Before I go over how I pump 1.5 litres a day and what you can do to increase milk supply, I should share that it wasn’t always this way. Initially, I had planned to breastfeed my baby but some big events including an epidural injury changed our path of feeding to one of exclusive pumping. I hadn’t seriously considered that nursing would not be a possibility for me so I wasn’t well prepared to be an exclusive pumper. The journey to establishing and maintaining a good supply of milk while pumping was rocky and challenging.
Pumping can be physically difficult, time-consuming, and mentally exhausting. At one point I thought I would never be able to pump enough for my baby and almost gave up. That’s why I think learning more about breastfeeding and making alternative plans is so important for new moms, it’s one of my top 5 newborn essentials that requires no money.
With the help of online resources and a life-changing experience working with a lactation consultant, I felt empowered to keep pumping. Over time, I was able to increase the amount of milk I pumped from just a few tens of millilitres a day to a litre and a half. I want to share my experience and provide tips and more importantly, hope that anyone can be successful with pumping.
Please note that every woman is different. Don’t add more stress to your situation by comparing your output to mine or anyone else’s. How much milk a woman produces can be affected by many things including the amount of breast glandular tissue, hormonal issues, baby’s ability to latch and suck and even the amount of time you have available to dedicate to pumping. It is important to remember that as long as you are feeding baby, whether it’s with formula or breast milk, you are doing a wonderful job.
To the surprise of myself and many other women, the post-partum experience can actually be a real learning curve. I hope this post on how I was able to establish and increase my milk supply while exclusively pumping will be of help to you and your baby.
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Tools for Pumping Success
Having the correct tools for pumping and staying organized will help you be more successful (and less frustrated) .
Stay organized & have extra pump parts
- I explain how I found time to pump with a newborn in this post.
- Make sure that you have breast shields that are the correct size for your body. Did you know that you can order shields with different diameters? Using a breast shield that is either too small or too large can actually affect the efficiency of the pump as well as cause pain. Learn more about breast shield sizes here.
- Set up a pumping station with all the tools you need in one place including your pump, extra pump parts (nipple shields, bottles, flanges), and a sterilizer/dryer. Have water on hand near the station.
- I also have a pumping cart. I keep a bottle of water, tissues and snacks on the cart and add my pump and supplies when I need to be more mobile. This pumping cart provides a sanitary space for keeping my pump and supplies in one space. I always have a clean surface where I can start pumping and I can push this cart anywhere in the house. I purchased mine at a Home Goods store while on vacation in Portland one year but something like this would well too.
Use a double pump when possible and purchase a manual backup
Using a double pump (where both breasts are being expressed at the same time) will save you time AND increase your output. Double pumping has been shown to increase milk production by an average of 18% and creates milk with higher calorie content.
- I used the Medela Sonata Breast pump and highly recommend it. READ: Medela Sonata Breast Pump Review
- Purchasing a hands-free pumping bra like this one will make it easier to double pump and free up your hands for doing other things.
- I also kept a manual pump (Medela Harmony) in my car so I would never be without a pump when I was out. The manual pump is easy to operate, efficient and I can use it quickly and discreetly in the backseat while my husband is driving. READ: Medela Harmony Breast Pump Review
- It also gave me peace of mind knowing I had a manual pump for backup or emergencies.
Focus on your Nutrition and Health to Increase Milk Supply
When you really think about it, the ability of women to produce breastmilk is quite amazing. It should come as no surprise that eating well and hydrating will have a positive impact on your milk production. Staying hydrated and getting enough nutrition will help increase milk supply.
- Nursing mothers are advised to “drink to satisfy thirst.” Listen to your body and drink when you are thirsty.
- One way I ensure that I am getting adequate water is by placing fresh water on my pump cart every morning. This reminds me to drink a cup of water while I’m pumping.
- Drink a large glass of water before each meal.
- Watch for signs you aren’t getting enough water like bright yellow urine or constipation.
Have an adequate calorie intake
Whenever I pumped I would feel ravenously hungry. At first, I was worried by the amount of food I needed to feel full because I usually don’t have a big appetite. After doing some research on the breastfeeding resource Kellymom, it turns out, I actually needed all those extra calories.
“Consuming less than 1500-1800 calories per day (most women should stay at the high end of this range) may put your milk supply at risk, as may a sudden drop in caloric intake.”
Bonyata, Kelly. “Do Breastfeeding Mothers Need Extra Calories or Fluids? • KellyMom.com.” KellyMom.com, 10 Mar. 2019, kellymom.com/nutrition/mothers-diet/mom-calories-fluids
Trying to balance pumping, taking care of a newborn or infant and recuperating from giving birth is hard. Often mom’s needs are put on hold to take care of everything else. Some helpful tips to make sure you are eating enough:
- Enlist your partner’s help by letting them know you need reminders about eating and help getting food.
- Stock up on healthy and easy to grab snacks like string cheese, nuts, yogurt, fruits and vegetables. You can also put some snacks near the place you pump.
- Find time or ask for help meal prepping once a week. These recipes are great for freezing and then defrosting later when you need it: Crockpot Chicken Pho, Tomato Beef on Rice.
- Try and focus on getting at least one full and balanced meal each day.
- Don’t fret about losing “baby weight.” Eat healthily, stay hydrated and focus on feeling grateful for your body and its ability to carry a baby and produce milk. What a miracle!
The Mechanics of Efficient Milk Pumping
There is an “art” to pumping that will help you to produce the most milk you can. Helpful tips include:
Pump often and drain breasts
- According to Ameda.com it is recommended that you pump 8-10 times a day in a 24 hr period.
- Full milk production is typically 25-35 oz. (750-1,035 mL) per 24 hours
- Experiment with the number of pumping sessions that work for your body. In the beginning, I tried to pump up to 7 times a day to establish my milk supply. For me, it was very difficult to fit in so many sessions because I was sore from delivering Bibi and she wasn’t sleeping well until we were able to train her to sleep 12 continuous hours. Eventually, I realized that I could pump 5-6 times a day and maintain my supply. If my pumping sessions were too close together, I struggled with the quantity of milk I pumped in each session.
- The optimal amount of time for pumping is 15-20 minutes. Pumping until the breasts are “emptied” sends a signal to the body to produce more milk. Try to pump a few minutes more after the milk stops flowing.
- If you are able, waking up to pump in the early morning hours can increase your milk production. “To help establish milk supply, pump at least twice between 1 to 6 a.m. In early morning hours, milk-making hormone levels increase and taking advantage of this will increase your milk production. (source)”
- Try different settings on your breast pump to see which ones work best for you. A higher pump speed does NOT necessarily mean more milk.
- You can also optimize breastmilk output by using a hot compress and massaging the breast while you pump. This was especially helpful in the beginning as I found it was harder for me to get to letdown then.
- Stressing out about how much milk you are producing can make pumping a very negative experience. Try to distract yourself with an enjoyable book or movie or turn on relaxing music.
More Pumping Tips To Increase Supply:
- Try to meet with a lactation consultant very soon after giving birth. My lactation consultant was instrumental to my pumping success because she was able to give me tips that were applicable to me personally. She also helped to show me how to latch Bibi properly. Most importantly, she acted as a supportive coach. I’ll never forget when she told me if I kept at pumping, I would see my supply from tens of millilitres to hundreds. Unbelievable at the time but it did happen and I believe it can happen for you too!
- Get rest! This is probably one of the hardest things to manage in between pumping, feedings, and taking care of a baby. Try to let other people help you so you can sleep.
- I found conflicting evidence on eating oats (not instant) and taking herbal supplements like Fenugreek , Mother’s Milk Tea to increase milk supply. It’s more important to eat a balanced diet but it’s something to consider.
- The most important tip is to establish good pumping habits. Barring any other health problems, if you schedule regular pumping sessions, your body WILL produce the milk your baby needs.
I certainly didn’t believe I could eventually produce enough milk to feed my baby, but like all mothers, we rise up to whatever challenges we face. I hope this information is helpful and hopeful for you.