Exclusive pumping is truly a labor of love. Not only requiring dedication, but also a huge commitment of time… during a period in your life when it may not seem like you have any extra time to spare because you’re busy with a newborn. Once I began exclusively pumping, I spent 4-5 hours a day pumping. That doesn’t include the time spent cleaning and sanitizing the pump parts. But it was time well spent; once I established my milk supply, I was pumping between 45-60 ounces of breastmilk daily and was able to store enough milk to completely fill up my kitchen freezer and a 7 cubic foot freezer in 6 months time.
When I first decided I wanted to breastfeed/pump, I did a ton of reading and researching for ways to increase breastmilk supply. Of course, the first things you find are a bunch of companies selling products that promise to increase milk supply. Shakes, powders, bars, herbal supplements… I even purchased a couple products for myself. Ultimately, the thing that benefited me most was to utilize an active pumping method, and a few other things which I’ve detailed below.
There are two ways to pump: inactive pumping and active pumping. Inactive pumping is when you strap your pump on and forget about it, leaving it to do its work with no help. This is far less effective than active pumping, which is when you actively help the pump to extract more milk. Active pumping will help you have more letdowns and empty the breast more efficiently, which stimulates your milk supply and will allow you to begin building a freezer stash. This article details how to do an active pumping method.
STIMULATE THE BREAST TISSUE
Breasts need stimulation while pumping in order to release more milk. The pump does this, but only stimulates the nipple. You will have more, and more effective letdowns if you work to stimulate the entire breast.
- Start immediately after you turn on the pump by placing both hands on the top part of the breast and applying light pressure. Keep continuous light pressure for a couple minutes. (Do not progress to the next step if you are experiencing engorgement. You may continue to apply gentle pressure to different areas of the breast but don’t try to overstimulate while you’re engorged. You don’t want to injure the tender tissue or cause more discomfort.)
- After a couple minutes, move hands so your palms are on the breast tissue closest to the armpit and your fingers are facing each other towards the center of your chest. Gently push the breasts together with your palm, and gently squeeze down with your fingers. Repeat, and continue this for a couple minutes.
- Once your letdown starts to slow or stops, begin the second step again and include three gentle bounces. So, push together, squeeze down, and bounce three times. Keep in mind these motions are all very gentle and slow with pauses in between.
- During your pauses from manual stimulation, lean forward a little, let your hands rest in your lap, completely relax your shoulders, and do a little shimmy. Normally you think of a shimmy coming from your shoulders, but in this case you want the shimmy to come from your core. The goal of this is to gently shake the breasts while keeping tension out of your shoulders, which hinders your ability to have a letdown. I’ve also found it effective to rest my elbows on my knees while leaning forward and shimmy that way.
RELEASE ALL TENSION IN YOUR SHOULDERS
Holding tension in your shoulders prevents you from having letdowns, which means less milk comes out. Relax the tension in your shoulders. The most effective way I found to do this was by leaning forward a little, letting my chin go to my chest and gently pushing my shoulder blades down.
NIPPLE POSITIONING MATTERS
Nipple positioning in the flange is crucial! It’s not just a matter of sticking your nipple blindly in the flange and letting the pump suck on it for 20 minutes. In order to maximize stimulation and milk extraction, the nipple must be positioned properly in the flange. Make sure when you initially put the flange on, that the nipple is positioned in the center and is not being pulled unevenly. During your pump session, you will most likely need to pull the flange off your skin and reattach it because the nipple will move inside the flange as the breast deflates. Furthermore, as the breast deflates, the nipple may become more stretchy and get pulled farther into the flange. If this happens, you should have a smaller flange ready to switch out. Your breasts change shape as you pump, so it makes sense that you might need to switch flange sizes during a pump session.
USE A PUMPING BRA
A pumping bra is extremely important. But even more important is that it fits correctly for your needs. In short, selecting the correct pumping bra may be one of the most overlooked aspects of pumping, yet one of the aspects that can help or hinder your output.
Let me explain what I mean by this. When I first started pumping I bought a brand name pumping bra, strapped it on, and started pumping. A couple weeks later I found another one that I liked because of the colors, so switched and started using that one. Immediately, I noticed a huge difference in my output! I was having more and longer letdowns and was able to store more milk. A few months later, I used the original bra one day because I was washing my usual one; I ended up pumping 11 ounces less that day! I figured out the issue was that the bra was too tight and restricted me. I don’t mean that it was “too tight” as in the wrong size—I mean that the fabric and cut didn’t allow me to actively stimulate the breast tissue like I was used to doing, so resulted in decreased output.
I yielded the highest output with a pumping bra without straps (strapless) that was made out of a non-stretchy, non-compression type fabric, and that was a little loose. It allowed me to access the breast tissue, and to effectively perform the “shimmy” as I described earlier. I’ve found that most pumping bras are made out of this high-compression fabric, so I’d recommend looking around and trying a couple different styles to find what works best for you. Every breast is different, so what works for some may not work for others!
PUMP UNTIL YOU’RE COMPLETELY EMPTY
I cannot stress this enough. If you are truly trying to build a freezer stash, and you are not naturally an over-supplier, then you need to pump until the breast is as empty as possible. Breasts are never COMPLETELY empty; I mean as close to empty as possible. Normally they tell you to pump no more than 20-30 minutes, which I did in the beginning. But I kept noticing that as I stopped at the 30 minute mark, I was still having a letdown and the breast still felt like it had milk in it. After a couple weeks of doing this, I decided to see what would happen if I just kept pumping until the breast felt empty. After all, I was trying to store as much milk as possible, so it seemed counterproductive to stop when I knew I could get more. That’s when I started pumping consistently for 30-55 minutes, with 40 minutes being the most common duration.
There’s really no set time. You will know when to stop after you figure out if you’ve completely emptied or not. The breast tissue will feel much softer and almost flat/deflated. Don’t extend your pumping time if it makes your nipples sore—you don’t want to irritate the skin. Lastly, increase your pumping time slowly. Don’t go from 20 minutes to 45 minutes in one pump session. Try increasing each pumping session by 5 minutes, and continue as needed.
YOUR GOAL SHOULD BE TOTAL OUNCES, NOT PUMP SESSIONS PER DAY
This statement is true ONLY AFTER you have established your supply! During the first couple of months, your primary focus should be to establish your supply. This means focusing on pump sessions, rather than total ounces. Meaning, while you establish your supply you’ll need to pump every 2-3 hours. Once your supply is established you can focus on total ounces per day.
Once my supply was established, I always focused on total ounces per day and didn’t really focus on how many sessions it took. Sometimes I would only pump 3 times in a 24 hour period, and a couple times I needed to pump 11 times in a 24 hour period. Most commonly I pumped 4-7 times per day. However, I always pumped until I got to my goal of around 50 ounces per day.
This method made more sense to me since it is a more reliable way to measure your productivity… after all, it doesn’t matter to your baby if you pumped 7 times for a total of 210 minutes, it only matters that you produced enough ounces that day to feed him. And if you’re trying to build a freezer stash, what matters to you is how many ounces you’ll be able to freeze each day. So if you know your baby eats 30 ounces a day and you’re pumping 50 ounces, then you know you’ll be able to freeze 20 ounces per day.
USE AN APP TO DOCUMENT YOUR PUMP SESSIONS
I used an app called Pump Log which I found super helpful. It also allows you to record your freezer stash, and calculates how long you’ll need to pump to reach your goal stash amount.
A NOTE ABOUT BREASTMILK STORAGE
Store milk from each pump in its own bag and write the date and time. I’ve seen some recommendations for storing milk by pouring all milk pumped for the day into a pitcher in the fridge, and then pouring into storage bags for freezing at a later time. First of all, storing milk in an open container in the fridge exposes it to bacteria. If you plan to freeze the milk, you should do it immediately after it’s pumped (or as soon as you can).
Furthermore, combining milk robs it of its uniqueness and prevents your baby (and you) from getting all of its benefits. What I mean by this is that breastmilk composition changes during different times of the day and night. Probably one of the most important changes is the difference in day milk and night milk. Babies are born without a circadian rhythm and one of nature’s ways of helping them learn is through breastmilk. Your nighttime breastmilk is super important because it contains hormones that can help your baby (and you) get more sleep at night. Babies should drink day milk during the day, and night milk during the night. Don’t believe me? Look it up.
OTHER TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- Thoroughly wash and sanitize your pump parts after every pump! This is extremely important because they can harbor bacteria that can harm your baby. I’ve seen “pumping hacks” that include putting your pump parts in the fridge between pump sessions so you don’t need to wash them. Do NOT do this. It’s not sanitary and can put your baby at risk. Yes, it’s a pain to wash them and boil water, but it’s not worth risking your baby’s health. Buy extra parts so you can wash them less. I had five sets.
- Proper posture is important while pumping. For saving your back, as well as milk extraction. I see pictures of moms on social media pumping in all sorts of creative positions… this is great for the GRAM, but in all actuality, it will decrease your milk output. I get it… you’re tired. I was waking up 3-4 times every night to pump. But I don’t think pumping is something you should do half-assed. You’re spending the time doing it anyways, so you might as well make it worth it.
If you currently or plan to breastfeed or pump, I highly recommend hiring a lactation consultant. They are a wonderful resource and can help you identify issues and give solutions that can make a world of difference. There are also many amazing resources on Instagram! Surprisingly, I didn’t find too many good ones online, but did find some very informative ones on Instagram. Let me know if you’re interested in them and I would be happy to put together a list.