Are you finding it difficult to get milkflow while using a breast pump? It’s common to think that you can get milkflow while using a breast pump just by attaching the pump and turning it on. Although this might be the case for some women – especially in the beginning of your breastfeeding journey when breasts tend to be fuller – many women find it more difficult to get milkflow while pumping than direct latch breastfeeding. Here’s how you can increase milkflow while using a breast pump.

First things first, if you’re not getting much milkflow while you’re pumping there are a few things you should check first to verify that your pump is working the way it should.

  • Check your flange size: Have you verified that you’re using the correct sized breastshield? Checking your breastshield size can make all the difference in whether you achieve milkflow while pumping. Look for other signs of an incorrectly sized breastshield such as nipple soreness, feeling of not being drained after pumping, frequent plugged ducts, and discomfort while pumping. You can look at our breasthield sizing guide as a great starting point. Remember that pumping should never be painful.
  • Replace your parts frequently: Have you been replacing your breast pump accessories frequently as recommended? This is especially important for silicone pieces such as valves and backflow protector membranes. As these parts wear down, they lose elasticity which does impact suction. That means your breast pump stops working as efficiently as it normally would, which can impact whether you get milkflow. If you’ve noticed a gradual decrease in suction over time, this could be why.
increase milkflow while using a brest pump
Not feeling drained after pumping? Checking your flange size can help you increase milkflow while using a breast pump.

Now that you’ve checked your breast pump, there are some things you can (and should!) do regularly to increase milkflow while using a breast pump. As time goes on, it gets harder to get a letdown while using a breast pump (especially after your milk supply has regulated at about 10-12 weeks postpartum). Build these into your pumping routine now to keep things running smoothly.

Hands-on pumping

If you’re breastfeeding you may have noticed your baby twiddling or even hitting you while breastfeeding.This is actually part of the natural process of breastfeeding, in that nipple stimulation and breast massage actually encourage milkflow. So, if you’re finding you’re getting less of a milkflow while pumping than you are while breastfeeding, you can incorporate some of these methods into your pumping routine.

Twiddling is a natural instinct. Increase milkflow while using a breast pump with hands on pumping.
Twiddling is a natural instinct that encourages milkflow.

Breast massage

Breast massage while pumping can encourage milkflow. When you’re pumping, use your two fingers to apply gentle pressure to your breast, moving them in a circular motion. Begin at the top of your breast and move down toward the nipple. Do not massage under the breastshield because that can interfere with suction. Work around your breast during your pumping session, focusing on areas that feel particularly full. Remember to massage in the areas underneath your nipple and in your armpit.

Tip: Try using a hands-free pumping bra so you can massage both breasts at the same time. 

I did the rub down from top of breast to nipple then rotation massage, then squeezed as if to hand express until I had some. I then put the pump on low and fast for 5 minutes then stong and long until no more milk came out or very little. I then hand expressed a couple of times to see if any was missed.

– Christina

Breast compression

Breast compression is similar to massage in encouraging milkflow while using a breast pump. Take your hand and make a C shape with your index and thumb finger, and turn it facing palm down on the breast. Your hand should be cupping your breast on the outside, with the thumb up near the armpit and the index finger going underneath the breast. Be careful not to cup underneath the breastshield flange.

While you’re pumping, apply gentle pressure continuously – or, pulsating. Some women find a gentle compression at each suction cycle of the pump helpful.

Massage mode to increase milkflow with a breast pump

If your pump has massage/letdown mode, did you know that you can use it multiple times throughout your pumping session? This is a common misunderstanding because a lot of breast pump brands will automatically start in massage mode, and then swap to letdown mode after a few minutes. If you find massage mode really helps initiate milkflow for you, you can swap in and out of massage mode as many times as you like whilst pumping, and in doing so initiate multiple milkflows during one pumping session. Some mamas get the best results staying in massage mode the entire duration of their pumping sessions.

Use massage mode to increase milkflow while using a breast pump.
The hand icon indicates massage mode on the Milk Genie breast pump.

Think of your baby

It’s important to stay in the right head space while pumping. If you’re stressed or focused on getting enough milk output, that can actually decrease your milkflow while using a breast pump. Remembering who you’re pumping for is a great way to get in the right state of mind for a successful pumping session!

Photos and video of your baby

If you have a smart phone, you likely already have a lot of photos and videos of your baby on it. Make a folder on your phone with some of your favorite photos and videos of your baby. Some mamas find recording sounds of their baby crying to be helpful, too. When you’re pumping, look, watch, and listen to your baby. Think about your baby and the love you have for your baby.

Your baby’s smell

Your baby’s smell can achieve the same thing! Try bringing one of your baby’s blanket, or an article of their clothing. Bring the onesie your baby slept in from the night before. The smell, look, and feel of this item will remind you of your baby while you’re pumping.

Feather strokes towards the nipple. Gentle hand expressing till there is milk then attach pump on a fast rhythm for 2mins then change to my usual pump pace/strength.
I also have a piece of my baby’s clothing from the day before so I have his smell (crazy I know but it works)

– Anastasia

how to increase milkflow while using a breast pump
Baby’s smell can help trigger milkflow. Pack some of your baby’s items with your breast pump, like an outfit worn the day before.

Relax and clear your mind

Just like thinking of your baby, some mothers find that visualising metaphors of success help with milkflow while pumping. You might think of gushing waterfalls, a fountain, or waves crashing on the beach. You can look for photos, videos, and sound recordings online to use while pumping. Think of your favorite place.

Don’t focus on output

Over thinking during your pumping session can result in decrease of milkflow. If you’re too focused on pumping enough milk, it can cause stress for you and mean less milk! Try using some of the relaxation techniques mentioned above, or distract yourself by reading a book or playing a game on your phone while you’re pumping.

If you’re a visual person, try not to watch your nipple while you’re pumping or to watch the measurements on the bottle. Turn the lights down once you get started pumping, or pump with a cover if you have to!

Use the power of imagination to increase milkflow while using a breast pump.
Fountain of fertility. Villa d’Este, Tivoli, Lazio, outside of Rome, Italy

Power of association to increase milkflow with a breast pump

Getting into a habit and making a consistent routine while pumping can help with milkflow. Your body will get used to pumping at the same time in the same place each day, and recognise that it’s time to let the milk flow. Make it a habit to fill up a glass of water before you pump, sit in the same chair each day, and watch the same video as you’re pumping. Think of the same thing while pumping each day. Whatever your pumping routine is, the more you do it, the more your body will associate it with milkflow.

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