Learn how to increase your milk flow and become an accomplished pumper.

Breast pumping
Credit: Alexandra Grablewski

Q: When I nurse my baby he gets plenty of milk, but when I use a breast pump I barely produce any. How can I increase my output?

A: Pumping is a far cry from the warm and fuzzy feeling of nursing your baby. That's why becoming an accomplished pumper takes patience, says Corky Harvey, a registered nurse and certified lactation consultant.

It takes time to learn how to "let down" to a pump. This reflex is the hormonally triggered release of milk from the cells where it is made and can be psychologically triggered or stopped.

"I encourage women not to stare at the pump," Harvey says. Instead, watch TV, listen to music, or talk to a friend on the phone, since a pleasant diversion can actually aid milk flow. Moms who are separated from their babies may encourage letdown by calling home and listening to the baby's sounds. They can also listen to a tape of the baby babbling, look at a picture of him or her, or hold something that smells like their baby.

To increase your output, Harvey suggests pumping at the same time every day and taking a warm shower or massaging your breasts before you begin pumping. "If you pump for a few minutes and nothing happens, quit for a few minutes and relax before trying again," Harvey says. "If the flow stops, eat or drink something and then make another attempt."

Although it requires a bit of coordination, women may also be able to increase their milk flow by pumping on one side while they nurse the baby on the other or by using a pump that attaches to both breasts at once. And remember, not all women are the same. While some may be able to use a manual breast pump to get the job done, others may need a stronger electric pump.

Call a lactation consultant if you think you're using the pump incorrectly or just want extra help. And don't be too hard on yourself: Pumping takes practice. "It's important not to judge your milk supply by the way you pump the first few times," Harvey says.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the August 2003 issue of Child Magazine.