How can I pump more milk?

To get more milk, you may not need strong suction. Set your pump at the highest suction that feels good and no higher. (If you're gritting your teeth, it's up too high! Pumping should not hurt.)

Pumping milk is not like sucking a drink through a straw. With a straw, the stronger you suck, the more you get. When pumping, most milk comes only when a let-down, or milk release, happens. Without a milk release, most milk stays in the breast.

What is a milk release?

  • Hormones cause muscles in the breast to squeeze and the milk ducts to widen.
  • This pushes the milk out of the breast.

 Some mothers feel this as a tingling. Others feel nothing.

A milk release can happen with a touch at the breast, hearing a baby cry, or even just thinking about your baby. Feelings of stress, anger, or upset can block milk release. While breastfeeding, most mothers have three or four milk releases without knowing it.

To get more milk with your pump, you need more milk releases. But you may need some help at first until your body learns to respond to your pump like a baby.

To trigger more milk releases, use your senses. One or two senses may work better than the others. Try them all to find out which work best for you.

  • Mind/Feelings: Close your eyes, relax, and imagine your baby breastfeeding. Think about how much you love your baby.
  • Sight: Look at your baby or your baby's photo.
  • Hearing: Listen to a tape of your baby cooing or crying. If you're apart, call and check on your baby. Or call someone you love to relax and distract you.
  • Smell: Smell your baby's blanket or clothing.
  • Touch: Apply a warm cloth to your breasts or gently massage them.
  • Taste: Sip your favorite warm, non-alcoholic drink to relax you.

 If using an electric pump, check to see if your pump has both SUCTION (also called VACUUM) and CYCLE controls. If so, use your senses as you adjust the controls to get more milk faster. Use your milk flow as your guide while you pump.

  • Set SUCTION/VACUUM to the highest setting that feels good.
  • Set CYCLE on the fastest setting.
  • When your milk starts flowing, turn CYCLE down near the slowest setting.
  • When the milk flow slows to a trickle, return to fast CYCLE and use your senses.
  • Repeat, using fast CYCLE to trigger milk releases and slow cycles to drain.

If using a manual pump like the Ameda One-Hand Breast Pump, you can do the same thing by using both fast and slow squeezes. Again, watch your milk flow and use it as your guide. Change breasts every 5-7 minutes. Pump for a total of 10-15 minutes per breast.

This is general information and does not replace the advice of your physician or healthcare provider. If you have a problem you cannot solve quickly, seek help right away.

Every baby is different, and your baby may not be average.
If in doubt, contact your physician or other healthcare provider.

Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA, Lactation Consultant, Ameda Breastfeeding Products
Coauthor of Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers