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Are you currently wondering what to do because you are not pumping enough breast milk?
I received a lot of questions from mothers regarding this issue, some of them even thinking whether they are having a low milk supply issue. That's why, I thought it would benefit other pumping moms if I summarise my answer here for a quick reference.
- 10 things you should know before pumping breast milk
- How to choose the correct breast shield size to maximize your pumping output
- 10 Ways to stimulate let down quickly
- Tips and tricks: effective pumping strategies to pump more milk
- How To Use Spectra S1 breast pump for maximum output
- How Much Milk Should You Be Pumping
- What To Do If You Are Not Pumping Enough Breast Milk
- How to maintain milk supply while away from baby (and culprit of sudden milk supply drop)
- Power Pumping To Increase Milk Supply
- 7 Ways to Pump Breast Milk Faster
- Hands-On vs Hands-free Pumping
- Nipple Pain While Pumping
First of all, if your pumping output is less than what you expect, it does not always mean that you don't produce enough milk or having low milk supply.
It can be that:
- You have wrong expectation about how much milk you will get from pumping
- You are pumping incorrectly
- You have problem with your milk production
Let's consider these few scenarios:
1. First scenario: Pumping to build breast milk stash
Are you pumping on top of breastfeeding (direct latch) throughout the day?
If yes, it is pretty normal to only get a little milk while pumping, because your baby is already removing milk from your breast.
In fact, the amount that you get from pumping is extra milk (read once again: extra milk, meaning you have enough breast milk supply. Your baby has already gotten enough milk by latching. Additionally, you are still producing some more), isn't it good?
If you are thinking about building the stash while breastfeeding, please know that your pumping amount may be minimal while you are still latching your baby (getting 0.3 - 2 oz in the morning is very normal).
Don't expect pumping means you will be getting 1 full bottle of breast milk.
The point here is to accumulate just enough stash for reserve.
I have a little story to share here:
My parents were coming over to visit me and my newborn (I could not remember if I have returned to work or not at that point of time).
There was one time when I just finished my pumping session at home and my father saw the pumped milk in the bottle.
He was quiet and didn't tell me anything, but later, he did tell my mother that he thought, when I said I would be pumping, I would get one bottle full of milk. Whereas I only got around 10-20 ml at that time (less than 1 oz).
I was laughing, telling my mother that this is extra milk (because the baby has drunk the rest directly from my breast, lol).
Sometimes, when we don't know what to expect while pumping, an innocent comment like what my parent said would hurt. You may start questioning yourself if you are really producing enough breast milk for your baby.
That's why, it is important to tell yourself, if you pump on top of direct latch, those milk are extra milk, extra!
Your baby is getting enough and you still produce more.
Tell yourself this over and over again to make you feel confident.
These little ounces will accumulate, trust me.
Don't be discouraged with the amount. Just do it and in no time, you will be surprise with how much milk you have in your stash.
2. Second scenario: a newbie in pumping breast milk
You are just starting to pump and you are anxious since you only got a little of milk.
You think that there's something wrong with the pump (or the way you pump), because you can still feel lump in your breast (indicating that your breast is not emptied thoroughly).
First, not all breast pumps are effective in removing milk thoroughly.
So, I'd suggest you to use a good quality breast pump right from the beginning.
Do your research early. Having to shop for a new breast pump because your old one is not matching your expectation is no fun, especially if you need to pump milk regularly.
Different moms respond differently to different breast pump, so it is normal to have an 'experimental phase' in which you are trying to fine-tune the best way to operate your breast pump.
If you are just starting to use the breast pump, or just recently switch to a new pump, give yourself 1-2 weeks to let your body get accustomed to your pump and to find your best setting.
You can also check my guide on How to Pump with Spectra S1. While some settings mentioned in this guide is specific to that pump, there are ample of tips that can be applied to whatever breast pump that you use.
Several things to ponder:
- Are you using breast pump suction level which makes you feel uncomfortable/painful?
Most moms have great success pumping with the highest suction that they feel most comfortable.
The emphasis here is 'highest BUT comfortable'.
This ... does not mean to be the 'highest level in the pump', some even stays in let-down mode for pumping because expression mode is too painful to handle, and this is fine as long as this is the most comfortable for you).
Again, give yourself enough time to find your preferred setting, including how to stimulate let-down reflex with your breast pump (learn more tips for getting let-down reflex here ), and choosing the best combination of suction (and speed - if available).
- Are you using a correctly-fitted breast shield (pump flange)?
Have you measured your nipple size before using the breast shield?
Please know the breast shield (flange) that comes together with your breast pump is a standard size (that fits the majority of moms, BUT, that does not mean it will guarantee to fit you well.
Also, you should know that incorrect breast shield size leads to not-optimal pumping (in some cases, discomfort and pain).
By using a proper flange size suitable for your nipple, you have a better chance to increase your pumping output (talk about 20% increase or even more).
- Click here to read more about how to choose your breast shield size (includes: case studies from mothers who have done this).
- Have you done breast compression/massage while pumping?
This is very important to do since massaging your breast helps the milk flow out faster and consequently, your breast will be emptied faster.
Let me ask you, which one is better, pumping 30 mins (with massage) or pumping 1 hour (no massage, milk only flows in drips)?
Of course the first one, right?
If you haven't tried this trick, try it.
Yes, you may not be able to multitask if you do this, but your milk supply will thank you =).
RELATED: 7 Ways to Pump Breast Milk Faster
- Have you tried to trigger another let-down reflex?
I know not all mothers benefit from getting another let-down reflex but if you haven't tried it, you should.
If you are not convinced yet, perhaps my story below can give you some idea whether you should try aiming for multiple let-down reflexes.
When I first pumped, I thought I have a serious low milk supply problem because the amount of milk I got was less than 1 oz per pump (pumping for my first baby).
But then I tried to stimulate another let-down reflex, and I still got a decent amount of milk.
Then I tried another one.
All in all, I finally settled for 3 let-down reflexes per pumping session (because it took me less than 5 minutes to trigger those let-downs and I managed to get up to a 50% increase in the amount of milk I pumped (compared with if I stop after one let-down).
- Important Point: If, after you tried this, you need more than 10 minutes to get another let-down with very minimal amount of milk (say, less than 5 ml), then this technique may not be suitable for you.
- Have you tried to follow your pumping routine with hand expression / manual pumping?
I know it is tedious, and it takes a while to learn (your hand may ache a little at the beginning), but let me tell you that several moms have told me how happy they are with their pumping output after they start practicing hands expression.
The video below shows you how to do breast massage and hand expression properly. Remember, a proper hand expression should not hurt you so badly. If you do, chances are you are doing it wrongly.
I also discussed more hands-free vs hands-on pumping in this article. Yeah, I know not all moms have plenty of time to pump. The key is finding the balance.
For more comprehensive pumping resources, do visit my pumping 101 series here.
3. Third scenario: Just returning back to work
You just recently returned back to work.
Initially things were fine.
But after two weeks, you noticed you only get half of what you used to pump...such a drastic drop!
a. Are you under a lot of stress?
Returning back to work is not easy (and it's never easy), so you may unconsciously put too much pressure on yourself.
Talk it out... tell someone whom you trust how you are feeling... it's okay to rant... just be sure to have a safe space to express your emotions. A forum / Facebook group of breastfeeding moms is a good place to do this =).
You can even talk to a colleague or someone who really knows your workload.
Let me tell you, chances are... you are putting too much expectation on yourself, while actually other colleagues not expecting you to do so.
I did this, too.. Luckily I talked to my colleague, another mom just like me, and she's the one reminding me to take things slowly.
b. Could it be that you are not pumping that frequently?
Yes, I know that ideally we should pump as often as the baby's feeding, but not all working moms can afford that.
Try to explore opportunities to squeeze in some extra pumping sessions, even as short as 10 mins.
Perhaps at home early in the morning or at night?
At work, pumping hands-free at your desks, or pumping while driving?
Different moms will have different pumping solutions.
I opted to add 2 more pumping sessions (early morning and before bed). Full story here.
Heather, on the other hand, opted to pump while driving to and from work. Here's her story.
c. Offer your baby to breastfeed more frequently.
Perhaps the solution is as easy as offering breast more frequently.
Do you know your magic number?
I.e. how frequent your breast needs to be drained to maintain optimum milk production.
Nancy Mohrbacher has a great article explaining this, related to this sudden drop a working mom experience after returning back to work. And her advise was simple, let the baby nurses as frequently as possible when she's with you.
d. Use your weekend to do nursing / power pumping bootcamp
The purpose of this bootcamp is similar to the above, to empty your breast more frequently, sending signals to your brain so that it will start producing more breast milk.
If you are not sure how to do power pumping, I've written a detailed guide on power pumping here.
3. Fourth scenario: for pumping veteran
You are a pumping expert.
You've pumped for months, but suddenly your breastmilk supply dwindled down.
You are running out of milk stash for your baby.
Are you... skipping pumping / nursing sessions?
Are you under heavy stress due to your working nature?
Or perhaps, your period has returned?
There can be several reasons why your breastmilk supply suddenly tanked.
4. Fifth Scenario: the real low milk supply problem
You have breastmilk supply problem from the beginning.
Perhaps you are pumping because your baby is unable to latch properly, have weight gain issue, and trying to increase your milk production.
You have been supplementing your baby with your own milk, donor milk, or perhaps formula.
- My first advise is - this is not easy -but try not to stress too much about it.
When you are feeling stressed, it affects your hormone; it affects your milk production.
Keep a positive thinking.
You are struggling right now, but do believe there's a solution in the end.
Keep doing what you do and keep praying.
- Look for help.
Perhaps you have tried asking friends, mommy forum.
But if things are not improving, engage a lactation consultant if possible. She can help to assess from various aspects, the latch, your baby's tongue anatomy, your breast anatomy, or perhaps doing some hormone test.
If there's no local LC in your city, there are option to schedule an online consultation with some IBCLCs. Here's one example who offers online consultation via Skype.
- Remember the golden rule of milk production
The emptier the breast, the faster your milk will be produced.
Take this rule into practice.
Frequent nursing (if possible) and regular pumping (to replace the missed nursing session).
If you decide to pump, make sure you are pumping the right way (check my pumping 101 guide).
Also, you can try to do power pumping to boost your milk production.A lot of moms have great results with this technique. Learn more about power pumping in this in-depth article.
- Watch your diet and stay hydrated.
It's so easy to miss meals or get dehydrated when you are having a newborn.
But you need that energy to make you function, and to produce milk.
- IMPORTANT: Consuming lactogenic food and herbs alone won't guarantee to increase your milk supply. Rather, this should be done in conjunction with removing milk from your breast as often as possible, whether it is via direct latch or pumping).
Last but not least, for all scenarios, check all your breast pumping parts and accessories.
Do you think it needs replacement?
Rubbery parts such as membrane, for example, should be replaced every 1 - 3 months to avoid suction drop.
Check your tubings, is there any moisture inside that can hinder the suction?
But if you are using open-system breast pump, you need to check the tubing every time you pump.
To get rid of moisture, run your pump motor with tubings attached (but not to the breast shield and all).
:: I hope this article will give you some enlightenment on what to do when you feel that you are not pumping enough milk.
It is a complex situation, so you need to assess it from several points.
You can't just blame your body for not producing enough milk
It may be the breast pump problem
It may be the way you use the breast pump.
Or it may turn out that you are actually producing enough breast milk, but you are unaware about that.
Of course, if you feel stuck on what to do, I recommend you to discuss with a lactation consultant-choose the one with IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant-if possible, they are far more experienced), and hopefully, you can go through this problem together with her until you find the solution.
:: Now, onto you.
Have you been pumping not enough milk?
Were you able to pinpoint the problem and find the solution?
Share your story with us in the comments.
Finally, if you feel this post resonates with you or would be helpful for others, please help to share it.