Making milk is an art form. Your body is using its valuable time and resources to create the elixir or life for your baby.
It’s really kind of cool when you think about it. The problem though, is getting the milk out.
Pumping milk can be a pain regardless of if you are doing it exclusively, or just occasionally because of work or vacations.
There is a lot of stress involved and that can greatly hinder your ability to get the juices flowing.
Figuring out how to pump breast milk properly and efficiently will be your best friend on your pumping journey.
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How do You Properly Pump?
First and foremost, you should have a breast pump, preferably an electric breast pump. You can do this with a manual, but an electric will be much easier.
If you don’t have your breast pump yet, fill out this form with Aeroflow to see if you qualify for a free one from your insurance.
The biggest thing to make your pumping journey easier is to make sure that your breast pump works properly and that your parts are all in good working order.
Your flanges should fit properly and your tubes, valve, membranes, etc. should all be working properly.
If any of those things are showing signs of wear, then replace them. They can drastically impact how well your pump will work.
Make sure that your hands and pump supplies have been fully cleaned and have all of your supplies ready to go before you begin pumping.
This includes all of your normal pump supplies and everything that you need to make the process more comfortable for you. Things like a hands-free pumping bra, the TV remote, and your phone charger are all really useful.
How Much Should You Pump a Day?
How often you pump a day will have a lot to do with how old your baby is as well as how you are primarily feeding your baby.
If you are primarily nursing and only pumping while at work or away from your baby, then you really only need to pump during your baby’s normal feeding times.
So, if you are going to be away from your baby for three feedings, then you should pump three times.
If you are pumping as the primary way that you are feeding your baby, or you are trying to increase your milk supply, then you will likely pump more often.
An exclusive pumping mom should pump as often as her baby eats. So, if you are exclusively pumping for a newborn, then that is likely to be between 8 and 12 times a day.
As your baby gets older though, that number will likely decrease.
Pumping is different for every woman, so you really just need to figure out what method works best for you.
How Long Should a Pumping Session Last?
If you are pumping immediately after nursing to boost supply, then you should only be pumping 10-15 minutes. This is just to help stimulate milk production by telling your body that you need more milk.
If you are pumping rather than feeding, then you should be pumping for 20 minutes MINIMUM.
So many times I see women struggling with their milk supply, when in reality they are just not pumping long enough to fully empty.
If you are leaving milk in your breasts, then you are telling your body that you don’t need any more milk. Your body will in turn stop producing that extra milk and your supply will decrease.
If you have a large over supply, then doing this is fine, but for women just producing enough or even a little less than they need, they can’t afford to leave any milk behind.
The goal is to pump for at least 20 minutes or until the milk stops flowing, whichever takes longer, plus and extra 5 minutes to help stimulate more production.
How Often Should I Pump if Breastfeeding?
If you are directly nursing your baby, then you really won’t have to pump very often unless you are trying to build your supply.
As I mentioned before, whenever you are away from your baby during a normal feeding time, then you should pump. You want to try to keep your body on its normal schedule to keep your supply up.
If you aren’t away from your baby, but just wanting to store a little milk for a rainy day, then you can probably get by with only pumping once or twice a day.
The best time to pump is first thing in the morning. Your milk supply will naturally be the highest between the hours of 1 and 5 AM because this is when your prolactin (milk-making hormone) levels are the highest.
Pumping during this time, or as close to it, will help you really boost your supply.
Pumping after your baby’s first feed of the day should give you enough to start building a freezer stash.
Just be careful not to pump after every feeding unless you absolutely have to. You could end up building too high of a supply and that can cause some other issues for you and your baby.
Only pump what you need. The goal is to feed your baby, not feed your freezer.
Do I Need to Pump at Night?
If you want to build your supply, then yes, pumping at night would offer you the most benefits.
While it is completely possible to increase your milk supply by pumping during normal hours and even taking breastfeeding supplements, pumping during that golden window when your body is naturally in a milk-making phase can make a big difference.
This is especially important for new moms still trying to establish your supply.
If you are exclusively pumping and you don’t pump during the night when your baby is feeding, then your milk supply will suffer.
It is all about supply and demand. If you aren’t demanding the milk, then your body will stop supplying it.
Around 12 weeks postpartum, your milk supply will regulate and will stop fluctuating so much. At that point it is typically safe to start dropping some of those extra pumps without worrying about your milk supply dropping.
Tips to Pump More Milk
Drink More Water
I know, I know. You’re probably tired of hearing people tell you to drink more water, but it helps. Especially when it comes to making milk.
Breast milk is 88% water. If you aren’t well hydrated not only will your production go down, but it will also be harder to get out.
When you’re dehydrated the milk gets thicker and it’s more likely to stick to itself. This can lead to clogged milk ducts. So, don’t risk it, just drink the water.
I really love my Hydroflask Water Bottle for this. I carry it with me everywhere. I especially love that my water temperature lasts for HOURS too. Hot water stays hot and cold water stays cold. I can’t tell you enough how amazing this bottle is!
If you can’t just sit there, or if you have trouble emptying, then do some gentle massage during your pumping.
I said gentle. You don’t want to apply so much pressure that you’re hurting yourself. That’ll just stress you out and we just talked about what stress can do. So, take it easy.
You want to massage your breasts in a circular fashion down towards your nipples. If you go the other way then that is the direction your milk will try to flow. You want it to flow out, so help it along.
Be sure to send a little extra time on any hard spots. You want to make sure that those empty and don’t form clogs.
Lecithin is amazing! If you are nursing more times than you’re pumping, then you probably won’t need this. For exclusive pumpers though, lecithin will be your best friend.
Lecithin helps your milk become less sticky. This allows it to flow easier. An easier flow not only means that you will be less likely to get clogs, but also that you will empty faster.
There are two types, soy and sunflower. I personally take the NOW Sunflower Lecithin. I take two tablets twice a day.
You may decide not to take this much, and that’s fine. I’ve had mastitis twice though because I wasn’t on a lecithin regiment and I’m not willing to go through that again.
Aim for Multiple Let-Downs
A let-down is when your body actually releases the milk and allows it to flow rather than drip out of your nipple. Some people can feel their let-downs, while others don’t. There’s nothing wrong with you either way.
The goal though is to get your body to release the milk 2 or even 3 times a pumping session.
Your first let-down will always supply the most milk, but having the others will ensure that you are well and truly empty.
That will signal to your body that you need to be making more milk which will in turn let you pump more milk. Win-win.
Most electric pumps have some sort of stimulation mode. It’s when it does softer pumps very quickly as opposed to the deeper, slower pumps. You want to start with that.
Once your milk is going, you can switch to the slower speed. Once your milk has stopped flowing, or you’re only getting a drop every 3 pumps, switch back to the stimulation mode.
Do this several times during your pumping session. For a 30-minute session, I can typically get 3 let-downs.
I get the first almost immediately, then my second at 20 minutes, then my third around the 30-minute mark.
I normally pump for just 30 minutes during the day, but I now know that if I haven’t gotten that third let-down yet then I need to pump a little longer. Don’t miss out on free milk!
After every pumping session, do some more massage and see if you can get any more milk out.
I have one boob that is notorious for holding on to more milk. I can sometimes get a half an ounce or more out after pumping just by hand expressing. So, give it a try. It might surprise you.
Using heat while you’re pumping can help loosen up the milk so it flows easier. I like a heating pad for this. I have a big king sized one that I just drape over the girls to get them nice and toasty.
It also has the added benefit of keeping me warm when my shirt is all undone. J is a December baby. I spent way too much time freezing my butt off because I had to have my front exposed all the time. My heating pad is awesome!
Think About Your Baby
Another way to help you relax and get the milk going, is to think about your baby. Look at photos or videos on your phone while you’re pumping. You can also smell a blanket or outfit of his to signal more of your senses.
I used to watch little videos of J on my phone when I was doing my middle of the night pumps. It was the only thing that worked when my sleep deprivation was keeping me from pumping milk.
They say laughter is the best medicine. In this case it’s true. Having a good laugh will make your body relax allowing you to pump out more milk.
If you can’t tell by now, it’s all about relaxation. So, go read a funny book, watch some stand-up comedy, or look at cat videos on the internet. Whatever you need to do to make you let loose.
This one is a bit of a stretch, but it works. If you are a professional napper, whether by trade or design, then you can give this a try.
I am not a great napper so I’ve only been able to fall asleep while pumping a couple of times and typically just by sheer exhaustion. When I have though, my bottles are FULL.
Being asleep is the ultimate relaxed state. All the milk will come out then.
Just make sure you set an alarm or two. The last thing you want to do is leave that pump going too long. You’ll get a ton of milk, but your boobs will probably hate you the next day.
Don’t Think About the Milk
In the beginning of my pumping journey, I was always worried about whether the milk was coming out.
I would spend my entire pumping session hunched over watching for sprays. Not only did this hurt my back, but it also just stressed me out.
It finally took me just accepting that whatever happened would happen and any amount of milk was helpful for me to finally relax. And you know what?? I started getting more milk.
Not thinking about the milk and just relaxing helped me to actually pump more out.
Relaxation is key. If you’re too stressed about the whole situation you’re going to tense up and your body won’t release the milk. So just relax.
Love is not measured in ounces.
Have you had success with any of these pumping tricks? I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment below or join the conversation in our Facebook group.
Until next time!