Pumping is a wonderful way to provide your baby with breastmilk when nursing is not an option (or a desire). But let's face it—pumping is hard. It's a bit robotic, plus it requires a great deal of planning, lugging around of gear and cleaning.
When pumping mamas find a drop in their milk supply, it can be even harder. But fear not.
Here are 14 things to try to increase your pumped milk supply:
1. Check your pump
Is it in optimal working order? Do the batteries need to be replaced or is the cord fraying? Is it possible that the motor is starting to tire out?
If you're concerned that your pump isn't working perfectly, give the manufacturing-brand a call. They may be able to help you diagnose what's going on over the phone.
Also, take a look at all the pump accessories. Is there a crack in one of the tubes? Are those impossible small membranes intact (or present at all… says the mama who has washed them down the sink on many occasions)?
2. Clean your pump
Doing a deep clean of your pump and all the pieces every once in a while is a good idea—the frequency depends on how often you use it, but you could aim for once every two weeks as a baseline.
Even though you clean the parts a lot, it is possible for milk residue to accumulate, decreasing the functionality of the parts. Boiling the tubes, membranes, valves, and flanges for a few minutes will help loosen any gunk.
3. Assess the flanges
Flanges are the plastic trumpet-looking pieces that you place on your breasts when pumping. When it comes to flanges, size definitely matters. If you are not getting enough milk it is possible that you need to change your flange size (most likely up, though possibly down). To get an idea of what's right for you, most pump brands have a flange fitting guide available on their websites.
4. Get comfy
Have you ever found yourself finishing a pumping session and finding that your back aches? (🙋🏽♀️) Finding the right position to pump in can be awkward, especially when we need to pump in non-conventional places. (Has anyone else pumped in an airport bathroom stall?) But, research finds that when women are comfortable, they usually produce more milk.
Do what you can to make your environment comfortable. Support your lower back with pillows—a breastfeeding pillow can work for pumping too! And pay attention to your shoulders—keep them low and relaxed, not hunched up by your ears.
5. Look at a picture of your baby
Pumping does not exactly inspire warm, lovey-dovey emotions. Sure, you know that you are doing something wonderful for your baby. But the act of pumping is fairly mechanical—and this lack of emotional can impact the amount of milk you produce.
When your baby latches to your breast, your body releases oxytocin, the love hormone, which helps your milk let-down. Try to emulate this by looking at some photos or videos of your baby while you are pumping to get you oxytocin, and milk, flowing.
6. Pump as often as your baby eats
Milk is made by supply and demand—the more your tiny boss demands, the more your body will supply. When the frequency of emptying the breasts changes, our body get the message that it needs to make more or less milk accordingly. More emptying = more milk, less emptying = less milk.
Pumping frequently can be a challenge, but to the extent that you are able to, try to pump as frequently as your baby eats. If your baby eats every three hours, your breasts will "want" to empty every three hours in order to maintain their milk supply.
If work or life is extra hectic, see if you can pump for even a few minutes. A really short pumping session is better than none at all.
7. Double pump
Research indicates that double pumping—pumping both breasts at the same time—produces more milk in a single session than pumping just one breast. If you need your hands to multitask while pumping, try a pumping bra to hold the flanges in place.
8. Try a pumping marathon
A great way to boost your milk supply to do a pumping marathon, sometimes called cluster pumping.
Carve out an hour or so of your day, get comfy (and get snacks), and then pump for three sessions within that hour. Pump for 15 minutes, take a 10-minute break, pump again for 15 minutes, take a 10-minute break, and then pump again for 15 minutes. Try doing this for a few days in a row.
This on-again-off-again milk removal sends a ton of those "make more milk" signals to your brain, which will over time, increases your supply.
This can be a challenge, for sure. It can be hard enough to find time for one pumping session, let alone a marathon. The good news is that now that wearable pumps like Willow are available, you can even power pump and multitask.
9. Nurse, then pump
If you are also breastfeeding your baby, you can try to add a little pumping in after you nurse. You don't have to do it at every feeding—once or twice a day is great. Remember, breastmilk is made by supply and demand. So, when your baby has finished making their demands, use your pump to make a few more. Your body will learn to supply more milk accordingly.
10. Find your zen
My favorite meme ever shares the well-known fact: Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.
So I am really sorry to say this, mama: Try to relax.
As every mom who has tried to cram a pumping session in between meetings at work knows, stress can decrease your milk supply. So to the extent that you can, try to find your pumping zen.
This will look different for everyone. Maybe you take one minute before you start to take some deep breaths and listen to a mini-meditation on your phone. Maybe you do a couple of quick yoga poses. Or maybe pumping happens after a quick walk to get some fresh air.
In a viral pumping hack, one mom shared that she puts a sock over the bottles she is pumping into so that she can't see—and therefore worry about—the amount of milk she produces.
Find whatever it is that brings you peace and calm, and prioritize it—your milk supply and your stress level will thank you.
11. Consider your health
Making breastmilk is hard work. Sometimes when milk production is a little low it's a sign that something is up in our bodies. So do a self check-in.
Are you eating enough? The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends adding 450 to 500 calories to your daily recommended caloric intake, which is as follows:
- Sedentary: 1,800 to 2,000 calories per day
- Moderately active: 2,000 to 2,200 calories per day
- Active: 2,200 to 2,400 calories per day
Are you drinking enough? Generally speaking, we recommend that nursing and pumping women drink about 10 eight-ounce glasses of water per day, but try not to stress about it—focus on drinking enough fluid to not be thirty.
Are you getting sick? Illness can take the body's focus away from milk production as it fights whatever is brewing. If you are sick, keep on breastfeeding or pumping with the same frequency (assuming your provider hasn't told you not to). Even if less milk is coming out, you want to keep sending that make-milk signal to your brain, so that when you're better, your supply can go back to normal.
Speaking of health…
12. Take a pregnancy test
A sudden drop in breastmilk may happen if your body is needing to send all its resources to something else… like a new pregnancy.
13. Try some galactagogues
The scientific jury is out on whether galactagogues—or foods and herbs that increase breast milk—actually work. Anecdotally though, women have had tremendous success.
Check out this guide to surprising foods that may increase your supply.
14. Talk to a professional
Reach out to your OB provider and a lactation consultant. They can help you assess what the problem is and find the right solution—which may include specific herbs and medications.
Hang in there, mama. You've got this.