Breast milk is made by supply and demand so that the more milk taken out of the breasts by either your baby, hand expression or a breast pump, the more breast milk will be made to replace it. This article shares tips to increase milk supply when pumping.
How often should I pump?
How often to pump depends on why you are pumping but generally the more often you pump today the more milk your breasts will make tomorrow.
- If your baby is not latching at all in the early days or weeks you will need to pump as often as your baby would be breastfeeding to build a full milk supply. Aim for at least eight to ten pumping sessions per day; try not to go more than two hours in the day and four hours at night without pumping.
- If you are exclusively pumping long term you will want to discover the number of times that you need to pump to maintain your production for your baby. Nancy Mohrbacher calls this the “magic number” and for some mothers it might be four or five times a day while for another mother it might be nine or ten. For more information about pumping for a baby who can’t breastfeed see Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk.
- If your baby is breastfeeding but needs more milk because of low weight gain, try pumping and/or hand expressing after each breastfeed to ensure your breasts are drained and boost your milk supply. If there isn’t much milk at that time, try pumping about an hour after a breastfeed. Any pumped milk can be used to top your baby up. It can be helpful to work with an IBCLC lactation consultant to identify the reasons why your baby isn’t getting enough milk.
- If you are pumping to stockpile breast milk for a separation or ready for going back to work, you could start pumping once or twice a day according to your needs and build up as needed. Mothers often have more milk early in the morning so this may be a good time to pump. Once you are at work, the milk you can pump for your baby when you are away from each other can be stored in the fridge for use the next working day.
How long should I pump?
- Most milk is removed in about 15-20 minutes and there is not thought to be an advantage to pumping for much longer than this in one session. However the ideal pumping time will vary for different women. Pumping time will depend on the type of pump being used (manual, single electric or a double pump), whether you have just breastfed your baby or are exclusively pumping. It will also depend whether you’re building your supply or expressing for a missed feed, and the amount of milk a breast can store at one time (your breast storage capacity). A higher number of shorter pumping sessions will be more beneficial for supply than fewer long ones.
- Pump for a couple of minutes after milk begins to drip slowly/stop up to a maximum pumping session of 30 minutes1. Keep a record of the milk pumped to encourage you.
How much milk should I pump?
- If you’re pumping for a replacement feed this could vary widely from 30ml to 120ml depending on your baby’s needs and how often they feed. A rough average guide to the daily volume of breast milk a baby takes from one month to six months of age is 750-1035 ml or 27-35 oz 2 or an average 800 ml/day 3. If 800ml is divided by ten feeds this might make an expected volume of 80ml per feed—for a baby who tends to feed every two hours during the day with one longer break of four hours during the night. In practice this volume could be higher or lower for any individual baby.
- If you’re pumping to get top-up milk because your baby isn’t gaining much weight, stay in close contact with your IBCLC or health professional to find the amount of milk you will need to keep your baby well fed and for help with the other issues that have led to low weight gain, and see our care plan for Supplementing an Underweight Baby.
How to pump more breast milk
There are several ways to increase your pumping output:
Pump more often
If you’re away from your baby, try to pump as often as baby would normally feed.
Double pumping (pumping both breasts at the same time) typically produces more milk and saves time too. Some single pumps can be converted into doubles (contact the manufacturer). For hands on pumping and double pumping at the same time you can buy hands free double pumping bustiers. If you’re single pumping, alternate between left and right breasts every five minutes and repeat.
Massage or hands on pumping is a technique to increase the amount of milk you can pump that involves gentle breast massage before and during pumping. See this helpful Hands on Pumping video (see 5:15) developed by Jane Morton MD from Stanford School of Medicine.
Hand expressing after pumping
Power pumping is a short-term technique made popular by lactation consultant Cathy Watson Genna and described in the book Making More Milk (2009). The technique mimics a baby cluster feeding which can boost milk production. It involves setting up a pump in a handy spot and every time you pass by as you move around the house, pump for five or ten minutes. Tips for the technique include:
- Aim to pump at least ten times each day for two or three days (then return to usual pumping schedule)
- Pumping more often than every 45 minutes may not be helpful
- No need to wake at night especially to pump, but try and pump if baby wakes up
- The technique previously suggested parents of healthy full-term babies could leave the pump set up and only refrigerate milk or wash equipment every four hours (depending on the temperature of the room)5. However recent official guidance recommends that equipment is washed after each use, see How Long Does Breast Milk Last? for more information.
Lubrication inside the pump flange and/or on the breast can make pumping more comfortable by reducing friction. You could experiment to see what works best. Mothers have used nipple creams such as lanolin, oils (e.g. olive oil or coconut oil), or even breast milk.
Try a different pump
Sometimes a breast pump might be faulty and not working properly, particularly second hand pumps. Or sometimes a particular brand might not work well for an individual mother. It can be worth trying a different pump if you are not able to pump much milk. See “How to choose a breast pump” below.
Pumping at night
Try pumping at night especially if you happen to be awake anyway, because prolactin levels (an important hormone in milk production) are higher at night. If you usually breastfeed at night, that will also help to stimulate milk production.
Pumping on one breast while baby breastfeeds on the other
This works well for some mothers who find it difficult to let-down to the pump.
Spending time skin-to-skin can help boost another hormone involved in milk production; oxytocin. Some mothers find holding their baby while they pump can help their ease of pumping.
Music and relaxation
Cover the collection bottle
Some mothers find watching the collection bottles to see how much milk they are pumping at each session is quite stressful. Covering the pumping bottle with a sock or mitten can take the focus off the volume collected and, if it helps a mother to feel more relaxed as she pumps, she may pump more milk as a result.
How to choose a breast pump
As a general rule the more you pay for a breast pump the better it will work. An electric pump will usually be much more efficient than a manual one (hand operated) and hospital grade pumps (expensive multi-user pumps used in hospitals) will be better still. But there can be exceptions to every rule and some mothers may even find hand expressing works better than pumping for them. Tips for choosing a pump include:
- Look for a pump with multiple settings for speed and suction to give you more comfort and control and to mimic a baby’s sucking pattern. Some breast pumps can generate unsafe vacuum levels or maintain a vacuum for too long. Pumping should not hurt.
- Look for a choice of flange size. The part of the pump that is held to the breast has various names with different pump manufacturers such as breast shield (Medela), breast shell (Ardo), funnel (Ameda) or flange. Look for a pump with different sized flanges because nipples and breasts are not all the same size and the right fit is important for your comfort levels (pumping should not hurt!)—see “Breast pump flange fit” below.
- Availability of replacement parts. Consider whether a battery back up option would be useful in addition to mains operated.
- Check reviews online from other women who have tried them before buying a pump.
- Hospital grade pumps may be available to borrow from your maternity hospital or for short-term hire from major pump manufacturers in your country e.g. contact Ardo, or Medela in the UK.
- Second hand pumps may not work efficiently and may have hygiene concerns 8. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding explains:
…consumer-grade pumps aren’t built to last much more than a year or so, the average length of time that a mother might be pumping for one baby. When they start to wear out, they don’t just suddenly stop working. The suction and cycling mechanisms veeerrry slowly break down, and eventually you realise you aren’t pumping as much milk and the suction doesn’t feel as strong (or is too strong). Consumer-grade pumps aren’t closed system like rental-grade pumps, so milk and moisture may have entered the mechanical parts, where bacteria, mould, and viruses can grow.
An alternative style of breast pump
The Haakaa Silicon Breast Pump is a new type of “pump” that works without electricity by generating a gentle vacuum pressure on the milk making tissue of one breast while you feed your baby on the opposite breast to create a let down. For a further discussion of this new device see This Year’s Big Thing… by Shel Banks.
Breast pump flange fit
Using a breast pump shouldn’t hurt, but if the flange doesn’t fit correctly or the vacuum is too high, pain and friction can result in sore nipples. The opening where the nipple sits, is sometimes referred to as the nipple tunnel. If the nipple tunnel is too small your nipple may rub along its sides or get wedged, this can cause cracking at the base of the nipple. If the nipple tunnel is too large, too much areola may be pulled into the tunnel to rub along the sides, causing pain and trauma. Pump manufacturer Medela has a guide to getting the right flange fit. Most pump companies offer a variety of flange sizes for example Ardo Breast Pumps (5 sizes), Ameda Breast Pumps (7 sizes) and Medela Breast Shield Fitting (5 sizes). You may need a different size for each breast.
How to use a breast pump
By adjusting the speed (cycling) and suction (vacuum) you can mimic the faster sucks of a baby’s initial latch—which stimulate the let-down—followed by the deeper rhythmic suck later in the feed which keeps the milk flowing. You can also adjust the settings during the feed to create several let-downs; i.e. increase the cycling speed when milk flow slows and adjust it down again when flow increases. Some pumps will do this automatically for you and may have a special “let-down” button. If you are single pumping (on one breast) switching between breasts several times will mimic switch nursing and stimulate let-downs. A little lanolin or olive oil smeared inside the flange and nipple tunnel can make pumping more comfortable if needed.
Cleaning breast pump parts
Pump parts that come into contact with breast milk should be cleaned after each use according to manufacturers’ instructions. Advice to sterilise equipment after each use or whether washing pump parts is sufficient varies between different regulatory bodies. The UK’s National Health Service recommends that all feeding equipment be sterilised after each use until a baby is one-year-old910. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a fact sheet with tips for keeping pumping equipment clean, see How to Keep Your Breast Pump Kit Clean: The Essentials. The CDC recommend washing pump parts thoroughly after each use and sterilising equipment once a day. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine say that breast pump parts do not have to be sterilised:
Containers for human milk storage and breast pump milk collection kits must be completely dismantled, washed in hot soapy water and rinsed or washed in a dishwasher, and should always be thoroughly air dried or dried with paper towels. They do not need to be sterilized. If soap is not available, then boiling water is preferable.
All breast pump parts that come in contact with breast milk, such as bottles, valves and breast shields, should be cleaned after each use. It is not possible to completely sterilize breast pump parts at home, even if you boil them. However, sterilization is not necessary to keep these parts safe and sanitary. You can do that by thoroughly washing away germs and bacteria with liquid dishwashing soap and warm water.
Avoid harsh chemicals and abrasive scrubbing
Wambach and Riordan 11 point out not to use harsh chemicals or abrasive scrubbing which could create small scratches to harbour bacteria or mould.
Tubing, diaphragms and pistons
Pump parts that don’t come in contact with milk such as tubes, and pistons are not meant to be sterilised and could melt under direct heat12 so follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully. If condensation develops in the tubing it can be “spun like a lasso” to force the water droplets out (Wambach and Riordan, 2015).
Other ways to increase milk supply
Pumping can be a great partner in the process to increase low milk supply, however not all mothers find pumping works well for them and there are many more ideas to try. Our article How to Make More Breast Milk discusses more ways to increase your milk supply and it is helpful to consult your IBCLC lactation consultant to unpick the reasons for low milk supply. With good positioning, some latching tips, breast compression, and by offering both breasts (and more!) you may be able to improve your supply with less need to pump.
These books offer easy-to-read comprehensive help for your milk supply all in one place see:
- Making More Milk: The Breastfeeding Guide to Increasing Your Milk Production, Second Edition 2020 by Diana West, BA, IBCLC and Lisa Marasco, MA, IBCLC
- Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk: A Guide to Providing Expressed Breast Milk for Your Baby by Stephanie Casemore
There are several ways to help increase the amount of breast milk you can pump. Trying shorter, more frequent pumping sessions, using breast massage while pumping, hand expressing after using a pump, choosing the right pump and using the correct sized pumping parts have helped many mothers to increase their milk supply by pumping.