Breastfeeding is a skill, and it takes some time to get better at it. Many find pumping breast milk even less instinctive. Like breastfeeding, pumping is a skill that can take some time to perfect, and some people don’t pump as much milk as they’d like to when they’re first starting out.
One of the most common questions about pumping is how to make the most of it, and how to get the most milk from it. This is partially because, unlike when you’re nursing, you can see exactly how much milk you’re accumulating when you pump, and partially because even the most advanced models of pumps aren’t quite as good as a well-latched baby at coaxing milk out. Luckily, there are a few strategies to get more milk when you pump.
Heat can help to stimulate milk production, which is why many nursing parents find that just coming out of a hot shower is a great time to pump. Warm compresses can also help, and can be a more portable option, if you’re looking for something to take to work.
Try a massage or compression
Hands-free pumping is great, but putting those free hands back to work can sometimes be exactly what your body needs to effectively stimulate your breasts. Many find that it helps to gently massage their breasts starting on the outside and then working their way in a spiral pattern, like the one healthcare providers use for breast exams. Research confirms that this sort of hands-on pumping produces more and fattier milk.
Be nice to your nipples
Sore nipples aren’t uncommon, especially if you’ve just started pumping and are now doing it pretty regularly. The first thing to do is to make sure that you’re using the right size flange for your nipples, since pumping itself shouldn’t hurt. (Keep in mind that you can still have tenderness even with the right flange.) Oils or nipple creams before pumping sessions, and using the lowest setting of the pump for a little while can help give your nipples a little time to adjust.
If you’re not producing a lot of milk, more stimulation is generally the answer, or at least part of it. When you’re home, Baby can be your helper here, since they are the best-equipped to provide it, so breastfeeding whenever you can is part of the puzzle. The other part, though, isn’t to pump longer at each session, but to pump more frequently in 24 hours. If necessary, you can try shortening how long you pump by a little bit, and work in one extra time during the day to pump instead. Power pumping is a dedicated hour of pumping, pump on for 10 minutes and off for 10 minutes — repeat until the hour is up!
Ask your little one for help
Baby is probably already doing their part by breastfeeding, but they can do even more than that! If you’re trying to build up your supply, you can try attaching the pump to one breast when Baby is nursing on the other. And when your little one isn’t around, like if you’re at work, keep a picture, video, or even a piece of clothing or soft toy around to remind you of Baby — this will help you relax and can encourage your body to let down your milk.
Take care of yourself
It can be hard to remember to think of yourself when you have Baby to think of, but when you’re feeding them, your health is their health. Short-term stress does not hurt your milk supply, but it can impact letdown, so try to think of pumping as your time — when you can read, watch something, listen to music, or even just close your eyes and breathe for a while. This can make a huge difference in helping to make pumping less stressful. Nutrition and hydration are also important for breastfeeding and pumping. Generally, whatever you can do to help yourself feel physically healthy can help boost your supply — and you’re the best person to know what that is, whether it’s figuring out how to add another hour of sleep to your life or loading up on the leafy greens.
And keep in mind, if you’re having trouble producing breast milk when you pump and you’re not sure how to address the problem, a healthcare provider or lactation consultant may be able to help. Many lactation professionals specialize in pumping and returning to work — finding a provider with the right experience is key!
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Breast-feeding and pumping: 7 tips for success.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, April 8 2015. Web.
- Gloria Charland. “Getting More Milk When Pumping.” La Leche League International. Le Leche League International, March 30 2016. Web.
- “18 Breast Pumping Tips.” AskDrSears. AskDrSears.com, 2016. Web.
- “Expressing Breast Milk on the Job.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.