Relaxation Techniques

by Diane O'Brien Juve

I don't claim to be an expert in most areas of mothering (my only experience is with my 23 month old son Matthew), but I was a dynamite EBM pumper. Wasn't my favorite part of nursing, but I could easily express 6-12 ounces every single time. So here's my 2 cents.

Pumping is a learned skill, not a talent, and you, too, CAN do it well! I taught Biofeedback for 3 years (not Biorythms =8D .... Biofeedback teaches relaxation techniques combined with feedback to teach people to retrain injured muscles, prevent headaches, etc. It's used in most major medical centers now, and helps with stroke rehabilitation, among other things.)

What I learned with Biofeedback techniques enabled me to be a great pumper, and you can be, too. Really!

I won't go into incredible detail regarding the various relaxation techniques, because they're in magazines and books all the time. The specific routine I suggest, however, is as follows:

(You'll do this routine at least once or twice a day for 5-15 minutes until your body becomes accustomed to dropping into a relaxed state. Once your brain has learned how to do this, and you learn how it feels to be in a relaxed state, you'll be able to relax enough to pump with just 3 or 4 slow abdominal breaths. And the neat thing is, once you've learned this skill, you will have it forever, and with very little practice you can become proficient again at any time.)

OK, so here's the routine:

  1. Start by taking 15-20 SLOW abdominal breaths. Tha means counting slowly to 4 when you inhale, and again when you exhale. Breathing is the single most important skill to practice, and should be done slowly and deliberately throughout the relaxation session.
  2. Next, tense and relax, say, your fists, tensing for 5-10 seconds while keeping the rest of your body entirely relaxed, and BREATHING. You can tense and relax as many different muscle groups throughout your body as you want (top to toes, or working your way from your toes to your head, whatever is comfortable for you), concentrating on deep, relaxed breathing as you do it. (This is an extremely brief description of Jacobsen's Progressive Relaxation exercises, which have been around since the '30's, and about which much better descriptions can be found elsewhere...)
  3. The final step, called Autogenic training, is how I pumped so much in relatively little time. When you can really relax and let your right brain do its thing, you'll have EBM literally squirting into the bottle! You've probably done these exercises at some time, basically imagining yourself lying in the warm sun, perhaps imagining a warm cloth moving over your body. There are tapes that do a great job of helping you visualize the warmth...

    The key to autogenics is warming your hands, so you want your fingertips to actually get warm and tingly. The "warm hands" are just the easiest measure of the autonomic nervous system, which controls our fight or flight response. When you worry about pumping enough, for instance, you don't let anything down at all. Right? That's because worrying sets off your fight or flight response, which shuts down excess circulation to the extremities (causing "cold hands"!), sends adrenalin through your system, slows or shuts down your digestive tract, and basically stops "unnecessary" functions (such as milk letdown!) in order to send more blood rushing to the heart and running muscles.

I know it's tough getting time to yourself with little one(s), but I can guarantee that if you do the above exercises faithfully for 2-3 weeks you'll notice a significant increase in letdown. and you'll be able to do it without having to spend so long getting into that relaxed state.

Remember, dynamite pumping CAN be learned.