Top Tips for Pumping Breastmilk

RachelMS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS

Read time: 6 minutes

What should I know about pumping to get the most milk possible?

  • When should I start pumping?

  • How often should I pump?

  • How do I avoid pain while pumping?

  • Top pumping tips for best results

Pumping can be stressful, painful, and annoying – but it doesn’t have to be! Whether you pump just once per day to build a breastmilk freezer stash or pump exclusively for your little one, there are tips to help have a pain-free experience and maximize your milk output.

Read on to learn how to pump like a pro.

When can I start pumping?

Unless you must start working soon after delivery or will be away from baby for more than an hour or two, it’s best to hold off on pumping until breastfeeding is well-established for you and baby. This may be around 4 to 6 weeks.

The first few weeks are an important time for establishing your breast milk supply, learning to latch, understanding your baby’s hunger and fullness cues.1,2

If you must start pumping right away due to health concerns, prematurity, significant latch or pain issues, or the need to supplement due to weight gain worries – it’s okay! You can use pumping to work toward a good milk supply for the long-haul.

Learn about:

How to Choose the Right Breast Pump

Understanding your Baby’s Hunger and Fullness Cues: Responsive Feeding

How often should I pump?

When it comes to milk supply, the most important aspects are how often you pump or feed, and if the breasts are being fully emptied.3The more milk that is taken out of the breast, the more milk the body will be stimulated to make.4,5

For this reason, you want to schedule your pumping sessions around the same time as your baby would typically be feeding. If this isn’t possible due to work or other obligations, aim to pump the same number of times as your baby would be feeding if you were with them. This strategy will help you maintain your supply while pumping.6

Read more: Safely Storing your Pumped Milk

Returning to work or school? Plan ahead by as much as a month

Think about your home and work situation and whether you’ll need pumped milk at the ready. Planning ahead will help you assess how often to pump, if at all.

Out of the house for shorter periods of time: If you’re away from your baby sporadically and only missing one feeding here and there, pump once while out of the house to replace that one feeding. If you are not able to pump while out of the house, try to pump at home to make up for the missed feeding.

If you will be out and about often during the week, you may choose to build up a little stash of frozen milk so that you’re always prepared. To do this, consistently pump at the same time every day. Usually pumping in the morning and between feedings (rather than directly after one) can help you pump more milk.1 After a few days your body will expect this pumping session and will be ready to produce milk when you pump.

Out of the house for longer periods of time: If you’re heading back to the office and will need to be pumping regularly throughout the day, you’ll need to figure out how many times to pump per day. To do this, track feedings for a couple weeks before you’ll be away to see how many feeds would fall during your work hours. Then plan on pumping that many times while you are at work.11 This will keep your body in sync with baby’s needs.7

Read More: Breastfeeding and Pumping Tips for Going Back to Work

Pump in the morning hours when possible

When breastfeeding you tend to produce the most milk in the morning due to normal daily hormone fluctuations.7 You can try pumping about an hour before baby wakes or about 30 to 60 minutes after they feed.

Be consistent with your pumping schedule

Whatever times you decide to pump, try to pump at the same times each day consistently. Pumping at the same times will help your body know when to expect the pumping session and begin to make milk for it in anticipation.

Note that it may take between a few days or up to a couple of weeks for your body to respond to a new pumping schedule, so be patient and consistent to see best results.

Top Pumping Tips

Find the best vacuum pressure for you

Pumping should be comfortable. If you are experiencing pain, it could be from setting the suction (vacuum) too high. You want to pump at your highest comfortable level, and this specific level may vary day to day or even session to session.1,9,10

To find the correct suction, turn up the setting until there is a bit of pain, then turn it back down to comfort.

More suction is not better. In fact, a suction that is too high may result in lower breastmilk output as well as damage to your breast tissue and milk ducts.12

Make sure the flange fits

Your nipples should be centered in the flanges and free to move in and out of the tunnel without rubbing against the sides.13 Your areola should not be pulled into the tunnel.

Remember that nipples expand while pumping, so observe during a pumping session to see if you need a different sized flange. Also note that one nipple could be bigger than the other so you may need different flange sizes for each breast.9,13

Wondering if your pump flange fits correctly? Reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation counselors for free! They’re here to help on our free live chat from Monday - Friday, 8am-6pm (ET) and Saturday - Sunday, 8am-2pm (ET). Chat Now!

Relax to help your let-down and increase output

It is important to be in a position that allows you to feel relaxed while pumping. This may mean being in a private area where you can block out distractions (or co-workers!).

To help with your let down, look at pictures or videos of your baby. Even better if you have a video of your little one crying their ‘hungry’ cry or babbling happily. Research has shown this can help stimulate your let-down (the start of milk coming out), as well as help increase your milk output.15 Using relaxation techniques and visualization can also help.16,17

Try this: Turn on some relaxing music. Use the same music every session to help your body know it’s time to pump. Close your eyes, think about your baby feeding at the breast, and imagine milk flowing.

Don’t watch your pump output

Stress and anxiety prevent your body from releasing milk. This is because they inhibit oxytocin, which is the hormone necessary to eject milk from the breast.18 Watching your milk come out may cause some stress, so some professionals recommend covering the milk collection bottle with a sock, blanket, or shirt and just let your body do its job while you relax.

Read more: Stress Management 101

Try massage and nipple stimulation

Massage and nipple stimulation can help get oxytocin flowing as well.

Massage: Start under the collarbone and under the armpit and work your way toward the nipple. Use either small circular motions or long strokes towards nipple. You can also gently massage your breast before starting and then again halfway through the pumping session to optimize output.19

Nipple stimulation done by rolling or gentle tugging can help get stimulate the release of oxytocin.20

Other things you can do to help with milk output:

  • A warm compress and/or gentle heat, such as a warm wet cloth over the breast while pumping may help with relaxation and output.

  • Warming the breast shield (flange) may help reduce the time it takes to empty the breast.

  • Breast compressions (or gentle squeezes) during pumping can also help.7,19,21,22

Consider using a pumping bra

Being efficient with your pumping sessions will also help you relax and ease any tension amidst your busy day. The right bra can also be part of the pumping process. Consider pumping with the help of a hands-free pumping bra so you can read a book, get some work done, or simply focus on relaxing rather than holding the pump flanges.

Purchase one or make your own by cutting holes in an old sports bra.1,9

Pump for about 10 to 20 minutes

Some women pump fairly quickly and can empty the breast within 10 minutes. Others need to pump for closer to 20 minutes to get enough. Pump until about 2 minutes after the milk stops flowing.1

If you’re still getting milk at the 20-minute mark, take a look at your flange size and pump settings to see if they need to be adjusted.

Leave some time to hand express at the end

Hand expression after electric pumping can help increase output and production. Remember that your body responds well to human touch and it can be quite effective to use your hands before, during, and after pumping.1,19,21

Read more: How and When to Hand Express

Be patient and be prepared to adjust

Once you begin using a pump, be patient: a myriad of factors can affect ease of pumping and milk output. Whether there’s a technical problem with the pump’s motor; or your baby is going through a growth spurt; or you’ve changed your diet; your supply may ebb and flow over time.

Additionally, with heavy use, the removable plastic or silicone parts of your pump may wear out and cause suction to be reduced. Find out which parts of your pump may need to be replaced sooner than others.

Keep at it and don’t be discouraged. You can always come chat with a Happy Baby Expert for free to help troubleshoot. Chat now!

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For more on this topic check out the following articles:

Breastfeeding: How to Support a Good Breastmilk Supply

Safe Storage of Pumped Milk

Meal and Hydration Plan for Enabling Milk Supply

What Is Paced Bottle Feeding?

Pumping For a Baby In the NICU

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