piano, going for a walk, a trip to get ice cream, etc.  Whatever form it takes, we seek to do it often.  More often than dusting for sure.  Though I count dusting together to be some serious quality time.

Q: How do you mother 5, be pregnant, run a support group and blog… and still have time for everything in between!?!

I don’t clean my house!  Haha!  No, really.  At least not more than the bare minimum.  😉  But again, time tends to be available for what you decide you really need to do.  I am a night owl and I often stay up too late.  It’s worth it to me to be able to squeeze those extras in to my life and having a balance that works for me is critical to my overall wellbeing and health as a mother.  Finding time to nurture myself makes me a better mom and these extras do nourish my soul.

Q: I want to pull my hair out most days with my 2. How do you keep your sanity?

Um… I don’t.  Really, I’ve just learned to redefine much of life: sanity, clean, happy, enough, time, balance…

It gets easier as they get older too.  Difficult in it’s own way (schedules!) but easier in terms of taking care of the kids.  They are more independent, can help, and don’t require as much supervision.  Usually.  It helps that I really love the people I see them becoming.

Q:  Do your kids go to school or do u home school? If so, what do you use to teach them, is it structured?  Also, what is your typical day like?

Yes and yes.  We used to homeschool completely and then a few years ago added in a homeschool program once a week.  This year we went for an entirely different arrangement more customized to each child.  Earth Baby (13) is primarily homeschooled, attending a homeschool university modeled program once a week.  The Piano Man and I work with her on the other days.  The Storyteller (11) and Lolie (9) both attend a local Waldorf initiative school but only 3 days a week which is the perfect set up for our family.  The other 2 days a week they are home we continue with a few subjects we wanted to teach (French, piano, world history, geography, and some math).  Squiggle Bug is only 4 and attends the same Waldorf initiative school 2 days a week.  Our pedagogical approach is relaxed, Waldorf and unschooling inspired.  We use a variety of materials, none of them very structured, all very hands on.  Often we follow our children’s lead as we’ve found what naturally interests or inspires them leads to an insatiable appetite for learning.

Q: I have 4 children and I a sahm and I’m very curious about ways to cut corners but stay healthy. My twin pregnancy put a lot of weight on me and I’d like tips on how to lose weight and exercise with being the stay at home mom of a large family with small children.

Being realistic about our budget and how our budget needed to reflect our priorities has been an important part of this for us.  We don’t have cable, don’t have a new TV (we have a clunky outdated thing), shop at thrift stores for household items and most clothing, and buy almost no prepared, prepackaged food items.  The bulk of our food budget goes to fresh fruits and veggies, we make most of our own bread, and we try to only do whole grains.  We’re not huge meat eaters, only about 1-3 times a week, which helps keep cost down too.  But we’re not the epitome of health, we have our splurges and vices to be sure.  Additionally we have a growing value on human rights and fair labor practices and have made a decision to not consume coffee or chocolate that can’t show that child labor was not used at any point in the production of those products.  This value cuts down a lot of our spending and encourages healthier habits simply because we can’t afford to eat a lot of Fair Trade goods.  Less is more.  For exercise I try to wear my babies as much as possible, go for walks with the kids, and do wii fit while babywearing if possible.

Q: Why is there such a big age difference between your oldest three and your youngest two? How many children do you want, or are you not sure yet? How long did you nurse your oldest ones for? I really enjoy you and your advocacy for breastfeeding. I refer a lot of pregnant/nursing moms to your page.

Because we really thought we were done.  I had serious heart damage during Lolie’s pregnancy and was advised to never do it again.  But my heart felt like we weren’t done and wasn’t ready to take a permanent step.  I got pregnant with Squiggle Bug on birth control and it was a huge shock.  I’ve nursed my babies for 10 months, 4 months, 18 months, 22 months, and 27 months so far.

Q: I am still curious about your everyday. What is grocery shopping, road trips, vacations, one on one time like….. homework time, chores, etc…. how do you/piano man manage to keep 5 children behaving well?? 🙂 how do you deal with conflict? how many do you think you will end up with? What do you think your kids will be when they grow up?

Our everyday is… busy and normal.  Grocery shopping: The Piano Man and I usually go alone or with just a child or 2, the other stays home.  Sometimes we have to take everyone but they love it.  We play games and enlist their help.  Road trips: big ones we have a plan for activities and stops, short ones we kind of wing it pulling from our arsenal of ideas when they get impatient.  Chores: we teach early on that we’re all a part of a community, our family.  Just like we have to be good citizens in our larger community, we have to do our part in our family.  There are consequences when they don’t do their part such as people getting frustrated with them, mommy and daddy doing their chores but not having time to make a good dinner (this one is really motivating), missing out on the special community (aka: family) times, etc.  For the most part it’s not an issue, they seem to understand.  Conflict: I could write a whole book on this.  The short version?  We moderate and help walk them through their conflict.  Behaving: define “behaving.”  We first look at our expectations and make sure they are developmentally appropriate.  Then we look at our parenting to see if we’re provoking our children in any way.  After that we make sure all their needs are being met.  It’s only then that we address their behavior.  In general, they are well behaved children but they are children and as such, act accordingly including “misbehaving” from time to time.  How many will we end up with: I’m thinking 6 at this point.  What will they be when they grow up?  Hopefully confident, educated, kind, caring, free-thinking women.

Q: With 5 (almost 6) children how do you manage space wise in terms of sleeping, storing clothes and toys and just finding space for everyone to do their own thing? I have 4 children in a 3 bed house and we are right at our limits space-wise but I would love more children. Xxx ps( you should be extremely proud of what you have achieved with TLB, there is nothing compares to it and it is a backbone for many women on their breastfeeding journey! 🙂

We live in a tiny house.  An old, tiny house that we rent.  About 1,400 square feet and 3 bedroom, 1 bath.  There isn’t much storage and it’s a constant battle.  I’m ready to move.  The Piano Man made loft style beds with a play platform in the middle to help maximize space.  We try to use the walls as much as possible and we keep things simple in terms of play things.  Lots of cubbies, baskets, bins, shelves, and boxes trying to contain our stuff.  When it gets to be too much, we purge.  We’re always picking up, encouraging each other to put stuff away, and always deciding how much mess we can live with.

Q: How do you grocery shop and prepare healthy meals for so many people? I have a really hard time with meal planning. I think we spend way too much money on groceries for 2 adults and a baby. Any tips would be great.

Well, this is just about lunches but I wrote some about that here.  Otherwise, I do something similar for our regular meals.  We shop primarily on the outside of the store buying whole foods such as produce, whole grains, dairy, etc.  Most everything we make is from scratch.  We have a list that we occasionally update and add to but about 50 of our favorite meals are on there, all price ranges.  Usually we pick a few main meals and that becomes our shopping list plus some staples we like to have on hand.

Q: Like many others I want to know how you manage so many children and $$$? My DH and I seem to have litters, we could easily jump from 2 to 4 to 6, etc. I would love to have more but $$ is an issue

We don’t have a hard and fast budget, largely because it tends to flux.  But we do sit down to create a ball park budget and communicate frequently about where we stand.  We have no debt.  Our van is old and we paid cash for it.  Our rent is low and well under what we could afford.  We don’t have cable and our cell phone service is fairly modest though we use them for work as well so we have more than we would if that weren’t the case.  Much of what we do (i.e. our daughters in dance, the school our girls go to) is bartered.  We don’t have new anything and don’t feel the need to.  We make what we can and we shop at thrift stores over buying brand new most of the time.  When things have taken us by surprise, we’ve decided to sell things to be able to buy the new item or dip into our small savings.  Sometimes we just choose to go without until we figure out how we can afford it.  This has taught us so much, actually.  Given us incredible opportunities to slow down if need be to make things work.  

Most importantly, we rarely stress about money.  We don’t have much but we are well aware that we have so much more than many in this world.  Perspective on what we can and can’t live without help us to focus on our blessings rather than on what we don’t have.