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The Mama of All Breast Pumping Guides: Techniques {Part 2}

The Mama of All Breast Pumping Guides: Techniques {Part 2}

In this post we'll cover:

  • Set Up For Success
  • Techniques For More Comfortable, Efficient Pumping
  • Galactagogues

We are all so unique, and different ideas work for different people. That’s why we’ve put together so many tips for you! Give the ones that feel okay a try and discard what doesn’t work for your family.

Click to Read all posts in the Mama of all Breast Pumping Guides Series

Set Up for Success

When nursing your babe in your arms, you have all you need for a lovely oxytocin rush to trigger a let down and milk production. When pumping, you need to intentionally create an environment that allows you to feel relaxed and comfortable enough to allow your body to let down. I’ll list several ideas that have helped me create an ideal space for pumping.

  • Have water (and a snack!) on hand. Your body is working hard to make milk for your baby! Stay hydrated and nourished to get the best results. Take care of yourself.
  • Turn down the lights. Dim lighting allows your body to relax.  Additionally, many moms find pumping a bit awkward and possibly even embarrassing. Low lights can help you feel protected and safe.
  • Listen to calm or soothing music. Similar effect of dimming lights. Can also calm nerves, and help you pass the time of pumping.
  • Look at a picture of your baby. Many breastfeeding professionals suggest that looking at a picture of your baby while pumping will trigger hormonal responses and help your milk let down. Smelling a blanket or piece of clothing with their scent on it might help too.
  • Don’t stare down your collection bottles. I find worrying about my output stressful, and so I don’t produce as much. Throw a light swaddling blanket over the bottles if you need to. Be calm and relaxed. Let the milk flow.

Techniques for More Comfortable, Efficient Pumping

A universal goal of pumping mothers is to express the most milk possible! Makes sense. Breastmilk runs on a supply and demand model. The greater amount of milk that is removed from the breast (a high demand), a greater amount of milk is created (a high supply).

Here are some go-to techniques many mothers use when pumping to increase the amount of milk they remove from their breasts:

Guided Meditation

I have found spoken affirmations and guided relaxation to be very beneficial in my pumping experience. My thoughts on the strategy were shaped by Stephen Feher’s study on guided relaxation as a galactogogue. In summary, researchers compared the effects of guided relaxation on milk production (in this study, mothers of infants in the NICU). The average difference in milk production between the two groups was 63%! The impact of guided relaxation on my pumping was phenomenal. Not only did it increase my output, it made pumping a more relaxed and enjoyable experience. I’ve included a free guided relaxation track, which we’ve created specifically for pumping mamas, for you to use. You can download it right here, give it a try and let me how it works for you!

Hands on Pumping

Adding in breast compressions or massage while pumping can stimulate more milk removal from the breast, which will prompt more milk creation. Compressions were made popular by the work of Dr. Jack Newman and the International Breastfeeding Centre. With your hand in a C-shape, squeeze and hold the breast until milk is expressed, then release.  

Incorporating breast massage can also stimulate milk production while pumping. The "Massage-Stroke-Shake" (M-S-S) technique as described by La Leche League is a commonly practiced one. Their method is as follows:

  1. Double pump for about five minutes, and pause.
  2. “Massage both breasts simultaneously in a circular motion, similar to a breast self-exam.”
  3. “Stroke both breasts all the way around from the chest wall to the tip of the nipple in a straight line using only your fingertips.”
  4. “Then cup each breast with your hand, lean forward, and gently shake your breasts.”
  5. Pump another 5-7 minutes and M-S-S.
  6. Finish with a final 5-7 minute pumping session.

If you’d like to see exactly how to use your hands when pumping, this video is great:

Hand Expression

Every nursing mom should know how to hand express! It can be helpful when you need to relieve just a bit of pressure, and some moms even find hand expression is more efficient than using an electric pump. Mothers with children in the NICU may also benefit from hand expressing milk, to ensure their supply stays strong.

The basics of hand expression are fairly straightforward:

  1. Gently massage your breasts. (Think of this as ‘priming the pump’!)
  2. Sit up straight and lean forward. (Gravity will help your milk flow.)
  3. “To find your “sweet spot,” start with your thumb on top of the breast and fingers below it, both about 1.5 inches (4 cm) from the base of the nipple. Some mothers find it helpful to curl their hand and use just the tips of their fingers and thumb. Several times, apply steady pressure into the breast toward the chest wall.  If no milk comes, shift finger and thumb either closer to or farther from the nipple and compress again a few times.  Repeat, moving finger and thumb until you feel slightly firmer breast tissue, and gentle pressure yields milk.  After you’ve found your “sweet spot,” skip the “finding” phase and start with your fingers on this area.”
  4. Give steady pressure to your ‘sweet spot’ by pressing your fingers in toward your chest, rather than your nipple.
  5. While giving this steady pressure, compress thumb and finger pads together. (Push, don’t pull.) You’ll want to follow a Press—Compress—Relax pattern.
  6. “Switch breasts every few minutes (five or six times in total at each expression) while rotating finger position around the breast. After expressing, all areas of the breast should feel soft. This process usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes.”

Stanford Medicine produced a video tutorial on hand expression which I found helpful. Our tried and true friend :) put together a wonderful collection of articles and tips on hand expression that I like.

Nipple and Breast Comfort

Your comfort isn’t just a bonus, it’s crucial to your body’s ability to let down and will have a big impact on your pumping output. Pumping should be comfortable!

An ill-fitting flange can restrict the amount of milk a mother is able to express. Your flange should fit like a glove! Many mothers find an increase in the amount of milk they’re able to produce when they adjust flange size. This video tutorial helpfully explains how a flange should fit. These flange-fit diagrams from Ameda are also helpful.

Many breast pump models have settings that allow you to adjust the suction, and it’s a good idea to experiment with the suction settings on your pump. Some (like many Medela models) have a ‘let down’ setting. You can try cycling back to the ‘let down’ setting a couple of times each session to produce additional let downs. If pumping is painful, try to adjust the suction to a lesser level. It may seem that stronger is better, but many moms find that turning down the suction will actually yield more milk and increase comfort.

You can also try rubbing a bit of nipple cream inside the flanges. This can help your nipples to glide more freely and, hence, be more comfortable.

Self Care

Pumping can be a truly beautiful, wonderful way to bond with your baby from afar. But it can also be a lot of work! A tired and stressed mama will have a harder time expressing milk and maintaining her supply than a rested, relaxed one. Take a break when you need to. Recognize the hard work you’re doing for your baby and appreciate yourself. Try to take some time each day just for you. Relax in a big bubble bath or take an extra long shower. Encourage yourself if things get tough or tiring. I found that it helped to save an encouraging image to my phone screensaver as a gentle reminder of my goals.


A ‘galactagogue’ is a food or drug which increases milk flow. They are particularly helpful for mothers who are experiencing low supply, or who want to maintain supply while pumping.

  • Hydration: Staying hydrated is a great example of how general self-care and wellness practices go a long way! Moms who are under hydrated or dehydrated will often find their milk supply decreases, but will notice an increase upon further hydration.
  • Oatmeal: Though not scientifically confirmed, many mothers anecdotally find oatmeal helps increase their lactation.
  • Blessed thistle: An herb usually taken for digestive problems (either in vitamin pill or tea form), it has also been commonly used to increase milk flow.
  • Fenugreek: Similar, but not identical, in function to blessed thistle.
  • Lactation Teas: Mother’s Milk is a popular tea among lactating moms. A combination of galactagogue herbs in a soothing beverage is just the right touch!
  • Prescription medications: In some cases, a care provider may prescribe medication to increase milk supply. Domperidone or Reglan are common ones. With further conversation, and weighing of benefits and risks, a prescription may be an ideal care plan for some mothers.

    Talk to your doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant before attempting any of these treatments!

    Your Free Breast Pumping Care Package

    In order to support you in your breast pumping journey, I've created a free care package, just for pumping mamas. Your care package includes:
    • The entire Mama of All Breast Pumping Guides ebook
    • Guided Meditation / Relaxation for Pumping mp3 file 
    • Printable pumping routines / schedules
    • Printable reference guides and worksheets
    • Inspiring and encouraging screen savers for your phone

    This care package is available exclusively to the Narra Nest community. 

    Download yours now by clicking the image below!


    Disclaimer: I am not a lactation consultant or medical professional. The wisdom and advice shared in this post is mama to mama, not provider to client. You assume all responsibility and risk when implementing any of these suggestions. Additionally, I have no affiliate relationships with any brands mentioned. I am not receiving any compensation for my recommendations. The products and resources listed are simply ones I found useful in my breastfeeding journey.
    Myths of Breastfeeding, International Breastfeeding Centre
    18 Breast Pumping Tips, Ask Dr. Sears
    Now on iTunes: An audio galactogogue, Breastfeeding Medicine

    Choosing a breastpump, LLL
    How to buy a breast pump, important safety notes,
    Breast Pumps and Insurance Coverage, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
    Breast Compression, International Breastfeeding Centre
    Getting More Milk When Pumping, La Leche League International
    Hand Expression,
    Maximizing Milk Production with Hands On Pumping. Stanford Medicine
    Hand expressing your breastmilk,
    I’m not pumping enough milk. What can I do?,
    What are the LLLI guidelines for storing my pumped milk?, La Leche League International
    Breastmilk Storage & Handling,
    My expressed breastmilk doesn’t smell fresh. What can I do?,
    Not Enough Milk? How to Increase Supply when you are Exclusively Pumping,
    How much expressed milk will my baby need?,

    What should I know about buying a new or used breastpump?,
    Are Used Breast Pumps a Good Option? Issues to Consider, La Leche League International
    What is a galactagogue? Do I need one?,
    Blessed Thistle Information Overview, WebMD
    Fenugreek Information Overview, WebMD
    How Can I Make My Return To Work Easier?, La Leche League International
    Traveling with Breastmilk, Breastfeeding Today
    Weaning from the pump,
    Weaning from the Pump, La Leche League International