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.
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.
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:
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!
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:
If you’d like to see exactly how to use your hands when pumping, this video is great: http://newborns.stanford.edu/Breastfeeding/MaxProduction.html
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:
Stanford Medicine produced a video tutorial on hand expression which I found helpful. Our tried and true friend KellyMom.com :) put together a wonderful collection of articles and tips on hand expression that I like.
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.
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.
Talk to your doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant before attempting any of these treatments!
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