Moms of new babies don’t have a ton of spare time to sit around and pump breast milk, so it can be a struggle when it takes 30 minutes or more to feel “empty.” The good news is that there are some things that you can try to speed up pumping breast milk when pumping seems to take forever! Here are 11 ways to pump breast milk faster.
There are two main reasons that pumping can take a long time. For some women, it can be difficult to trigger the letdown reflex, which releases the milk from your breasts. Other women may be able to get a letdown, but find that they have slow milk flow when pumping.
When Getting a Letdown Takes Forever or You Get No Letdown When Pumping
Obviously, milk isn’t flowing from your breasts all of the time, even though you may leak occasionally. A letdown occurs when milk is released from your breasts. Usually, letdowns happen in response to a stimulus – for example, from a baby crying or from sensation (such as your baby suckling or your breast pump working at your breast).
For some women, letdowns can be harder to achieve. Here are six things to try if you take a long time to get a letdown or are struggling to get a letdown at all.
1. Use a Warm Compress (and Stay Warm Yourself).
Warmth seems to help get breast milk flowing – and being cold can inhibit it. Try applying a warm washcloth or a dry compress like Booby Tubes to your breasts before you pump.
Also, keep yourself warm enough to be comfortable. If your lactation room at work is freezing, for example, you could keep a blanket in there or wear your coat while you pump.
2. Switch Back to Letdown Mode on Your Pump.
Most pumps have two modes – letdown mode and expression mode. Letdown is the fast, light speed that you start with, and the expression mode is the slower, stronger pulling that comes later. (My pump switches after two minutes.)
If your pump automatically shifts to expression mode but you haven’t letdown yet, you can switch it back to letdown mode until you do, and see if that helps. Additionally, if you are trying to get a second letdown, you can switch it back as soon as the milk stops flowing.
3. Try Vibration.
Some women have found that vibration can help trigger the letdown reflex. You can try this out with anything you might have at home that vibrates, like an electric toothbrush. (Note: If you find vibration works for you, the LaVie Lactation Massager is a good investment.)
4. Relax as Much as Possible.
This isn’t easy when you’re stressed out about pumping and how long it’s going to take. Still, because stress inhibits letdowns, it’s a good idea to try.
I suggest putting a nursing cover or t-shirt over the bottles so that you can’t fixate on how much you’re pumping. Then, focus on something else. Work on a laptop, play games on your phone, read a book, watch a show, etc. If at all possible, do something you enjoy to make pumping less annoying.
5. Try Hand Expression.
Some women find that they are able to get a letdown using hand expression much faster than they can with their breast pump. To try this, watch some videos on how to hand express breast milk, and see if you’re able to trigger a letdown more quickly than with your pump.
Once you have the milk flowing, you can hook yourself up to your breast pump and pump normally.
6. If Possible, Get in the Shower.
Obviously, this often won’t be feasible. But if you really struggle with letdowns and are home, it can be worth a try. (I have a letdown in the shower EVERY time. Even when I just finished pumping.)
While it’s not going to be workable to get in the shower, get a letdown and then hook yourself up to pump all naked and everything, you could bring a manual pump in with you and pump that way. This isn’t something you can do eight times a day; it’s more an option when you’re desperate.
When Your Breast Milk Flows Really Slowly
Some women are able to get a letdown, but still feel like it takes forever to get their breasts to mostly empty. (Note that it’s impossible to completely empty a breast because it’s always making milk.) Below are five ways you can try to speed up your pumping sessions when your breasts don’t feel empty after pumping for 20-30 minutes or more.
7. Use Breast Compressions.
This is the easiest and most effective thing that you can do to pump faster. When you do breast compressions, you push the milk out of your milk ducts using massage. They are easier to do when you’re wearing a hands-free pumping bra, because you’re not also juggling your breast shields.
As with hand expression, there are videos that can help you get an idea of how to do this, but it’s not really necessary – you just need to move your hands around your breasts and squeeze. (Warning: Don’t focus too much on one side over the other, or you’ll get lopsided!)
8. Try a Manual Pump.
Some women seem to have more success with emptying with a manual pump rather than an electric pump. Obviously, using a manual pump is less than ideal since you can only do one side at a time (and it can be hard on your hand).
If you find it to be more effective for you, one option is to use an electric pump for most of your session and then do a few minutes with a manual pump to finish emptying more quickly.
9. Use a Faster Pump Speed.
You should use the fastest speed on your pump that isn’t painful for you. I always turned the pump up until I started feeling a bit of discomfort, and then dialed the speed back one setting.
10. Try Different Flange Sizes.
If you have the wrong flange size, the suction might not be strong enough to be effective. It’s important that your flanges not be too big OR too small.
If you’re having any pain or discomfort with pumping and it takes you a long time to pump, it might be a good idea to try out some other sizes and see if that helps. This diagram helps explain how breast shields should fit. (Pumpin Pals are another good option; they send you three sizes at once.)
11. Try Taking Lecithin.
Anecdotally, some women who struggled with the length of time they needed to pump found that lecithin also helped decrease pump time. The suggested dose is one 1200mg capsule 3-4 times per day; either soy or sunflower lecithin is fine.
Have you struggled with pumping taking too long? Do you have any tricks for how to speed up milk flow?References
- Bonyata, Kelly, IBCLC. “Lecithin treatment for recurrent plugged ducts.” https://kellymom.com/nutrition/vitamins/lecithin/
- Bonyata, Kelly, IBCLC. “Let-down Reflex: Too slow?” https://kellymom.com/bf/got-milk/supply-worries/letdown/
- Medela. “Breast Shield Sizing: How to Get the Best Fit.” https://www.medelabreastfeedingus.com/article/143/breast-shield-sizing:-how-to-get-the-best-fit