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10 tips and tricks from a pumping mama

If you’re reading this article, it’s safe to assume that you’re a pumping mama like me. Maybe you struggled with breastfeeding or chose not to, maybe you’ve returned to work and need to pump while you’re away from your baby, or maybe you’re hustling milk on the side while you continue to breastfeed. 

It doesn’t matter how you got here, we all have the same goal: to pump the most amount of milk we can, in the least amount of time possible.

What I have come to find over my 8 months of almost exclusively pumping (and still going strong!) is that pumping milk is not simply a matter of sticking your nips into a couple of flanges and letting your breast pump do the rest.

I’ve learned the hard way that pumping is practically a science, and like everything else to do with our bodies, highly individualised. So to save you the time and money it took me to find my flow, here are my ten tips and tricks to help you get your own milk mojo going, and maximise your milk output.

1. Get to know your breast pump intimately

There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to breast pumps, they’re all different. Take some time to experiment with different speeds and vacuum strengths to figure out which setting yields the best milk output for you.

Try using the letdown mode at the start of your session to stimulate your initial milk flow, and then during your session whenever your milk flow stops.

Most importantly, make sure your flange size fits properly. If your nipples hurt or blister while pumping, or if they turn white, your flanges are probably the wrong size. Most breast pumps will have a regular flange size of 24-27mm but many women need bigger or smaller flanges.

2. Just let go and let it flow

The sessions where I had the lowest milk output all had one thing in common: I was running around doing a million things, or I was running late to be somewhere, or my son was crying hysterically. In other words, I was feeling stressed and wound up. Stress is a big mood killer when pumping so make sure you’re relaxed and feeling good to get the juices flowing.

3. Moving milk makes milk

You can drink all the lactation tea and eat all the lactation cookies you want, but the one thing that really produces more milk is moving milk. The more frequently you empty milk from your breasts, the more signals you send to your body to produce more milk. Pumping for longer periods of time less often doesn’t quite have the same effect, in fact, when you leave milk sitting in your breasts for longer periods of time, your body thinks it’s making too much and may slow milk production down. 

4. Keep your pumps on ice

One of the worst parts of pumping (almost) exclusively is the constant washing and sterilising of bottles and equipment. Honestly, who has time for that as a new mum? This little trick saved me so much time: Keep your bottles and flanges in the fridge until the end of the day, instead of washing them after each pump. Then pop them in the dishwasher at end of the day and into the steriliser before you pump again in the morning. 

Just remember to let them warm up a bit before putting them on each time you pump!

5. Accessorise

Pumping takes a lot of time and I don’t know about you but I don’t have the luxury of sitting around for 15-30 minutes every 3 hours of the day. Your girl’s got things to do! Investing in a pumping bra or two frees up your arms, so you can hold your baby (albeit awkwardly between two flanges, but it’s better than nothing) or multi-task in any of the one hundred ways that we mamas do. It also just means you don’t have to sit there holding your flanges against your breasts and can scroll through Mumli instead.

6. Get every last drop

I always hand express after I pump and generally get an extra 10-30 mls this way. Some women respond really well to the pump and will drain quite easily, and other unfortunate souls like myself could pump for 45 minutes and still not fully drain. If you’re the latter, try hand expressing.

7. Get it done early

Our prolactin levels (a hormone that promotes lactation) are highest in the morning, so for most women, milk production will be higher in the early morning. You may notice that your milk output lessens as the day continues. 

As much as none of us want to be up at 3 am, especially as our baby starts sleeping for longer during the night, you may find that pumping at this time is the key to increasing your output.

8. Try a pumping power hour

If you’re really struggling with your supply, a great trick to try is power pumping. Power pumping is a technique where you pump for 20 minutes, stop for 10 minutes, pump for 10 minutes, stop for 10 minutes, and then pump for another 10 minutes. This technique mimics cluster feeding, where babies feed frequently over several hours to boost milk supply. Try power pumping for three days in a row and see if it boosts your supply.

9. Time your milk feeds

Research suggests that breastmilk produced in the morning contains a higher amount of cortisol and breastmilk produced in the evening produces a higher amount of melatonin. It is thought that our bodies regulate our breastmilk this way to align with our circadian rhythms. Label your morning milk and your evening milk and feed your baby at the corresponding times to help them align their sleep cycles.

10. Don’t get caught up in the numbers

It’s hard not to when you know exactly how much milk you produce each session and each day. But just like every other aspect of our bodies, our milk production fluctuates on the daily, so you’ll probably find that some days you produce more milk, even when you’re doing everything exactly the same. It’s also important to remember that every mama is different, some breasts are capable of storing lots of milk, others store less. Some mamas have big ol’ elastic nipples that aren’t suited to pumping (i.e. me) and some have nipples that fit into flanges like Cinderella fitting into her glass slippers.

So, while I hope these tips make your pumping experience a bit easier and help you squeeze out every drop of precious milk that your boobies make, they won’t necessarily all work for every mama.

Keep experimenting and if you come up with any great tips that aren’t on this list, let us know!

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