If your baby eats more than you produce, it can be stressful! Many breastfeeding experts will recommend things like staying in bed and doing nothing but nursing when there are issues with supply, so that a breastfeeding parent can get plenty of nipple stimulation and rest at the same time.
While this is great advice, it won’t help people that are exclusively pumping. If you are making less than your baby is eating – or even if you just want the peace of mind of a freezer stash – here is what you can try to increase milk supply as an exclusive pumper.
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Do you have a milk supply problem or a milk removal problem?
Before we talk about how to increase milk supply, let’s make sure you don’t have any issues with milk removal.
To pump enough milk, you need two things to happen:
- Enough milk is produced in your breasts
- Your pump efficiently removes the milk in your breasts
Most people focus on the first part – making milk. But some people don’t seem to respond as well to a breast pump as others, for whatever reason. If the problem is your pump isn’t effectively getting the milk out, eating all the lactation cookies in the world isn’t going to help. (Unfortunately.)
Here are some things to look at:
- Are you doing breast compressions while you pump? Hands-on pumping can help push the milk out of your milk ducts so that you’re able to empty more efficiently. Basically, you just move your hands around your breasts while you pump and squeeze.
- Some people find that incorporating hand expression into their pumping routine at the beginning, middle, or end of a session can help them get more milk. More on how to do this here.
- If you’re having any pain with pumping, it’s possible your breast shields aren’t the right size – which can affect pumping efficiency, too. More on breast shield sizing here.
- Make sure you’re using right breast pump settings – you want the vacuum strength to be the highest suction that is comfortable for you. Increase it until you start to feel discomfort, then dial it back a notch.
- Try using a manual pump (like the Medela Harmony) or a silicone pump (like the Haakaa). Some people are able to remove more milk with these than with electric pumps.
- Do you need to replace your pump parts? If you’ve been using the same parts for a while, they can wear out and the suction can suffer. You can see the timeframes for replacing pump parts here.
Ways to Increase Milk Supply
No method of increasing milk supply works for everyone, so you kind of have to try different things to see what works for you. Here’s are some options you can try, in the order I’d recommend trying them.
1. Evaluate your pumping schedule
When you’re exclusively pumping, it’s important to pump both often enough and long enough. This creates the demand that is necessary to establish, maintain, and/or increase your milk supply.
If your supply isn’t what you’d like it to be, you may want to evaluate your pumping schedule:
- The number of times that you should pump in a day depends on your baby’s age. During the first few months, you’ll want to aim for 7-10 sessions a day. Later, you can drop sessions. You can see some sample pumping schedules by age here.
- Regardless of how many times you pump in a day, you want to pump for about 120 minutes per day as a minimum guideline until you’re ready to start weaning. More on this guideline here.
If you’re pumping less than described above, changing your pumping schedule to pump more often or more total time would be the first thing I would change.
After making a change, allow for a few days to a week to see an increase in supply, and then you can reevaluate from there. (It can take a little time for your body to react to the increased demand.)
(If you want help figuring out you schedule, I have a workbook that walks you through it step by step. Use EPUMP30 for 30% off.)
2. Eat Oatmeal
Although there is no scientific research on this, enough people have noticed an increase in pumping output when they eat oatmeal that many lactation consultants recommend it as a way of increasing supply.
I did an unscientific experiment to see if oatmeal would increase my supply, and I found it did. I noticed about an 1-2 oz increase in the amount I pumped on days when I ate oatmeal.
3. Power Pumping
“Power pumping” or “cluster pumping” simulates cluster feeding.
When a baby is cluster feeding, they are constantly on and off the breast, trying to get more milk. This increased “demand” signals the parent’s body to make more milk (thus hopefully increasing supply).
To mimic cluster feeding, set yourself up to the pump (hands-free, of course) and pump on and off for an hour (start with 20 minutes on, then 10 minutes off/10 minutes on) while you watch TV or something.
Try to make it as fun and easy as you can by doing something that you enjoy while you pump.
While this also isn’t backed in research, many exclusive pumpers have noticed that staying hydrated can help support their milk supply.
This doesn’t mean that you need to drink gallons of water every day. It can just be hard to remember to take care of yourself and drink enough water when you also have a baby to take care of. Try bringing a bottle of water (or any hydrating fluid) with you when you sit down to pump and see if it makes a difference.
(Body Armor and Gatorade aren’t magic drinks, but some people find them helpful because they are hydrating.)
5. Try nursing teas
Nursing teas contain a mixture of herbs (like fenugreek, blessed thistle, and fennel seed) that are thought to increase milk supply.
Because the dosage in these teas are on the lower side, you’d want to drink at least a cup or two every day that you’re trying them out.
(I happen to have a discount code for Milkmaid Tea – use PUMPING15 for 15% off).
6. Take Lactation-Promoting Herbs
Many people use lactation supplements or herbal galactagogues supplements in capsule form to increase supply.
(Important Note: There is always a risk to herbal supplements or medication, which is why I recommend trying the above options first. My supply went up quite a bit when I used fenugreek, and the limited studies that have been done have reported it works for some people – but others have reported that it had the opposite effect on them.)
Fenugreek is probably the most popular of these, and some people see an increase in pumping output after 24-72 hours of starting it.
7. Medication Options – Domperidone or Reglan
There are two medications that are not intended for anything to do with lactation, but seem to increase milk supply as a side effect.
These medications are Domperidone (also called motilium) and Reglan. They work by by blocking dopamine receptors, which results in an increase in prolactin levels. These drugs will not work in women that already have normal prolactin levels.
Both of these medications normally work within 3-4 days, but may take longer.
The downsides of using one of these medications are:
- With any medication there are risks, and you will need to discuss them with your prescribing physician.
- Reglan is contraindicated in women with a history of depression, as one of its side effects is severe depression. Given that postpartum depression may be a concern, this is something to consider.
- Domperidone has fewer side effects, and is widely used in Canada and other countries. However, it is difficult to get in the United States.
I hope this helps you understand things that you can try to increase your milk supply, what you might want to try first, and potential risks. Ask any questions that you have in the comments!
- Newman, Jack, MD. “On the FDA and Domperidone.” https://ibconline.ca/information-sheets/on-the-fda-and-domperidone/
- Newman, Jack, MD. “Domperidone General Information.” https://www.asklenore.info/breastfeeding/induced_lactation/domperidone_general.shtml
- Babycenter. “Alcohol and Breastfeeding.” https://www.babycenter.com/0_alcohol-and-nursing-moms_3547.bc
- Bonyata, Kelly, IBCLC. “Breastfeeding and Alcohol.” https://kellymom.com/bf/can-i-breastfeed/lifestyle/alcohol/