Pumping does takes some time, effort and energy to sustain, but it is well worth the investment! Here are some tried and true strategies to help you maximize your pump session:
If you are able to, use the fingers of your free hand(s) to gently massage or make ‘C’ shape compressions all around the breast that you are pumping. To make ‘C’ shape compressions, hold the breast with the thumb one on side and the rest of the fingers on the other side, then squeeze the breast firmly. As you massage or make these compressions, rotate gradually around the breast. Doing these motions while pumping will stimulate the milk flow more, help to make sure you are getting at all the milk glands in the different areas of the breast (especially those outermost areas), and may even help reduce your chances of getting mastitis.
Get a Good ‘Latch’
Though it’s best that the pump horn fits well, don’t worry if it doesn’t fit perfectly at the beginning. Personally, I found the pump horn fitting better over time, probably due to continued breastfeeding and pumping. Try making ‘C’ shape compressions on the outer part of the breast tissue around the pump horn while pumping, to get as good a ‘baby’s latch’ as possible.
Choosing How Much to Pump
What volume should be pumped out? This depends on your goals. If you have time to pump out properly, it is better to pump out as much as you can from one or both sides. But if you have no time, then a bit of stimulation is better than none. From my experience, I have found that at least a good 10 minute pump on a side, or removing a minimum of 30-40 ml (about an ounce) of breast milk from one side seems to provide adequate stimulation, especially if a breastfeed session is coming up soon.
If you are able to have a full pump session in the night or at some point in the day, knowing that baby will not be needing a feed for another 2-3 hours or more, then you can aim to pump out more. I found that pumping out 80-90 ml (about 3 ounces) from one side is a good amount to aim for at these times. Pumping more will not only give a bit more stimulation, it will also allow you to build up your frozen expressed milk stores faster!
You may have noticed the same with your baby—during a breastfeeding session, baby would at times seem to be barely sucking at all, but somehow this effectively triggers the breast to have a let-down reflex soon after. Then the moment a let-down reflex happens, there is a change in baby’s suck swallow rhythm. All of a sudden, baby appears to gear up to do a good few minutes of hard vigorous sucking — as though baby knows now is the time to get out as much milk a possible!
My Medela electric pump comes with two pump settings: a gentle quick pumping motion, and a slower more rhythmic motion. What I found effective was to use these two different settings to mimic baby’s sucking pattern at the breast. During pumping, I often start with the gentle quick pumping motion for the first few minutes (the pump starts with this motion automatically for 2 minutes before it switches to the slower motion). I find that this helps to get the milk flowing, and a let-down reflex often occurs soon after. If a let-down reflex hasn’t occurred by the 2 minute mark, I sometimes just stay on the quick pumping motion until it does. Then I quickly switch to the slower more rhythmic motion and turn up the pump setting so that there is a stronger pumping action, so as to pull out as much milk as quickly as possible. I stay on this slower rhythmic motion for a period of time until I find the milk flow lessening and eventually stopping. At this point, I either stop pumping, or switch back to the gentle quick pump motion, to encourage another let-down reflex. I find that following this strategy has helped me to pump much faster and obtain more volume.
So if your electric pump also has two or more settings, use these to your advantage. However, when you change to the slower more rhythmic motion, don’t ‘overpump’ by turning the pump setting too high so that the pull action is too strong. I have done this before and found that it often does more harm than good!