By Ali Weatherford in consultation with Cassie Terrillion, IBCLC
Most people can provide plenty of milk for their babies without help. But when there is a need, a pump can be a really useful tool to get the job done!
There are a lot of different “methods” to help increase milk supply using a pump. Knowing the right way to do it FOR YOU is not always easy to figure out. It’s best to seek help from a lactation consultant (IBCLC) when you are concerned about your milk supply.
How Do I Know I Need to Increase Milk Supply?
Because breastfeeding parents can’t see their babies drain a bottle of milk, it can be hard to know whether they are getting enough. The best ways to know are to watch for plenty of wet and dirty diapers and weight gain. When babies are having enough diaper changes and are gaining weight, it can be pretty safe to say that they are getting enough milk.
If the baby is NOT making enough dirty diapers and is NOT gaining weight, it usually means that the baby is not draining the breast effectively or often enough, not that you CAN’T make enough milk. It’s really important to note that difference. When babies don’t seem to be getting enough milk, we tend to take the blame for that. We assume that it’s a problem with our bodies when it’s usually NOT! A lactation consultant can look at your baby while feeding and might spot some problems that mean your baby is not doing a great job of drawing the milk out. If the baby has not been feeding correctly, it could mean that you have the potential to make plenty of milk, but your milk supply has not been able to increase like it should.
If something like this happens, using a pump to increase the supply can be a good idea.
First Method for Increasing Milk Supply
Depending on the reason for the lower supply of milk, there may be different options for solving the problem.
As long as you have gotten support from a lactation consultant to correct an ineffecient latch or feeding routine, most people won’t have to do too much to increase the milk supply.
The most common solution is to just encourage the baby to feed at the breast more often and for longer! That often does the trick.
Babies are almost always better than pumps at drawing out milk. They create more suction and stimulation so that your body can learn to produce and dispense more milk!
The rest of this article will focus on ways to use a pump to increase the milk supply. It’s really important to remember that whatever method you choose, it should be TEMPORARY! It can be very overwhelming to feed your baby AND pump. It takes a lot of time, energy, and patience. Fortunately, this extra effort should be something that you only have to do for a short period of time. Once your milk supply reaches an acceptable level, just feeding your baby at the breast normally should be enough to maintain the supply and allow you to continue without the pumping.
Methods for Increasing Milk Supply Using a Pump
- Pump after every feeding. Another common solution, if feeding your baby more often doesn’t do the trick, is to pump after every feeding. First, allow your baby to feed until they are satisfied, and then use the pump to continue to stimulate the breast and maybe even remove any milk that your baby did not get. This is especially helpful if your baby is still a little weak, or gets tired or bored easily and just doesn’t fully drain the breast. The additional stimulation from the pump might not produce a lot of milk, but can be enough to give your body the signal that breastfeeding is complete and you want a little more.
- Pump between feeds. If pumping right after feeding your baby is difficult, you might try waiting an hour after your baby feeds and pump then. Pumping between feedings will likely give you more milk in the bottle, which can be nice if you like the idea of storing some milk. The downside is the risk that your baby might be ready to eat right after you pump or even during your pumping session! In this case, your baby might be a little extra frustrated at the breast because there is less milk to start with, and they will have to work harder to get more.
- Pump at night. Most people don’t want to wake up at night MORE often than they already do with a new baby. That’s very understandable. But pumping at night for a few days might be a great way to increase your milk supply faster than just adding some pumping sessions during the day. We release the most prolactin (milk-making hormone) between the hours of 1-5am, so it can be helpful to use that hormone boost to increase supply.
- Hands on Pumping. If you are pumping to increase your milk supply, or even just to store some milk for future use, hands on pumping can be a way to help you. This technique involves using breast massage, breast compressions, and hand expression while pumping. This helps to better empty the breast, making pumping more effective. This Hands On Pumping Care Plan has instructions for how to do this.
- Power Pumping. Most people do not have to go as far as to use the Power Pumping method. But this process might be necessary for families who are mostly bottle feeding with breast milk or exclusively pumping (without direct breastfeeding). Power pumping is when you do your regular pumping schedule which should mimic how a baby typically feeds, and then ALSO dedicate a solid hour a day to additional pumping. When all or most of the baby’s nutrition comes from breast milk in a bottle, it can be harder to maintain a good milk supply, so Power Pumping might become necessary as it mimics a cluster feed. Power Pumping sessions should be done at the same time every day. The hour should go like this:
- Pump for 20 minutes, then rest for 10.
- Pump for another 10 minutes, then rest for 10.
- Pump again for 10 minutes, then finish.
- Triple Feeding. If your baby needs more milk at each feed because of poor weight gain, AND you need a little more help to get the milk supply up, you might use this method. Triple feeding means that each time you feed your baby you do THREE things:
- Feed your baby directly from the breast.
- Offer your baby some pumped milk (or formula if you don’t have any breast milk stored) from a bottle.
You may have to do this for just a few days, or it might even take up to a week before you see an improvement in your milk supply.
Hopefully using one or a few of these methods will help you build your milk supply quickly, so you can go back to a more normal routine. If your goal is to exclusively breastfeed, it may be possible to stop pumping completely after a few days and just feed your baby directly when they are hungry.
For a lot of people, pumping can feel like a chore, and it can be hard to get it right. Although you might need to pump for a long time to get very little milk or to see improvement in your milk supply, it’s important to know that this does not necessarily mean that you can’t make enough milk. It could be that a different pumping method is needed, that a new flange size would work better, or that you just need more time.
I would encourage you to prepare by taking a class about pumping if you can. It’s also really important to see a lactation specialist (IBCLC) so you can get a good idea about what might be causing the problem. When you’ve been able to get that diagnosis, you’ll be better able to choose the pumping schedule and method that is most likely to solve your problem.