The dawn of the breast pump brought many new opportunities to nursing mothers. Moms now have the ability to be away from their baby for extended periods of time while maintaining breastfeeding.
Pumping isn’t always intuitive, and for some women, it can be difficult to maintain. If you need to pump so you can be away from your baby, you may want to find ways to increase your milk supply to ensure you have enough milk. Pumping may also be a way to increase milk supply when nursing.
Read on to learn some tips for things you can do to try to increase your milk supply while pumping.
The number one way to increase your milk supply when pumping is to increase how often you pump.
Cluster pumping is a technique of pumping every five minutes to give your breasts repeated stimulation. When your breasts are full, your body gets the signal to stop making milk. Empty breasts trigger milk production, so the more you empty your breasts, the more milk you’ll make.
Cluster pumping may not be practical for a work environment, but you can try cluster pumping in the evenings at home or over the weekend. Try a few sessions of cluster pumping until you see a noticeable increase in your supply. And remember to stay hydrated when you’re nursing or pumping.
Another way to pump more often is to add in an extra session during the day, especially if you’re at work. For example, if you were pumping twice a day, pump three times.
If you’d like to increase your supply but you’re usually with your baby all day, use the pump to add in a session in addition to the day’s usual nursing.
Milk supply is regulated by hormones and your circadian rhythm, so many women have the most volume of milk in the morning. You can pump in the morning before your baby wakes up, or pump shortly after nursing.
If mornings don’t work for you, you can also try pumping at night after baby’s bedtime.
Over time, your body will regulate to supply more milk during the extra pumping session. For the best results, take your additional pumping session at the same time each day.
Sometimes your breasts may still feel full after baby has stopped nursing. You can try pumping or hand expressing one or both breasts after each nursing section to ensure that your breasts are completely empty. That signals your body to begin producing more milk.
Over time, pumping after nursing can lead to an increase in the amount of milk you produce throughout the day.
To get the most milk when pumping, you can pump both breasts at once. To make double pumping easier, use a pumping bra. These bras are made specifically to hold breast shields in place so you can be hands-free.
You can combine double pumping with cluster pumping if you’re trying to increase your supply or build a stock of milk in the freezer to keep on hand.
To get the most out of pumping, it’s essential that your pump is in good condition and works right for you. Everything from the size of the breast shield to the speed of suction will affect how much milk you can get. Some tips:
- Keep your machine clean.
- Replace parts as needed.
- Get familiar with your pump manual.
- Check out the manufacturer’s website.
- Call a lactation consultant if you need help.
If you really want to focus on increasing your supply, you can also rent a hospital-grade breast pump for a week or a month. These are the highest quality pumps available, and may help you to extract more milk when pumping.
Lactation cookie recipes sometimes credit oats or brewer’s yeast for increasing milk supply. You can also find herbal supplements such as fenugreek, milk thistle, and fennel advertised as galactagogues, or substances said to increase milk. However, experts say this may be due to a positive placebo effect.
A large meta-analysis of hundreds of studies found inconsistent data on whether or not supplements increase milk. Doctors and mothers can’t know for sure if or how herbs and supplements might help.
Talk to your doctor before trying any supplements while breastfeeding.
Remember to consume enough calories and to stay hydrated by drinking water and other clear liquids. Being properly nourished and hydrated can help you to maintain a healthy milk supply.
Breastfeeding women may need up to 13 cups or 104 ounces of water a day. Aim to drink at least one cup of water every time you pump or breastfeed, and then get your remaining cups throughout the day.
You should also plan to add about an extra 450 to 500 calories a day to your diet. That’s in addition to your recommended caloric intake. Just like when you were pregnant, the type of calories you add are important. Choose foods loaded with vitamins and other essential nutrients.
In breastfeeding, confidence is key. Don’t get down on yourself if your friends or co-workers seem to get a lot more milk out of pumping.
Two women can have the same size breasts but a different amount of milk storage cells. A woman with more storage cells will be able to express more milk faster because it’s readily available. A woman with fewer storage cells will be making milk on the spot. That means she’ll require more time to pump the same amount of milk.
The more you pump, the better you’ll know how much milk you can expect from yourself in a certain amount of time.
Also, a woman who regularly pumps and leaves bottles for her babies — during work, for example — will usually produce a lot more milk while pumping than a woman who nurses more often and only pumps occasionally, such as for a date night. This is because your body is very good at anticipating exactly how much milk your baby needs and your milk production syncs up to match your own child.
Once breastfeeding is well established, you won’t make much more milk than your baby needs. So, pumping in addition to a normal day of nursing won’t produce a lot of extra milk. It’s common for mothers who mostly nurse to require multiple pumping sessions to get enough milk for one feeding.
Try to relax while you pump. If you’re pumping at work, don’t respond to emails or take calls while pumping. Instead, use your pumping time to take a mental break. Try not to focus on how much milk you’re producing, which may cause extra stress.
One study found that mothers of preterm infants produced significantly more — and fattier — milk when they listened to a sound recording while pumping. This was a small study and we don’t know exactly what kind of music they heard. But it’s still worth a try to listen to something soothing while pumping, or to find other ways to relax.
Your body becomes very in tune with your usual breastfeeding environment and stimulus. For many women, milk comes in easy when at home, holding your own baby, and responding to hunger cues. It’s harder to inspire this milk production if you’re away from home and your child.
If you’re away, bring photos of your baby or watch videos of them while you pump. Anything that reminds you of your baby can trigger your hormones, which may help your milk production.
Never hesitate to call your child’s pediatrician or a board-certified lactation consultant if you want help increasing your milk supply. It’s important to have a supportive community when breastfeeding.
A doctor and lactation consultant can tell you if your baby is thriving and if you can do anything to improve your supply. They can also check your pump to make sure you’re using it correctly and that the fit is right.
There are three main considerations for increasing your supply while pumping:
- Know how milk is made. Breast tissue takes nutrients from your blood to make breast milk. Empty breasts trigger milk production, so it’s important to empty your breasts as efficiently and as thoroughly as possible. The more often your breasts are emptied, the more cues you send to your body to make milk.
- Know your goal. You can use a pump to maintain your supply while you’re away from your baby, or to increase your overall supply by pumping in addition to nursing every day. In both cases, you want to empty your breasts as thoroughly as possible each time you pump. If you want to increase your supply, you’ll also want to increase how often you pump.
- Practice. It takes time to know your body and to get comfortable using a pump. The more you practice, the more you can get out of each pumping session.
Are you already producing enough milk?
Initially, your baby will take increasing amounts of milk each day as their stomach grows. But after a few weeks, breastfeeding babies level off at around 25 ounces per day.
Over time, breast milk changes in composition and calories, so the same volume of milk is sufficient for a baby as they continue to grow. This is different than formula, which doesn’t change in composition. So, babies require more and more of it if they only take formula.
You’ll know you’re pumping enough milk if you divide 25 ounces by how many feedings your baby usually has. For example, if your baby feeds five times a day, that’s 5 ounces per feeding. If you’re going to miss all of those feedings, then you need to pump 25 ounces. However, if you’re only going to miss two feedings, you only need to pump a total of 10 ounces.
It’s common for women who regularly nurse at home to get the same amount of milk from a pump when they’re away. Doing the math can give you a helpful idea of how much you actually need to pump while you’re gone.
Talk with your pediatrician before supplementing with formula. While it’s common to be concerned about milk volume, most women produce enough milk to feed their baby.
However, you can give your baby the benefits of breast milk while supplementing with formula if you need a few extra ounces. Ultimately, a fed baby is best.
When it comes to pumping and increasing your supply, frequency is key. A few changes to your routine and equipment can make your pumping more comfortable and potentially more productive.
The most important thing for a healthy milk supply is taking care of yourself, pumping often, and emptying your breasts frequently in order to trigger increased milk production. And if you’re concerned about your milk supply, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.