5 easy tips if you have trouble getting milk out with the pump
I hated pumping, but I was proud to be doing such a mentally-draining, time-consuming thing.
Religiously every 2.5 hours, 8 times a day to produce more and more milk for my newborn. Two weeks into exclusive pumping, I had trouble getting my milk out with the pump.
I had low milk output and full aching breasts by the end of the "20 minutes" where a lot of websites assured me that's how long it takes to empty my breasts.
Good quality pump? Check. I had both the Spectra S2 and Medela Swing Maxi giving me the exact same problems.
Correct breast shield size? Check. The 24mm shield size that comes with the breast pumps might not fit some mums. I had to get a larger shield size separately.
Pumping frequently enough? Check. 8 times a day.
Drinking enough water? Check. 2 litres daily.
After lots of research and trial and error, I found 5 simple tips that really worked for me. At my peak, I was pumping 1.2 litres a day, and it should help you as well in pumping more milk out.
1. Start with hand expressing
Before pumping, start by hand expressing for a short while to stimulate the nipples. I found this more efficient and time-saving than solely relying on the pump's let-down mode.
2. Compress your breasts during let-down mode
Breast compression is a gentle squeezing technique to help stimulate the release of milk from the blocked milk ducts. It is slightly different from breast massage.
You can do this at the same time as the let-down (or massage) mode on your pump. For some, you may not feel the let-down reflex. This is normal.
Breast compression technique A
Cup your free hand into the "C" position with your hand under the breast and your thumb on the top of the breast. Gently squeeze the breast, making sure you don't break the suction of the pump. Move your hand around to the side of the breast, still maintaining the "C" position to squeeze the sides.
Breast compression technique B
Place a free hand across the top of the opposite breast, fingertips into the armpit and press rhythmically between your fingers and palm. You can also try pressing your hand down towards the nipple.
3. Massage your breasts during expression mode
Like breast compressions, there is no hard fast rule on the right way to massage your breasts. We are all different so one massage could work better for you but might not work as well for the other.
Some mums find more success alternating between compressions and massage during pumping, while others massage their breasts from the start. Just experiment and find what works best for you.
Breast massage technique
Feel lumpy or harder places and use your thumb or two fingers to push it down, massage in a circular motion and push it towards the flange/nipple without breaking the suction.
For stubborn lumps, you can try using a vibrator or a lactation massager (breastmilk expression device that has vibration and massage function). This will break down the lump and release more milk from the blocked ducts.
Don't forget to work around the area under your breasts and in the armpit area. Feel for areas of remaining fullness and watch the sprays of milk to guide your massage/compression.
Lumps in the armpit
Some mums may feel lumps in their armpit when their milk first comes in. This could happen because breast tissue extends into the armpit and as the breasts lactate, this tissue forms milk glands and enlarges forming lumps.
Massage the lumps and use a warm compress to relieve the discomfort. I place a hot baby bottle in between my armpit and use my arm movement in a circular motion to massage it out.
You may find that breast compressions and massage are much easier to do when you have a hands-free pumping bra. The Lansinoh Simple Wishes hands-free pumping bra is my absolute favourite because it has layers of fabric that hold the flanges securely.
4. Release remaining milk
After the pump has stopped getting milk out, some mums find it helpful to push the flanges tight against their breasts to release the remaining milk. Or you can also do intensive breast compression by squeezing your breasts until you've drained both breasts.
5. Finish by hand expressing
Finish off by hand expressing for a few minutes to remove that last bit of hindmilk. This will help to empty the breasts more effectively and also increase your supply by “tricking” your body into thinking your baby is still nursing, producing more milk to keep up with the demand.
Most of us assumed that the pump should do all of the milk-removal work, but that's not true. Who says pumping is the easy way out?
Mama, what has helped in emptying your breasts effectively? Let us know in the comments below. If you enjoyed this post, we love for you to join our newsletter or follow us on Instagram for more real motherhood posts.