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Making It Work

Getting More Milk When Pumping

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 13 No. 4, July-August 1996, pp. 118-20

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


I've been pumping milk regularly at work for several weeks and have been collecting six to eight ounces each time. Lately, however, I am able to pump only four to six ounces. I do not want to begin leaving formula for my son while I'm away, but will soon need to if I cannot begin pumping more milk. What can I do to get more milk when I pump?


You don't mention the age of your son, how many hours and days you are working outside the home, what type of pump you're using, or how often you are currently pumping. There could be many reasons why you're noticing a decrease in your milk supply. The following tips may be helpful:

  1. Pump both breasts simultaneously using a fully automated hospital grade electric pump.
  2. Increase the frequency of pumping times by shortening the interval between pumping times instead of increasing the duration of pumping (e.g., pump three times for 15-20 minutes versus two times for 30 minutes if you're away 8-10 hours). This way you're pumping about the same number of total minutes, but you're stimulating your breasts more frequently, which triggers milk production.
  3. Incorporate the "Massage-Stroke-Shake" (M-S-S) technique as taught by Chele Marmet, an LLL Leader and co-Director of the Lactation Institute in Encino, California, USA: Double-pump for 5 to 7 minutes. Stop. Massage both breasts simultaneously in a circular motion similar to a breast self-exam. Stroke both breasts all the way around from the chest wall to the tip of the nipple in a straight line using only your fingertips. Then cup each breast with your hand, lean forward, and gently shake your breasts. Repeat by pumping another 5-7 minutes and M-S-S. Finish by pumping 5-7 minutes.
    If your pump parts include a flange insert for a smaller areola, use the inserts for the middle pumping to stimulate the areola and the milk sinuses located behind the nipple. The hands-on, M-S-S technique stimulates an increase in prolactin levels, which in turn increases milk production.
    Mothers whom I've helped to use this technique report an increase in milk pumped in a short amount of time.
  4. Whenever you are with your son, breastfeed! There's nothing more effective in removing milk from your breast than your baby looking up at you, smiling, with milk dribbling from the sides of his mouth!

Susan Condon
San Francisco CA USA


I nursed my daughter for fifteen months while working full-time in a job that required business travel, a long commute, executive meetings and presentations, overtime--you name it. I was fortunate to work for a company that was understanding of breastfeeding mothers and provided ideal accommodations. While I made many sacrifices and had many moments of doubt about working and mothering, being able to continue breastfeeding was an excellent way to nurture my daughter in a way no one else could.

Also, try sleeping with your baby. You'll get more rest and might nurse more frequently than otherwise. The extra stimulation will improve your milk supply.

Kathy Suttle
Stroudsburg PA USAi


One of my favorite tips is the "milk holiday." Take a long weekend and arrange life so you don't have any responsibilities beyond caring for the baby and yourself. Put on your nightgown, nurse and nap a lot, eat well, drink plenty of fluids, and rest.

Some women have good results with "reverse cycle feeding." The idea is that the baby needs a certain amount of milk in a 24-hour period so mothers nurse the baby as much as possible when they're home. After a feeding, instead of putting the baby down to sleep, it's sometimes possible to hold and play with her for a while, then offer "dessert" 15-20 minutes later. If baby has been sleeping for a couple of hours and you are ready for bed, see if she'll nurse again. If she sleeps with you, she may nurse more during the night. This way she may not be as hungry during the day while you're at work, which means that you won't need to pump as much milk.

Mary DeCoster
Chapel Hill NC USA


After five months, I decided that one or two bottles of formula each week was the only way to maintain my breastfeeding relationship with my children. I became more relaxed because I was not constantly worried about pumping and whether I had enough milk. I continue to pump twice per day at work (my son is now 9 months old) in order to keep up my supply for when I'm at home and to give my son as much breast milk as possible when I'm away. On the days that I am home, my son nurses full-time.

Bari Modestow
Southborough MA USA


Your specific question is how to pump more milk, but I would encourage you to consider whether you really need to pump more. Much depends on the age of your baby, the number of hours you are apart, and how accessible you can be for nursing when you are not at work. If you truly need to increase your supply, the following ideas may help:

Make sure that the caregivers are not wasting breast milk the way formula is commonly wasted. You can help avoid waste by supplying two-ounce containers instead of large bottles. Also, educate them about the fact that a baby digests breast milk more quickly than formula, which means it is meant to be consumed in frequent, small quantities. Some may regard human milk as "home-grown formula" and expect your baby to consume six or more ounces three times a day. They may also tend to count ounces and coax him to "finish" what remains in the bottle, which does not happen when a baby is at the breast.

Try to fit more pumpings into the week, with little snatches of time early in the morning, late at night, or on the weekend.

Consider using another type of pump. Some pumps replicate the pressure and frequency of a baby's suck more closely than others (see Pumping Tips).

Finally, rest is important, though tough to find time for as an employed nursing mother. A cleaning lady every other week may cost less than formula. "Cook once, eat twice" meal planning and using the crock pot helped me create more time for resting. It also helps for you and your husband to decide together that this special season of your baby's life is worth structuring your lives around. Good luck.

Amy Motzenbecker
Madison NJ USA


When I was pumping, I experienced periodic decreases in the amount pumped. To avoid giving my son formula, I began collecting and freezing "extra" breast milk daily until I had a considerable reserve. I chose a time when I had the most milk and pumped after my son nursed.

At work, I used several strategies to increase milk collection. First, I settled in with a nice, relaxing magazine. Second, I changed the position of the collection funnel on my breast several times (this way, I stimulated different milk ducts). Third, I periodically massaged my breasts while pumping. Finally, I sometimes put my head down on the desk, which helped to relax me and allowed gravity to assist in the milk collection process.

Nancy Covell
Wolcott CT USA


When I read this question, I immediately recalled my own sense of panic when I found that the amount of milk I was able to pump was decreasing. I, too, didn't want to leave formula, but I was afraid my daughter might "starve" if I didn't.

Several things affected the amount of milk I could collect. First was my level of busy-ness at work. It's hard to switch gears from efficient worker to expressing milk. Sometimes I was so distracted by work that I didn't even drink as much water as I needed to. Keeping a large glass at my desk was a good reminder.

It was also important for me to find quiet time to relax so that my milk could let down. Otherwise, I was fighting a losing battle. I had to make it clear to my co-workers that I was not to be disturbed. I was fortunate enough to have my own office, so I didn't have to hunt for a private place. I tried looking at pictures of my baby, listening to soft music, and anything else that would help me relax. I kept up pumping on the weekends in a similar manner, so I wouldn't feel so stressed during the week if I didn't pump as much as I thought I'd need. I don't know much about different breast pumps, but some may be more efficient than others. Some women have the best success with hand-expression. I also noticed that the amount of milk I could express decreased when my daughter started solid foods. Since I worked part-time, she eventually nursed only when I was home. While my daughter was being fed breast milk only, many suggested I switch to formula. I'll always be thankful that I resisted. Breastfeeding remained a wonderful way to nourish and nurture my baby.

Mary Wagner Davis
Carlsbad CA USA


I returned to a very stressful job when my son was four months old. Here's what I suggest:

  1. If you plan to pump at work, build a back-up supply in your freezer during your maternity leave. If it's too late for that...
  2. Quit all caffeine and alcohol.
  3. Increase your fluid intake.
  4. Most importantly, increase the number of times you pump during the day. Try getting to work 10 minutes early and add one pumping session before starting work. Be sure to return home with "full" breasts. Pump at home after every feeding. As a last resort, after a bad pumping day, take a sick day. Relax, nurse, and remember to pump after every feeding. Tomorrow you can try again.

Gloria Charland
Ingleside IL USA

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