Whether you’re pumping exclusively, pumping to build a stash or pumping for any other reason, there’s certainly a knack to getting things going and for a lot of women, it doesn’t come easily. One of the big misconceptions is that pumping breastmilk is the same as breastfeeding, but that’s not the case. It’s a lot more difficult to get milk from your breasts with a pump than it is with a baby, so these useful tips will help you express more breastmilk and get more from your expressing experience.
Something you do need to be mindful of is that the amount of milk you can express is not a representation of the amount of milk you are producing. Because babies are designed to be the perfect milk extractors, they are the best at getting the milk out. A pump is just the best mechanical version of this we can use. So before you stress about your milk supply, check with a Lactation Consultant to help you with your specific needs.
When my son was in NICU I had to exclusively pump for his 9 weeks. I continued to pump after taking him home, pumped when I returned to work and have pumped with my daughter too. During that time I learned a few things about getting the most out of your pumping sessions and getting as much milk as possible from each pump.
1 – Get To Know Your Breasts
How well do you know your breasts? Do you understand how breastmilk is made, stored and how it flows? Getting educated on the production and flow of breastmilk, as well as understanding your let down, what it feels like and what triggers it, will help you understand the mechanics of what you’re doing and therefore help you get the most from your pumping sessions.
You can take lactation classes with a Lactation Consultant who can show you exactly how it all works and can help you get more of a ‘hands-on’ understanding.
It’s also good to understand that breastmilk is produced in a supply and demand way. The more demand there is for milk, the more we supply. This is a brilliant article about milk production works written by an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant)
2 – Get To Know Your Pump
Each breast pump is created differently and has different features. Knowing what these features are can actually help you express more breastmilk in each session. For example, most pumps will have a two-phase pumping system which aims to replicate the initially fast suck a baby does to initiate let down, and then the longer, deeper suck to extract more milk. There may be different strengths for these phases too.
Most pumps have instruction manuals online and YouTube videos to show you a more detailed way to use them.
3 – Use A Good Quality Pump That Is Right For You
I have used many different types of pumps over the years and I can say for sure that they are not all the same. Some pumps work well for some women and not as good for others, so while it’s good to take recommendations (this is my favourite) it’s important to remember if you’re not getting much from your pumping sessions, you may need to try a different pump.
Before you do go changing your pump, check to make sure that the parts you are using are suitable for you. Did you know there are different sized breast shields for your pump that can significantly impact how effective your pumping session is?
Take some time to see your Lactation Consultant who can help you find the right size for you and check out this guide to help too.
4 – Clean and Replace Your Pump Parts
Just like most machinery, your pump works best when it’s clean and in good order. While we all know how important it is to properly clean our pump parts, it’s easy to forget that replacing items like tubing and membranes can make a huge difference to the efficiency of the pump. It can also make your pump work harder, leading to burn out.
Your pump’s manufacturer will have a supply of all the spare parts you need, otherwise, you can usually find them on Amazon too. Some parts are recommended to be replaced every few months. This article from Spectra gives you an idea of what can be replaced and how often.
5 – Use A Combination Of Pump + Hand Expressing
Some women find hand expressing alone to be far more efficient than using an electric or manual pump, however, it can be really hard on your hands. Using a combination of hand expressing while using a pump can help you in emptying your breasts and getting out as much milk as possible.
This is a fantastic article that goes into detail and has a video on how to hand express. If you combine this technique with your pumping session, you may find you get even more milk each time.
6 – Keep Pictures and Video Of Your Babe Close By
When my son was in NICU, I wasn’t able to have him close by all the time. The skin to skin contact and having your baby close is what causes the release of oxytocin, the hormone that triggers your let down reflex and allows your milk to flow. To try and stimulate this reflex without my son there, I would watch videos of him moving about and listen to him making noises, or look at pictures of him to help trigger that hormone release.
Another trick is to keep a blanket or piece of clothing nearby that smells like your baby and breathe it in while thinking of them. This too can help with your let down reflex and allow you to pump more milk.
7 – Relax
One thing that can affect your ability to express more milk is stress, which can hinder your let down reflex. I’ve pumped in some places and situations that aren’t exactly relaxing – in a NICU, in a car, in the back of an Ambulance… but it’s a good skill to be able to learn how to block out what’s around you and relax.
You can do this through meditation, deep breathing or even simply focusing on those videos and images of your little babe to try and help your let down reflex happen.
You can also try to ensure you have a relaxing environment to pump in, when possible, that is calm, quiet and comfortable.
8 – Take Your Time
Pumping takes time and can even take longer than our babes to nurse. While some little ones can be done and dusted with a feed in less than 10 minutes (speedy eaters) a pumping session can take around 40 minutes (20 minutes each side). It’s important to allow yourself adequate time to pump, and you could even get a double pump to be more time efficient.
Also, aim to have multiple let downs per pump session. A mistake a lot of women make when pumping is that they get their first let down, notice a good flow of milk being pumped, and then when that flow slows down or stops, they stop their pumping session. You can often have two or three let downs per pumping session, significantly increasing the amount of milk you express.
9 – Ask For Help
Pumping and expressing breastmilk isn’t something we just know how to do. It’s a skill that takes practice and refinement. If you’re having trouble expressing or if you’re not happy with what you’re able to express, ask for help. An IBCLC will be able to help you with your skill and technique and can be far more specific and hands on, showing you exactly what’s right for you.
Hopefully, with these tips and a few tweaks, you’ll be able to express more breastmilk for your baby and have a positive pumping experience.