Worrying about the amount of breastmilk that you pump is really stressful! If you’re not pumping as much as you’d like, here are a few tricks that I’ve used to maximize pumping output and get the most milk possible out of a pumping session.
Seven Ways to Maximize Pumping Output
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! Here are a few strategies you can try to pump more breastmilk in the same amount of pumping time.
1. Do breast compressions
Essentially, this means massaging your breasts while you pump. A lot of websites have 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, and 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!
2. 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 1/4-1/2 of what was expressed in the previous letdown). You can also try putting the pump back into letdown mode.
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.
3. Try warmth
Warmth seems to help keep breast milk flowing, while cold has the opposite effect. You can try warm compresses before pumping. (A warm washcloth will do the trick, or if you’re at work, microwaving Booby Tubes is a good option.)
Lavie also makes a warming massager that seems to help some women remove milk from their breast more quickly.
4. Relax and don’t look at the bottles
Checking how much milk was in the bottles always made me anxious, and stress is not good for milk supply.
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.
(You can also cover the bottles with socks.)
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!
5. Make sure your breast shields fit
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.
6. Replace your pump parts
Also, pump parts just stop working over time.
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 Medela Pump in Style membranes, here are Medela Freestyle parts, here are Spectra parts), and that will help you get more breast milk. Or, you could proactively replace your pump parts every three months or so.
In the US, some insurance companies cover replacement parts. Check with the medical device company that supplied your pump to see if this is the case for you.
7. 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 from the start 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 the most milk possible from the pump! And if you need more tips, here are some additional ways to increase your milk supply.References
- O’Brien, Rachel, IBCLC. “Stress and Breastfeeding: How to Protect Your Milk Supply.” https://www.rachelobrienibclc.com/blog/stress-and-breastfeeding-protect-milk-supply/
- Medela. “Breast Pumping Instructions.” https://www.medela.ca/breastfeeding/advice/pumping/useful-tips