Some mums find deep breathing, soothing music, visualisation techniques, or having their partner massage their back and shoulders, can help them express more milk.
7: Kick-start your let down
Scientists have discovered that having skin-to-skin contact with your baby before and during pumping can help you express more milk too.8 This is because the warmth and touch of your baby’s skin against yours releases oxytocin in your body.9 In fact, some mums find expressing works best if they feed their baby from the other breast while they pump because of the extra stimulation.
If your baby isn’t with you, try looking at a photo or video of her, or smelling an item of her clothing, while you express.10 Being able to connect with your baby at the same time as pumping is another way to raise your oxytocin level and help get your milk flowing.
8: Take advantage of your milk flow
Many mothers don’t sense their let down, so watch out for it as you pump. When you start to see jets of breast milk squirting into the collection bottle or bag, you’ll know it’s happening.
If you’re using a breast pump with 2-Phase Expression technology, it will have a stimulation mode and an expression mode. The stimulation mode normally lasts about two minutes, but once you see milk flowing as described, it’s important to switch to the expression phase. This is because that first let down typically provides around 36% of the milk volume, so you’ll be taking advantage of your flow to collect more milk.
9: Find your comfort zone
During the expression phase, pump at your maximum comfort vacuum, which is the highest breast pump setting you can use while remaining comfortable. In research, this was found to remove a similar amount of milk as a baby does during breastfeeding.
To find the right level for you, increase the breast pump suction gradually until it becomes slightly uncomfortable, and then turn it down a notch.
10: Tailor the length of your pumping sessions
Once your supply is established (after about four to six weeks), you can start tailoring how many minutes you need to pump for, which can save you valuable time. Some mothers need to pump longer than others due to their number of let downs, which determine how often and how long milk flows.What’s really amazing is that while every mum has a unique flow pattern, yours will be the same each time you pump as well as when you breastfeed.
So how can you tell what your pattern is? Pick a time when you normally pump your highest volume of milk and watch while you pump, noting when jets of milk start coming from your nipple, or when milk drips into the container over the course of the session.
A mum who only has let downs early in a session will have removed most of her milk within eight to 10 minutes, and pumping any longer won’t reward her with more milk. Conversely, a mum who has many or late let downs may need to pump for 15 minutes or longer to drain her breast thoroughly.
Also make sure you’re using the right size of breast shield (the funnel-shaped part that fits over your breast). The breast shield tunnel should surround your nipple closely, but leave enough space for it to move back and forth freely without rubbing. It shouldn’t chafe or pull too much of your areola (the dark area around the nipple), or the breast skin around it, into the tunnel as you pump. A badly fitting breast shield can reduce the amount of milk you express, which is why Medela makes breast shields in several different sizes.
If the discomfort continues after you’ve tried these tips, stop pumping and ask a lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist for advice.