Apr 17, 2020, 1:10:23 PM CDT Apr 17, 2024, 3:47:05 PM CDT

How to increase milk supply when pumping

A lactation consultant shares ways pumping moms can boost milk supply

baby drinking from bottle baby drinking from bottle

Moms who pump – whether they're heading back to work, caring for a baby who cannot breastfeed or wanting to build a freezer stash – are quick to know when their milk supply drops. And when that decrease is consistent, they may begin to worry they aren't providing enough milk for their baby.

Dawn Schindler, RN, BSN, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant at the Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children's Health℠ and regularly works with pumping moms who want to increase their breast milk supply.

Here, she shares her best tips for how moms can increase their milk supply.

Tips to produce more milk when you're pumping

1. Pump more often, from both breasts

Many women wonder how often they should pump. A general guideline is to pump every three hours. But if you're trying to produce more breast milk, you can:

  • Try pumping both breasts for 15 minutes every two hours for 48-72 hours. Then, go back to your normal pumping routine.
  • Try power pumping. Power pumping is when for one hour of the day you pump for 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off – for one hour. The rest of the day you just pump as usual. When possible, power pump in the afternoon, when your supply isn't naturally high or low.

"You may not get any additional milk after the first 10-minute session of your power pump, but it's important to continue throughout the hour," Schindler said. "After moms do this once a day for 4-5 days, they may notice a small increase in their overall milk supply."

Tip: You can receive extra stimulation from your breast pump by changing the speed of the pump from stimulation or "massage" to milk removal or "expression" every 5 minutes while pumping. This extra stimulation may lead to more milk production.

2. Drink water and eat healthy foods

Drinking plenty of water and eating a healthy diet high in protein are the best ways to help improve milk supply. Certain foods, known as galactogogues, may also help to increase milk production.

Common foods used as galactogogues include:

  • Oatmeal
  • Brewer's yeast
  • Garlic
  • Spinach
  • Fennel
  • Almonds

You may also wonder about pills and supplements that claim to improve milk supply. But Schindler often advises mothers to avoid those pills and supplements.

"There are no magic pills a mom can take to boost her supply. Herbal supplements aren't always monitored by the FDA so we can't know exactly what's in them. It's best to stick with the basics and talk with your pediatrician about what's safe for you and baby." Schindler said.

3. Make time for skin-to-skin

Skin-to-skin contact, also called kangaroo care, is when a parent holds a baby on their bare chest. This simple act has several benefits. Skin-to-skin contact:

  • Maintains your baby's body temperature
  • Slows your baby's breathing and heart rate
  • Relaxes and comforts your baby
  • Promotes bonding between you and your baby
  • Helps improve mom's milk supply

4. Make pumping as comfortable as possible

Schindler suggests finding a quiet spot where you can lay out your pumping equipment and trying these tips to feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible.

  • Arrange your supplies, including bottles and caps.
  • Have a snack and bottle of water ready.
  • Put out a picture of your baby or listen to a recording of their voice to help cue your milk letdown.
  • Try massaging your breasts before you start pumping. This can be relaxing, improve milk production and help clear any blockages in your milk ducts.
When you take a few minutes to prepare to pump, you’ll be able to truly relax. And being relaxed helps your milk supply.
Dawn Schindler, RN, BSN, IBCLC

Can pumping decrease milk supply?

Pumping itself does not decrease your breast milk supply. In fact, it can help boost it. But if you're having trouble with low milk supply, the first step is to check that you're using the right breast pump.

Using the right breast pump

"When a mom comes to us with pumping or supply questions, often the first thing we check is the mother's pump, to make sure it's working properly and that the parts fit correctly," said Schindler.

Pay attention to the breast pump shield size

Breast pumps aren't one size fits all. The breast shield (or flange) is the portion that fits over the nipple. The shield should fit comfortably, covering the nipple and part of the breast with no gaps around the cup. Most breast pump manufacturers have guides on their websites for how to make sure you have the right size breast shield.

Select appropriate pump and suction settings

Schindler recommends a quality electric breast pump that can pump both breasts at once. She doesn't recommend a hand-held pump which may not express enough milk and takes more time to pump because you can only pump one breast at a time.

Most electric breast pumps have several suction levels. But higher suction doesn't mean you'll extract more milk. "Breast pumps set too high can cause damage to the nipple – and that can affect milk supply levels," says Schindler.

Find a lactation consultant

It's common for milk supply levels to naturally go up and down throughout the day and over the course of time. But if your supply continues to decrease and you need more support, working with a lactation consultant can be very helpful.

"A lactation consultant can help get to the bottom of your supply issues and offer more tips to increase supply. They can also check your baby's latch and the parts of your pump for you," Schindler said.

Why is my milk supply decreasing?

Many factors can negatively impact your milk supply, including:

  • Being exhausted. If you're worn down, it can affect your milk supply. Try to sleep when your baby sleeps and ask for help so you can get more rest.
  • Smoking. It's best not to smoke at all because it can interfere with your letdown response. But if you do smoke, smoke after you pump, not before.
  • Caffeine. More than 1 or 2 servings a day can decrease your milk supply.
  • Cold and allergy medicines that contain Sudafed (Pseudoephedrine). Ask your doctor about which ones are best.
  • Some prescription medicines. For example, beginning birth control pills too soon can decrease your milk supply. Your pediatrician or obstetrician can help you find safe medicines that won't impact your milk supply.
  • Being dehydrated. Get yourself a large cup or water bottle that you can sip on while you pump.

How long does it take to increase milk supply?

All moms are different. But if you use some of these tips, you may notice an increase in milk supply in just 2 or 3 days.

Learn more

Our lactation support services and pediatric milk lab includes Lactation Consultants, Registered Dieticians and Speech Therapists – all dedicated to supporting you and your baby's growth, health and well-being.

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