Pumping and having a “stash” can be one of the most frustrating and intimating aspects of providing our children with breastmilk. But it doesn’t have to be! There are lots of milk-boosting tips and tricks for the pumping mama.
Pumping preface: Even if you know you plan to return to work or want to have a backup stash at home, it is important to allow the first 4-6 weeks as breastfeeding focused as possible to allow your breasts to regulate supply and your little one to nurse as needed. If needed, you can pump after feeding sessions but be sure you aren’t cutting your baby off to allow for that. This obviously wouldn’t apply to those who exclusively pump. Also, remember it is not absolutely necessary to have a “stash”. You don’t need to have milk in your freezer. My goal was to have 10oz just in case something happened but I ended up having more because once V hit around 8 months and super into eating solids she stopped drinking as much milk during the day. Don’t stress if you don’t have a big stash.
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1. Check your pump and parts
Not all pumps are made equal. Some women can use any pump passed their way, while others may need specific speeds or flange shapes. See if your local lactation consultant can help you decide which is best for you. They should be able to help fit you to the correct flange side, which is imperative to pumping the most milk. Some pumps, like Medela, have small membranes that need to be regularly replaced. If you notice you are suddenly seeing a decrease in the amount you pump, try replacing those. If your pump wasn’t new to this baby, you may simply need to replace it as the motors can wear out. You may also want to invest in a hands-free bra* or my personal favorite pump, the Freemie*.
2. Create a peaceful, baby-centered space to pump
Whether you are pumping between nursing sessions, an exclusive pumper, or are returning to work, the body is rigged to let down your milk when your baby suckles. Try to recreate the most peaceful, baby-centered experience of breastfeeding you can. Have photos of your baby on display, watch videos of your little one while you pump, bring a blanket or onesie that smell like your baby’s intoxicating head you just can’t stop smelling and kissing. Try not to work while you pump, especially if you are having supply issues or just returned to work. Just use the time to relax and focus on this gift you are giving your little one.
3. Vary your pumping speeds (if your pump allows)
Some pumps have different speed and intensity settings. These are designed to mimic the more vigorous sucking of your baby attempting to get a letdown, followed by the calmer sucking while your milk flows. You may need to play around with the speeds/intensity to find your sweet spot. That being said, you really shouldn’t be pumping with your speed maxed out after you have let down. If you are needing it at that level constantly, I’d consult a lactation consultant to see if you need to replace some parts or switch pumps.
4. Adjust your pump session times or lengths
If you are a nursing mom returning to work, try to pay close attention to when your baby seems to nurse most often and the longest in the weeks prior to going back. Your supply may be more bountiful before noon, so try to get at least one pump session in then. Some women produce most with three-fifteen minute sessions. Some will do amazingly well with two longer ones. Try mixing it up until you find what works best for you. Sometimes just adding 5 more minutes to your pumping session can net you an extra letdown. You should aim to pump for 2-3 minutes after your milk stops flowing. (Pro-pumping tip: This will change as your child grows. I pumped from 2 months to the week of V’s 1st birthday. I started with three 15-20 minute sessions each day, cut back to two-20 minute sessions around 6 months and then down to one-30 minute session around 9 months. At 12 months she refused to drink milk out of any cup and our pumping relationship was done. If you notice your supply dwindling after a few months going strong, it may be time to shake up your routine.)
5. Don’t rule out pumping at inopportune times
When you are trying to increase your milk supply, remember it is supply and demand so you need to be emptying your breasts frequently. Your “magic number” varies for every woman and child, but it is usually every 2-4 hours. This is especially important if you are struggling to get those first 12oz or so into your stash, you are an exclusive pumper or you have a baby that doesn’t nurse throughout the night. Prolactin levels are the highest at night but if you are full/engorged then your supply won’t reap that benefit. If your baby is already sleeping through the night, or at least 4-6 hours straight, you may need to set your alarm and pump, even just for 10 minutes, in those 12-4 a.m. hours.
6. Take a second look at your diet, supplements and medications
Did you know common over-the-counter allergy medications can cause your supply to plummet? What about hormonal birth control? If you have already established a strong supply but are experience a sudden drop, evaluate your diet, supplements and medications. Even something as simple as using peppermint essential oil can cause supply issues with some women. Many women experience a drop in supply when they first return to work, but making sure you are consuming plenty of calories, continuing to take your prenatal vitamins and staying hydrated are key to keeping your supply up. Check out this list of other things that could be undermining your supply-boosting efforts.
7. Try power pumping
I personally never did this but I’ve heard lots of women have success getting a boost from power pumping for a few days. What is power pumping? Pump for 20 minutes, rest for 10, pump for another 10, rest another 10 and then finish with pumping for another 10. Do this twice a day for a few days or until you notice an increase. Power pumping is supposed to mimic the near-constant nursing of your little one trying to increase your supply during a growth spurt. Just keep an eye on your nipples to be sure they aren’t getting irritated by the extra pumping (they shouldn’t and if they do it may be a sign of setting your pump power too high or poorly fitted flanges) but some women prefer to use a lubricant of some sort while pumping. I’d stick to coconut or olive oil.
8. End each session with hand expression
It is common knowledge that a pump is a poor substitute for a baby’s mouth, which is why pumping output is never a good indicator of actual milk supply. Oftentimes there is still milk you can express out even after a full pumping session. There are lots of videos on hand expression you can check out. If you are struggling, a lactation consultant can help you perfect the technique. I used this after every pumping session and routinely got an extra half ounce or so, which really adds up!
9. Invest in some milk-boosting galactagogues
The most widely known (and readily available) milk-boosting food seems to be oatmeal. If you need a boost, eating a nice big bowl of oatmeal can be a great way to fortify your supply. This is one reason lactation cookies are so popular. This recipe is the one I always make for new moms. But if you aren’t an oatmeal fan, your diet doesn’t allow for it or it just isn’t cutting it, you have lots of options. The most commonly recommended milk-boosting herbs are fenugreek, blessed thistle, brewer’s yeast, alfalfa, fennel and hops (an excuse to enjoy a nice dark beer). There are also some specially formulated supplements with several of these herbs already mixed together. Some, like fenugreek, blessed thistle and fennel, may cause some digestion issues in your little one so keep an eye on those if your baby is gas-prone. (Remember I’m not a doctor so check with your lactation consultant before trying any new supplements) KellyMom has some great tips on using galactagogues [gah-lak´tah-gog] as well.
There are my top 9 tips to maximize your milk production while pumping. Do you have anything to add? What worked really well for you? Chime in below or hop over to Facebook and join the conversation.