Need to increase your milk output? Here's how to make every session with your breast pump more effective.
Breast Pump Dance
Credit: Pikul Noorod/Shutterstock

Most breastfeeding moms will have to pump at some point—whether for their baby in the NICU, while at work, or just for the occasional night on the town. And almost all moms agree that while pumping is necessary and important at times, it isn't always easy.

One of the top concerns moms have is that they aren't pumping enough breast milk. This is especially true for mothers who pump long-term, or who have to be separated from their nursing babies frequently. The good news that is if you feel like your pumping output is low or faltering, there are quite a few things you can try to remedy it. Here's some advice on how to pump more breast milk.

1. Learn what to expect in terms of pumping output

The amount of milk you pump isn't going to be constant from one session to the next, and it probably won't be the same as your friend's output (so there's no use comparing!). The amount you pump depends on several factors, including time of day (milk volume tends to be highest in the morning), frequency of pumping (the more often you pump, the smaller amounts you are likely to pump each session), and your "breast storage capacity" (each woman's breasts store different amounts). Given all of these factors, there is a lot of variation, but anywhere from two to five ounces per pumping session is within normal range.

2. Make sure your pump is in working order

Double electric pumps generally have a motor that lasts for about a year. But sometimes even before that year is up, pump parts need to be replaced. If you feel that your pumping output is faltering for any reason, one of the first things you should do is call the company that manufactured your pump to troubleshoot. Most are quick to help if anything is awry, and having a strong and smooth running pump can make a huge difference in terms of milk output.

3. Check the flange size

The "flange" of the pump is that horn-like apparatus that your nipple rests in while pumping. Did you know that most pumps make more than one size flange, and that having a correctly fitted flange can makes a difference in terms of pumping output? If your flange fits well, your nipple should move freely and comfortably within the flange—and you should not experience any friction or pain while pumping. Flanges can be either too big or too small: both problems can negatively affect output. Contact your pump manufacturer for more information, or try a few flange sizes to see which is most comfortable and helps you pump the most milk.

4. Try to pump in a friendly, relaxing environment

Your "letdown" reflex (which causes milk to start flowing quickly and freely, usually at the beginning of a breastfeeding session) is absolutely affected by stress. Pumping in a stressful environment can inhibit your letdown reflex. Of course, it's not always possible to change your pump environment, but it can definitely help. Listening to soothing music, watching videos of your baby, or just distracting yourself on your phone can also relax you and increase your pumping output. Some moms also find that covering their pumping bottles from view as they pump is useful—sometimes obsessively counting the ounces that you pump can lead to more stress than it's worth!

5. Make sure you have the best possible pump for your situation

For occasional pumping, something like a single manual pump (a pump operated by squeezing a handle) can be adequate. But for any kind of long-term pumping, you really need to a double electric pump, which stimulates both breasts at once. It's best to purchase a brand-new one, so you know it's in top-notch working order. But many mothers find that renting a hospital grade pump makes the biggest difference for their output. These pumps have the strongest motors out there, and are also generally smoother and even quieter than electric pumps.

6. Add hand expression and massage to your routine

Expressing your milk by hand and massaging your breasts during, after, or between pumping can make a significant difference in terms of output. The power of human touch is strong, and some mothers just respond better to it than to the cold touch of a machine. A 2009 study in the Journal of Perinatology found that moms of premature babies were able to pump up to 48 percent more breast milk when they coupled hand expression and massage with pumping. Amazing, huh?

7. Pump more frequently

Some women have to pump more frequently than others to get the same output. If your pumping output is decreasing, try adding in a few more pumping sessions. The sessions don't necessarily have to be lengthy. Some women swear by "power pumping," where they pump very frequently for a few hours (mimicking the way that some babies "cluster feed"). It's normal for babies to breastfeed anywhere from 8 to 12 times in 24 hours, so some mothers must pump that frequently.