If you’re already spending time pumping, you want to be able to get as much milk as you possibly can while you’re there! Below are a few tricks that I’ve used to get the most milk possible out of a pumping session.
Do breast compressions
Essentially, this means massaging your breasts while you pump. A lot of websites have these detailed breast compression techniques – I don’t know if it’s just me (it’s probably just me) but I can never visualize exactly what I am supposed to be doing. So basically, I just use a hands-free bra to hold the pump parts and squeeze my breasts with both hands. I move my hands around to get different parts of the breast; I’m just trying to make sure that it’s completely emptied.
One thing to watch out for – favoring one side when doing breast compressions. I am right-handed, and my left side is now the money boob while my right side produces very little. It’s normal for there to be some degree of unevenness, but consistently doing more breast compressions on one side will mean that side gradually produces more and more milk. Don’t doom yourself (like I did) to walk around with lopsided breasts for the length of your breastfeeding experience – try and massage both sides equally!
Try to get a second (or third) letdown
Once the milk stops flowing, it’s tempting to stop pumping. After all, what’s the point of pumping an empty breast? However, if you take a break for a minute or two and then start the pump over again, you can usually get another small letdown of milk (maybe about 1/4 of what was expressed in the first letdown).
If you don’t want to bother with starting and stopping the pump, that’s totally fine too. Generally, you can get two letdowns in 20 minutes without starting and stopping the pump.
Relax and don’t look at the bottles
Checking how much milk was in the bottles always made me anxious. I started putting a blanket or nursing cover on even when I was alone so that I couldn’t look at them until I was done pumping. I also usually try to do something else (preferably something I enjoy) while I pump to make it kind of a break from the day instead of an annoying task. Sometimes I have to work on my laptop while I pump but other times I can read, waste time on the internet, or watch TV.
I’ve read that some people find it helpful to look at pictures or videos of their baby while they pump. This isn’t something that has worked for me but it may be worth a try. Whatever you need to do to relax!
Make sure your pumping gear fits and your pump parts don’t need to be replaced
First, make sure that your flanges fit you correctly. I had no idea that breast shields came in different sizes and was trying to pump with the 24mm breast shield that came with my pump for weeks before a friend mentioned offhand that she’d just bought 30mm ones. It turns out that I need 27mm shields, and this made a noticeable difference in my output.
Also, pump parts just stop working over time. (I have no idea why, but have found this to be the case over and over again in my 27 month/2 kid pumping career. This could be specific to Medela products as that’s all I’ve used.) If you notice that you’re starting to get less from the pump, try using a brand new set of pump parts – specifically, try replacing the membranes (here are the Medela Pump in Style membranes and here are the Medela Freestyle parts). Or, you could proactively replace your pump parts every three months or so.
Make sure that your pump is set to the right speed
When I started pumping for the first time, I wasn’t sure what number (I have a Freestyle, which has speeds numbered from 1 to 9) to set the pump at. I figured higher = better = more milk. Let’s just say that putting that thing on 9 was a bad idea. Fortunately, I saw a lactation consultant when my son was a week old, and she told me to put the pump on the highest setting that was comfortable. This was great advice and what I’ve always done – the pump suction should be strong enough to get the milk out, but not so strong that you tense up, as that will inhibit the flow of milk.
Hopefully this will help you get more from the pump! And if you need more tips, here are some additional ways to increase your milk supply.