Does it feel like you spend every spare minute pumping your breasts? And then you look down at your storage container and see what you’ve collected wouldn’t even fill a shot glass?
How is your baby ever supposed to grow and thrive if that’s all you can provide for him?
Are you worried about having to supplement with formula if you can’t learn how to pump more milk?
Welcome to my world. That’s how my breast pumping experience went in the beginning. I felt like a failure.
Instead of throwing in the towel, I educated myself. I read everything I got my hands on and soon enough I was pumping like I was a pro. I saw my milk quantity skyrocket.
My baby had plenty of breast milk to drink and I was able to start stockpiling some in the freezer, too. In this post I will share with you some of the best tips I stumbled upon, as well as my first 6 months exclusive pumping schedule.
Finding The Perfect Breast Pump
You wouldn’t try to change a tire without the proper equipment, right? Because that would be insane — you’d be setting yourself up for failure.
Breastfeeding is kind of like that. You need the right equipment — the best breast pump — at your side.
Without a breast pump, you’re going to be in pain, frustrated and producing such a small quantity of milk, you’ll need to squint to see if there’s any in the bottle.
Here are some tips to get you through the difficult task of selecting the right pump:
1. Choose a Quality Pump
If a pump looks cheap, it probably is. That means it likely won’t perform well. You don’t want to entrust your boobs to a piece of plastic that will feel like a torture device. If you skip breast pumping sessions because they’re painful, your milk supply will suffer.
Higher-end models have better features to make pumping as efficient and painless as possible, like customizable suction levels, massage modes, and variable speed settings. Get the best possible model you can afford.
Your health insurance may cover the cost of the pump, so don’t forget to check your plan guidelines (1). Your insurance provider may have several pumps to choose from, so be sure to do your homework to learn the pros and cons of each.
2. Electric First, But Keep a Manual As a Backup
If you plan to pump only occasionally, like once a day or less, a manual pump is sufficient. But if your goal is to be pumping more than fists in the air at a concert, an electric pump is a must have.
I knew right away that I wanted a double electric pump because I planned to be expressing several times a day so my baby would be covered when I went back to work.
It’s still a great idea to have a manual pump in addition to your electric one. You can use it to completely empty out your breasts after electric pumping — which will increase your milk supply in the long run (2).
It can also be used when you are on-the-go, late at night, or when you want more control over the suction. Most manual pumps are very affordable, so there’s very little downside to investing in one.
Manual pumps are easy to use if you’re pumping at the start of a feeding to help your nipples evert, to soften your areola, or to get the milk flowing.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
3. Choose a Double Pump Over a Single One
While single breast pumps might be attractive because of their cheaper price point, not only will you save time by doing them both at once, but you’ll also get more milk if you pump both breasts. Why?
Increased milk producing hormones means a bigger milk supply. Win-win! (3).
4. Don’t Skip the Instructional Manual
This might sound obvious to you, but all pumps are different. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen moms on the forums talking about getting their expression mode mixed up with the massage mode, or not even realizing their pump had certain features they had been looking for.
Read the instructions carefully before you operate yours. If you don’t, you could cause yourself some unnecessary pain. That pain may make you skip or shorten sessions, which will hurt your milk supply. Also, you want to be sure you’ve got the pump put together right so the suction works effectively.
5. Make Sure The Breast Shields Fit
Breast shields – sometimes referred to as flanges – are a critical part of the breast pump. If you don’t have properly-fitting shields, you are setting yourself up for pain and failure.
The breast shield should fit over your nipple and form a seal around your areola.
If you choose a breast shield that’s too small, it’s going to feel like you’ve been using sandpaper on your nipples after a few minutes because the nipple is rubbing against the plastic. Plus, it can clog your milk ducts, hindering your milk drainage, which is exactly what you don’t want when you are trying to pump more milk.
If you choose breast shields that are too big, your breast may not fully drain either. And you may end up with swelling and even bruising of the areola because too much breast tissue is pulled into the pump.
Once you have the correct fit, your nipples will be centered in the breast shield tunnel and be able to freely move during pumping (5).
You should also be cautious about measuring your nipple size immediately after pumping, as your nipples and areola will still be enlarged , and could result in you choosing a much larger breast shield than you actually need.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Try a Different Pump
Even if you’ve put a lot of thought into what kind of pump you picked out, you might need to ditch it and get another.
If you’ve tried everything from this guide, but you are still getting less milk than you should be with the pump you currently have, you might have better luck with another one or even with expressing milk by hand.
All pumps are different, and the truth is that some just work better for different people. It might be difficult to give up on your current pump if you’ve already invested a lot of money into it. But by doing so sooner, you’ll be saving yourself so much time and frustration in the long run.
I learned this one the hard way. My pump and I were getting along great for three months, and then it slowly started to lose suction. I found a different pump and was able to get significantly more output.
To find success with pumping more milk, you need to realize the battle will be as much mental as it is physical.
Sometimes you’ll need to give yourself pep talks just to get yourself through some of the stumbling blocks you’ll come across.
Here’s what you can do to set yourself up for success:
7. Make Sure Your Goals Are Realistic
You need to set goals that you’ll be able to reach. Your goals will be based upon how long you’ve been breastfeeding too.
When a baby is feeding at the breast exclusively and all is going well, your milk supply slowly increases – from very little on day one to about 30 ounces per day around one month.
Also keep in mind that if you are pumping in conjunction to breastfeeding, your output will vary too, depending on the amount of times you are nursing per day.
Milk production isn’t like turning on a faucet. It takes time to build up a great supply.
It’s also unrealistic to imagine getting 8 ounces at a time. When a baby is feeding 10 times a day at one month, he’s probably getting about 3 ounces per feeding. So, this would be a more reasonable amount to pump at one time.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
8. Know Your Limitations
Knowing what can alter your milk production will put the power back into your hands. By knowing what can affect production, you can stay on track, especially during difficult times.
Having an underactive or overactive thyroid can cause less milk, as can breast surgeries, poly-cystic ovary syndrome, birth control methods, medications, herbs, and not pumping or breastfeeding frequently enough.
9. Don’t Forget to Relax
Relaxation will help your milk flow freely. Some of my favorite ways to keep relaxed when I was breastfeeding or pumping were:
- Listening to calming music (or an audio galactagogue)
- Creating my own favorite pumping spot that I would return to each time to pump
- Making sure I was seated in an ergonomic way (having a comfortable chair that will allow you to lean forward is a must)
- Preparing a snack before I started, so I wouldn’t have to be disturbed when I was in the zone
- Having a good book or T.V. show ready to keep me entertained.
I personally liked to pump while watching my favorite sitcoms. I was laughing so hard at times, I almost forgot I was pumping. Oftentimes multitasking or just taking your mind off the task is enough to help you get more milk!
10. Power Through The Hard Times
Breastfeeding and pumping can be both be very difficult, especially in the beginning. Deciding beforehand that you’re not going to quit even if times get hard can help you stay on track when struggles occur.
I definitely had bad days while I was breastfeeding, but I powered through them, and in the end, I’m glad I did.
How to Keep The Breast Milk Flowing
There are a few things you should know before you start breastfeeding to give yourself a chance to produce enough milk so you won’t have to supplement with formula.
11. Check Your Diet, Stay Hydrated and Sleep Enough
Make sure you’re eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and drinking enough water.
Staying hydrated is important to breast milk production, too. While most pregnant women should consume somewhere around 10 cups of fluids per day, breastfeeding or pumping moms need closer to 13 cups of liquids (6).
Make sure you’re getting enough rest. While there’s no magic number about how much sleep is needed by a breastfeeding woman, you should try to get as close to a full night’s sleep as possible. If you find you’re up with the baby constantly during overnight hours, try to work in a nap during the day.
Getting enough sleep was a constant struggle for me. I just couldn’t seem to work it into my schedule. I was sleep deprived for the first six months of my baby’s life, but I tried to offset that strain on my body by sleeping in on the weekends whenever I could.
12. Set Up a Solid Pumping Schedule
Spontaneity has its place in your life. But if you are planning to exclusively pump and want to pump as much milk as you can, you need to put a schedule in place.
When you have a newborn on your hands, your routine might feel as if it is taking over your life sometimes. You might feel like you just stopped pumping and you have to start right back up. That’s normal in the beginning. You’ll be pumping every 2 hours or so those first few weeks to build up your milk production (8).
If you are planning on exclusively pumping, here are some example schedules that you can use for the first 6 months that will really help maximize your output.
First Two Weeks Pumping Schedule:
- Pump every 2 hours during the day and evening, right up until you go to bed.
- Each pumping session should last about 20 minutes.
- During the hours you should be sleeping, you should pump whenever your baby wakes up.
- Spend about 20 minutes pumping at this time as well.
Two to Six Weeks Pumping Schedule:
- Your pumping sessions during your waking hours will remain the same (every 2 hours).
- At night, your baby will be waking up less frequently, which means you will pump less frequently at night.
- But, even if your baby remains sleeping, you shouldn’t go any longer than 4 hours without pumping. That will help keep your milk supply up.
Six to Twelve Weeks Pumping Schedule:
- If your milk supply is doing fine by this point, pump every 3 hours during waking hours.
- Continue pumping for 20 minutes for these sessions.
- At night, you’ll want to pump at least once every 4 to 6 hours for 20 minutes each time.
Three to Four Months Pumping Schedule:
- Fit at least 6 pumping sessions into your waking hours.
- Try to space each one out by 2 and ½ to 3 and ½ hours. So you may want to pump at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
- These sessions will only need to be about 15 minutes each.
- During sleeping hours, you can get by with only pumping once.
Four to Six Months Pumping Schedule:
- You can start pumping every 4 hours, for 15 minutes each time.
- During overnight hours, you should still try to get up once to pump.
Six Months On Pumping Schedule:
- You can only pump every 4 to 5 hours if you are still getting enough milk to get by with that reduced schedule.
- At night, you may find you’ll get to sleep the whole time if your baby does.
- If your baby doesn’t wake up and you don’t need the extra milk, cut out the overnight pumping session and get some sleep.
13. Don’t Blow Off Pumping Sessions
If a friend stops by to see you and your baby, you might lose track of time. A few hours later, you realize you skipped the 2 p.m. pumping session you planned to do that day. That’s not so bad, is it?
While that one missed session won’t cause your milk supply to become as dry as a desert, getting in the habit of skipping pumping sessions can hurt your milk supply dramatically, plus you’ll become engorged (9). And that’s no picnic.
The first time my breasts became engorged, I couldn’t concentrate on anything but relieving that pain and pressure.
14. Should I Pump Longer or More Frequently?
Women who are pumping exclusively should pump between 8 to 10 times every 24 hours.
You might find you’ll need to pump as long as 20 minutes each session to fully drain your breasts, but once you’ve reached a high level of milk production, you can lower that number to 10 to 15 minutes (10).
If you’re still struggling with milk production however, you should try pumping more often, as often as 12 times every 24 hours.
You should also pump a couple minutes longer each session too — that will ensure you get all the milk that’s in there. When you’re struggling to increase your supply, every drop counts.
15. Use Your Baby to Help Stimulate Your Letdown Reflex
Your milk flow is controlled by your let down reflex. To help yourself let down your milk and start stockpiling it for a rainy day, there are several things you can do. Some breast pumps have let down modes, but there are non-mechanical ways of achieving let down too.
- You can massage your breasts.
- Use wet heat from a washcloth.
- Look at your baby or even a picture of your baby.
- Touch or smell your baby.
Sometimes right before I pumped before my bedtime, I would go into my daughter’s room and stare at her for a few minutes. Other times, I would grab a piece of her clothing and inhale that wonderful baby scent. It really seemed to work for me.
16. Pump In The Morning, As Early As You Can
It’s no secret moms try to get as much sleep as possible during the night. Since they’re resting more if their babies are cooperating, when they wake up in the very early morning, they tend to have more milk because their milk stores have had time to build back up (11).
Pumping at least once between the hours of 1 to 5 a.m. will put you in that precious peak prolactin timeframe (12).
17. Perform Basic Pump Maintenance
To ensure it’s in good working order, you need to keep your pump in tiptop operating condition. Here are some basic steps you can take to ensure your pump is operating at maximum performance.
Breast Pump Maintenance Checklist
- You’ll want to make sure it’s kept clean and sterilized between uses.
- If it’s an open system, that sterilization is especially important since milk particles can reach the motor of the pump and possibly contaminate the next batch (13).
- If you notice your pump isn’t expressing as much breast milk as it used to, you need to check all the parts of the pump, including the membranes, suction and flanges.
18. Products That Can Help You Pump More Milk
Pumping isn’t easy, and it’s a fact that’s acknowledged by companies. Moms have their choices of products that are aimed at helping them increase milk supplies or upping their comfort level so they’ll continue to pump (14).
These are a few of the most popular products to help you continue soldiering through any pumping struggles you might have.
- Nursing pillows can help you find the best and most comfortable position while pumping.
- Cleaning kits enable you to thoroughly clean your pump as quickly as possible.
- Nipple cream can help you handle the worst of the soreness you’ll have from your breast shields.
- Hands-free pumps (I love the Medela Freestyle) and pumping bras which allow you to multitask when pumping.
- Hot/cold packs specifically designed for breastfeeding are helpful if you find warmth helps to increase the amount of milk you’re able to get when pumping.
With all these tools at their sides, moms everywhere should have an easier time than ever before when it comes to pumping milk.
Advanced Strategies For Maximum Output
So, you’re exhausted from all the work of pumping around the clock but still end up disappointed with your let down. Time to bring out the big guns and try these nifty hacks.
19. Refrigerate Your Pump Between Uses
You are tired from pumping but you have to ensure the pump is ready to go again just a couple hours later so you have to do some extensive cleaning.
This was one of my favorite tips to use. Every day, I would refrigerate the parts of my pump that came in contact with my milk. At the end of the day, I would wash them. That saved me so much time.
This nifty little hack is considered safe for healthy babies; however, those who have preemies or babies with weak immune systems should take the extra precaution of washing parts every time. As an alternative, there is always always the option of buying a spare set of pump parts.
20. Help Stimulate Your Let Down Mode
Your let down mode can be affected by a number of factors, including stress and exhaustion. Both of which are hard to dodge when you’re a new mom.
Luckily, you can improve your let down using some of the following methods
- Using breast massage
- Using nipple stimulation
- Seeing, smelling or touching your baby
- Keeping a positive emotional balance
- Stimulating it mechanically by alternating between the expression mode and the massage mode on higher-end breast pumps.
21. You Aren’t Limited To One Let Down Per Breast
While the most milk you’ll get in a pumping session will come with the first let down, it is possible to get more than one let down in a session (which is what typically happens when baby is feeding at the breast).
You’ll have to pump longer to make it happen because you’ll have to wait until the milk starts to slow from the first round. Then you use your breast pump on the massage mode once more for a few minutes until your second let down happens.
You can also use hand massage and nipple stimulation to encourage another let down to occur. A popular method is the “Jiggle, roll & stroke” as demonstrated in this video.
22. Pump and Nurse Simultaneously
Pumping while nursing might seem really hard to do at first, like you’d need as many arms as an octopus to make it happen. But once you get the hang of it, it’s not hard at all.
It’s even easier to do if you have a hands-free bra as your secret weapon. It’s one less thing you’ll be required to hold in place and using the hands-free bra will let you spend more time focused on your baby and less time worried about the pump.
To be honest, this scared me the first time I saw someone do it. I thought I would drop my baby! It wasn’t easy, but I managed to capably do this after some practice.
23. Be Willing To Adjust Your Pumping Schedule
When you notice an upswing in how much milk you are producing, it might be time to tweak your schedule.
You can pump a couple minutes longer per session and focus more on how many times you pump per day overall, rather than worrying about making sure they are spaced out every two hours.
If you go back to work, you’ll likely also have to tweak your schedule once again.
24. Try Your Hand at Power Pumping
Power pumping is when you try to prompt your body to produce more milk by draining your breasts fully and often. It may stimulate additional milk production because it imitates how your baby will feed during her growth spurts.
She’ll suck longer, harder and more often in an attempt to fuel her growing body. That, in turn, lets your body know to boost up milk production.
How Power Pumping Works
25. Add These Foods To Your Diet
Although it may seem strange, adding oatmeal to your diet can help your body increase milk supply (18). Try to add a serving a few times a week.
Other foods you can add that seem to help women in their quest to pump more milk include spinach, carrots, fennel, fenugreek seeds, basil, garlic, barley, asparagus, brown rice, apricots, almonds, brewer’s yeast, flax seeds and sweet potatoes.
Another big favorite among moms is a product called “Mothers Milk Tea“. It uses a herbal blend of things like fennel, fenugreek seed and coriander which all known for their lactogenic properties. I know, it sounds disgusting, but it’s actually not that bad with a sweetish licorice-like taste.
You can also find can find a bunch of “lactation smoothie” recipes online. One of my favorites was using bananas, flaxseed, oats, almond milk and strawberries.
“Lactation cookies” use many of these same ingredients – just be sure you’re not eating too many and adding excess calories to your diet.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
26. Pump With Your Hands After Using Your Breast Pump
If you use an electric pump, try pumping by hand when you’re finished to see if you can get extra milk.
To hand express milk, you massage your breasts and give any spots that feel full extra attention with the massage.
After the massage, compress each breast by hand several times until you no longer notice any milk flow.
By manually pumping, you’ll be able to ensure that each breast is fully drained (20).
27. Try Pumping An Hour After Breastfeeding
Moms are often scared that if they pump then they will not have enough milk to feed their babies directly. However, this is not the case because breast milk is always being produced, so there shouldn’t be any fear about pumping and causing your baby to go hungry.
The reason why pumping an hour after breastfeeding is the perfect time is because your baby has already had her appetite satisfied and likely hasn’t drained every drop from your breasts. Plus, by waiting an hour after your baby has breastfed, your breasts will have started to fill back up with milk (21).
If you pump now, you’ll get a good amount of milk, and you won’t have to worry about shortchanging your baby at his next feeding. By the time that rolls around, your breasts will have had enough time to refill.
28. Regularly Use Massage and Breast Compressions
Making breast massage and compressions a regular part of your daily routine will help drain the excess milk from your breasts that your pump might have missed.
But it can also help you prevent clogged milk ducts or remove the clogs that have already formed. Clogged ducts can slow the flow of your breast milk by collapsing surrounding milk ducts (22). Clogs can further impact milk production because it can lead to mastitis, a painful breast infection.
29. Use Warm Showers To Your Advantage
Moist heat is a breast’s best friend when it comes to getting the milk flowing.
This is especially helpful if you’ve skipped a breastfeeding session or two and you’re experiencing the pain of engorgement.
A hot shower can be just the relief you’re seeking because it will get your breasts to start releasing milk in no time flat. Whenever I would have problems with let down, I’d hop in the shower and it worked every single time.
30. Make Sure You’re Leaning Forward While Pumping
Let gravity be your friend, not your foe (23). By leaning forward, the milk won’t pool in the pump, and will go straight into the storage container.
Keeping Your Milk Stored Properly
It doesn’t matter how much milk you’re able to pump if you end up wasting it because you aren’t storing it properly.
There’s nothing worse than seeing all your hard-earned breast milk go down the drain. These tips will help you make sure your supply will be safe when your baby needs to drink it.
31. Breast Milk Storage Guidelines
If you’ve pumped fresh breast milk and haven’t put it in the refrigerator or freezer, it will remain fine to drink for 4 to 6 hours at room temperature.
Breast milk will remain safe in the refrigerator for 3 to 8 days, and it will be safe in the freezer for 6 to 12 months (24).
You should always label your milk with the date you pumped it so you never have any doubt about whether it has spoiled.
To make sure you don’t waste breast milk when heating it after it has been in the freezer, you should package it only 2 to 4 ounces in a pack. That way, if you find your baby isn’t as hungry as you thought she might be, you won’t be pouring an 8 ounce bottle of refused breast milk down the sink.
32. Products To Help You Store Your Milk
Whenever you’re storing breast milk, you need to make sure the containers you’re using are sterile. You can store milk in glass containers or plastic containers, as long as they’re BPA free.
Plastic storage bags can also be used, but they run the risk of tearing in the freezer and possibly becoming contaminated (25). So if you do decide to go with storage bags, you’ll make to make sure you buy ones that are designed specifically for freezing breastmilk.
33. Techniques You’ll Need When Storing Milk
- You should never fill containers all the way to the top with breast milk.
- It’s important to leave at least one inch of empty space at the top of the container because liquids expand when they freeze.
- When freezing breast milk, don’t store it in compartments of a freezer door. It needs to go toward the center of the freezer because that offers the coldest and most constant temperatures.
- If you’re freezing bags of breastmilk, lay them flat to freeze. This makes them easier to stack or to place together in a container with the oldest ones to the front.
Bringing It All Together
Although it isn’t easy and it takes quite a bit of time, it is worth the effort to pump more breast milk.
In the beginning, we wondered how we could avoid formula supplementation because it’s hard to get the hang of breast pumps. But in just a short time, we got so much more daily ounces of breast milk by using all these tips and we started stockpiling breast milk in the freezer. We had more than we could use. We no longer felt like a failure at this whole mommy thing.
So if you’re having trouble with your own supply, you owe it to yourself and your baby to try these tips. Try as many as you can and see if that helps. If you have any tips you didn’t see on this list, we’d love to hear them.