How to Get Better Milk Output When You Are Exclusively Pumping
When you’re exclusively pumping, the amount of milk you get each time is dependent on how well you empty the breast. One of the biggest things when trying to get as much milk as possible is that you need to follow a few tips to empty the breast completely and keep your output up.
One of these is pumping more often. When you’re exclusively pumping, you have to pump in a way that mimics the way a baby would be eating. So that’s every two to three hours for very small babies if you’re trying to keep your supply up.
The other part of it is emptying the breast fully every time that you pump, but it can be hard to do this. When babies nurse, they’re very effective and efficient at emptying the breast. The pump however, is not, so there are some tricks that you can use to get more milk out of the breast every time that you pump.
Exclusively pumping can be very stressful, but the number one thing when getting more milk out of the breast is to destress. Be as unstressed as possible when you’re pumping. I know this sounds ridiculous because you probably have a newborn and if you’re exclusively pumping, you’re probably very, very busy, but the less stress that you can bring to a pumping session, the better.
If that means finding a quiet spot to do it away from crying, screaming, or even the hustle and bustle of your house, do that. If that’s not an option, there are a couple of things that you can do. Studies show that listening to relaxing music and being guided through meditation while pumping actually can double the output versus moms who are not listening to music and guided meditation. There are so many free apps on your phone now that have music and guided meditation.
There are also entire YouTube channels dedicated to relaxation and guided meditation. This would be someone guiding you through a 10 minute meditation, or 15 minutes, however long you plan on pumping, to help you relax and get into a meditative state. If this is possible, throw on a pair of headphones and find a YouTube video or an app that has music and guided meditation. This can often bring down your cortisol levels and let your milk ducts relax enough to really empty out to their full capacity.
Another thing you can do to help empty the breast better is to apply heat. Heat opens up milk ducts and helps milk flow more freely. If you have a heating pad, one of the easiest ways to do this is to place it on your chest for about five minutes before you pump.
If you’re not using a pumping bra, you can also use a heating pad during, but I find that it’s harder when you have a pumping bra on and you’re using the hands-free style pump. If you have a smaller heating pad though or a microwaveable heating pad that’s a little bit smaller than a traditional one, then it might be a really good idea to heat them up in the microwave and then put them inside your pumping bra once your pump is going and well adhered to the breast.
Another way which requires you to purchase something, but is really effective and compact, is the LaVie Lactation Massager. This small, oval-shaped device not only warms up, but also vibrates. And both of those in combination are known and proven to help empty the breast better and more efficiently.
This massager ranges anywhere from about $50 to $70 depending on where you buy it. But I think it’s really worth it if you’re exclusively pumping and you really need the most efficient emptying of the breast each time.
Similarly, you can use devices that only use vibration. There are a lot of lactation massagers on the market and these are actually covered by health savings accounts (HSAs) where you can use pre-tax dollars to purchase medical equipment. Because a lactation massager is medically proven to help with clogged milk ducts and better emptying of the breast, these are actually covered by an HSA card. So if you have one, you can use your HSA money for it. If not, these range anywhere from $20 to $40.
Again, you can get one that also warms up so it does double duty or you can get one that just vibrates. If you already have a heating pad and you’re okay with just holding the heating pad on it, these little lactation massagers can go inside of the bra that you’re using or you can manually massage the breast with the lactation massager.
That leads into the next thing that you can do to get more milk while pumping. That is hand massage. While vibration is a really good and a little bit quicker way to do it, instead of buying a lactation massager, you can just manually massage your breasts to help loosen up the ducts and get the milk flowing. One trick is to do it for about a minute to two minutes before you put on the breast pump and then gently massage around the breast while pumping.
It’s easiest to do this before you put on a pumping bra that holds the pump. But if you’re not wearing a pumping bra while pumping, then you can manually massage your chest while the pump is on you. I do think the best thing to do is to massage your breasts for one to two minutes before you put your bra on, and then you can also use your hand to massage while pumping. But I think just a little bit before helps if you can’t massage your breast while the bra is on.
These are all really great ways to get the milk to flow better and I think that practicing relaxation is the best, but at the end of the day, what really helps to keep the milk supply up is to make sure the breast is completely empty. So while a lot of these things help empty the breast, the best thing to do at the end of every pumping session is just 30 seconds to a minute of hand expression.
You can find an excellent video tutorial of hand expressing here, but basically it’s just getting the last couple drops of milk out of the breast. This is done by applying very gentle pressure, and that doesn’t mean hurting yourself. You don’t want to squeeze and make the nipples or the breasts sore. So what you’ll do is cup your hand into a “C” and place it around the areola. Then you’re going to push the breasts back gently so that you’re compressing your breasts to your body and squeeze inward gently once the breast is pushed in towards the body.
You don’t want to squeeze them hard. You want to apply just enough pressure to get milk from the breast, and this will help get any excess amount of milk that’s leftover from the pump that the pump wasn’t able to get out and it basically empties the breasts.
The breast is constantly making milk. It will never be 100% empty, but when you’re only getting little little tiny drops from it, you know you’ve pretty much gotten the majority out. It won’t be flowing freely if you have emptied the breast efficiently.
One Last Note
I think that people have this misconception that if the pump that you’re using is turned on higher or a stronger suction, it will get more milk out. But this is just not true. You can actually get just as much milk pumping on a lower setting if you’re more comfortable, because it goes back to the stress thing. Any amount of discomfort or pain or agitation to the breasts while pumping is going to cause the milk ducts not to flow as freely.
I encourage people to pump on the setting that is comfortable for them, not what they think they need to get more milk. Being uncomfortable and having a harder suction might actually backfire and be more stressful on the body and obviously rougher on the breast, and both of those are counter productive when you’re trying to relax and get more milk out of the breast. Instead of using higher suction, try using some of these techniques to empty the breast more efficiently and get more milk per pump.
I hope this helps you on your pumping journey.