Are you struggling with not feeling empty after pumping? Here’s what that means, and what you can do to empty your breasts as much as possible when you pump.
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What does it mean for breasts to be empty?
When you pump or nurse, you want to get as much milk as possible.
However, it’s not possible to truly empty your breasts because they are always making milk. Kellymom has an analogy that just like it’s impossible to fully empty a running sink, it’s impossible to completely empty a breast, because more will milk keep coming into it.
So what most people mean when they talk about pumping until empty is to get the majority of the milk that’s in your breasts out.
Why do you want your breasts to be empty?
Making sure that you remove as much milk you can when you pump has multiple advantages:
- You are able to collect as much milk as possible.
- When your breasts are full, milk production may slow down. When your breasts are empty, milk production may speed up. Therefore, removing as much milk as possible also can help you produce more milk, thereby increasing your milk supply.
- Consistently and frequently removing all of the milk in your breasts can help you avoid clogged ducts and mastitis.
How do I know whether my breasts are empty?
There’s no test or way to know for sure. In general, though, if you gently shake your breasts and they feel mostly soft and you don’t feel the heaviness of milk sitting in them, you’re probably fine.
One thing that does NOT mean your breasts are empty: the milk stops spraying when you pump.
I know, it seems like it would make sense – when there’s no more milk, it stops coming out, so you can stop pumping, right?
No! This just means that a letdown has finished – but often if you keep pumping, after a few minutes, you’ll get another letdown and your milk will start spraying again. In most cases, you can get multiple letdowns when you pump. More on letdowns here.
What do you do you if you’re struggling to get all your milk out?
Here are some things that you can do if you can feel a lot of milk still in your breasts when you’re done pumping:
- Make sure that your breast pump parts don’t need to be replaced. They stop working as well over time, and sometimes just replacing a valve or membrane can make a huge difference in suction.
- Make sure you have the correct size breast shields. If either too much or too little of your nipple is being pulled in, milk production won’t be optimal.
- Use breast compressions (also known as hands-on pumping) when you pump to push milk out of your milk ducts.
- Try doing hand expression at the end of your pumping session (more on how to do this here).
- Consider using lecithin – many lactation consultants recommend it to prevent clogged ducts because it may make milk less “sticky.” Some people find that it also helps them empty faster (more on lecithin here).
- When pumping, use the highest vacuum level setting that is comfortable for you (a higher suction that causes you pain will not help).
- After your first letdown finishes, see if you can get another letdown by putting your pump back in massage/letdown mode.
- Try using vibration – it seems to help some women keep the milk flowing. You can try it with an electric toothbrush or whatever else you have that vibrates. If vibration helps you, you could consider investing in a lactation massager.*
(*Note: LaVie makes two lactation massagers – a smaller one with just vibration and a warming massager that has heat AND vibration. They are both super helpful – use the code EPUMP on their website for 10% off!)
Have you struggled with feeling empty after pumping? Share your experience in the comments!