Are you trying to pump breastmilk and finding that nothing is coming out? There are a few different reasons why this can happen. Here are some answers to the question “why won’t milk come out when I pump,” and what you can do about it!
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Four Reasons for Getting Little or No Milk When Pumping
Here are four scenarios where you might find that hardly any milk comes out when you pump. Each has an individual cause with different strategies you can take to fix the issue.
1. You feel engorged, but little or no milk comes out when you pump
When you can feel the milk in your breasts but can’t get it to come out, the issue is often getting a letdown.
A letdown is the release of of milk from your milk ducts. (Milk doesn’t flow out of them all the time, aside from the occasional leak – usually only when you’re nursing or pumping.)
Letdown is a conditioned response, which means that your brain is trained to let your milk down in response to certain stimuli. If you’re an exclusively pumping mom, it could be the sound and sensation of your breast pump. (It can also be the sound of your Playstation booting up.)
If you’re a nursing mom, it’s more likely that this would be your baby suckling or the sound of your baby crying.
So what do you do if you’re struggling to get a letdown with your pump?
Many women find that watching videos of their baby helps trigger the conditioned response. You could try taking a video of your baby as you start to nurse to capture all of the sounds and what you normally see when you letdown. Then try playing it when you start your pump, and see if that works.
Some other things you can try include seeing if vibration helps (you can start with an electric toothbrush, and then get a lactation massager if you find it works for you), trying a warm compress, or seeing if you can achieve a letdown by hand expressing first. More ideas and info here.
(*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!)
2. You just had your baby and you aren’t pumping any milk
If you’ve had your baby within the last week or so and you’re not getting any milk when you pump, the issue could be that your milk hasn’t come in yet.
In the late stages of pregnancy and in the days immediately after birth, your body produces a type of breast milk called colostrum. Colostrum is a concentrated milk that provides everything your baby needs after birth. After 2-3 days (though it can take up to a week), milk production generally begins to increase, and the milk that is produced transitions from colostrum to more mature milk.
If you are pumping before your milk comes in, you may be getting little to no milk. This can be for two reasons:
- Because colostrum is very concentrated and your baby doesn’t need much of it, your breasts don’t produce very much
- Colostrum is very thick and seems to be more difficult to pump
If you need to pump before your milk comes in and find that you’re pumping little to no colostrum, try hand expression (you can find videos on YouTube that might be helpful) or using a Haakaa. Both of these seem to be more effective for expressing colostrum than a breast pump.
3. Your baby nurses fine, but you can’t seem to pump much milk
It’s not uncommon for breastfeeding to be going well while you’re on maternity leave, but then you go back to work and your milk supply drops.
Why would this happen?
Unfortunately, some women don’t seem to respond as well to the breast pump as others.
(You might have heard that your baby is far more effective at getting milk out than a breast pump – while I don’t think this is true for all women, I do think it’s true for some.)
If this is the case for you, the milk is there – your breast pump is just not as effective at removing it. So the question is not how to increase your milk supply, but how to pump it out.
Often, the issue can be the same as discussed in #1 – getting a letdown. If you struggle to get milk to come out at the start of your session, try some of the strategies listed above.
However, if it’s more that once you get a letdown, you’re not getting much when you pump, there are a few things that you can try:
- Try using different settings. The vacuum strength should be set to the highest speed that is comfortable for you. If your pump has the ability to change the cycle speed (most Medela pumps do not; most Spectra pumps do), play around with the number of cycles per minute and find what’s best for you.
- Make sure you’re using the right breast shields. Some pumps only come with one size flange, but that might not be the best size for you. Using the wrong one can affect your output. More on how to measure to get the correct breast shields here.
- Do breast compressions while you pump. Massaging while you pump can help you push out more breastmilk.
- If you see milk stop spraying, that might not mean you have no more milk. Keep pumping for another 5 minutes or so to see if you can get a second letdown.
- Consider replacing your breast pump parts. Breast pump parts stop working as well over time, and this can affect the suction of your pump. I have been shocked at the difference in output that I got after changing valves.
4. You are currently feeding your nursing and supplementing with formula, and not able to pump much
In this case, the issue might be your milk supply. There are quite a few strategies that that you can use to increase milk supply – this article describes each of them in the order that I would suggest trying them.
Have you struggling with getting no milk when pumping? Tell us your experience in the comments!
- Bonyata, Kelly, IBCLC. “When will my milk come in?” https://kellymom.com/ages/newborn/when-will-my-milk-come-in/