This is certainly an issue that can cause a lot of stress and worry, especially if you are pumping because you are away from your baby (like working) or if you are exclusively pumping.
A few things to consider are, first, your Breast milk supply will vary naturally at different times of the day and over the months and, second, a pump is not as efficient at emptying the breast as a baby is.
In order to maintain a good breast milk supply, your breasts need to be emptied often. Not emptying your breasts often enough, signals your body to reduce milk production. And the opposite is true if you empty them often.
What is Normal?
It is normal for a mother who is breastfeeding full time to pump no more than 1/2 to 2 ounces per breast when pumping. Any milk pumped when breastfeeding full time is considered extra since your body is not conditioned to that added “feeding”, so don’t get discouraged if you feel like it isn’t very much.
Keep pumping at the same time each day and your body should respond to making extra milk.
It is also normal for a mother who started pumping while away from her baby to become concerned about her milk output. The pump is not as efficient as your baby is when nursing directly from the breast. But eventually, your milk ejection reflex will become conditioned to the pump.
Once a routine is established with pumping (same time each day, etc), your body will start reacting to the pump as it does to your baby where your milk let down is concerned.
Causes of Low Breast Pumping Output
- Issues with Breast Pump – Check that you are using a pump appropriate for your needs. If you pump often a double electric breast pump or hospital grade breast pump is a must.
- Breast Pump parts need replacing – Often a decrease in milk output can be due to the need to change parts on your pump such as valves. Or that the incorrect size flanges are being used. Parts should be replaced every 3-6 months depending on how often you use your pump. Click here to view our page on pump parts.
- Decrease in pumping sessions per day or length of pumping session – This is a very likely cause as any changes to the number of times and how often you pump per day will directly affect your milk output.
- Menstruation or Ovulation – Hormonal changes like that of menstruation and ovulation can naturally decrease milk supply.
- Pregnancy and Birth control – Again the hormone changes associated with pregnancy or Birth Control can reduce your supply.
- Dieting – A decrease in caloric intake can reduce your milk production as your body will need 1800-2200 calories per day to maintain a healthy supply. A sudden drop in calories per day can also affect your supply.
- Stress – Stress can affect your body in many ways so not surprisingly it can cause a reduction in milk supply.
- Illness – If you are ill or have been ill, you may notice a dip in milk production. This is quite normal and should rebound just fine.
- Your Baby started on solids – As your baby begins eating solid food, your supply may naturally decrease as they will consume less.
- Consider that baby may not actually need the extra milk (if the concern is not producing enough while your baby is at daycare). It is quite possible your baby is using the bottle to “comfort nurse” and is actually being overfed. This is not always the case but it should be considered. Speaking with your caregiver about offering an alternative like a pacifier, distraction, etc instead of a bottle at “off feeding times” is an option.
Supplementing and Low Supply
There are times that supplementing with formula may be needed or encouraged by a doctor due to weight or other concerns for baby.
Mother’s often get pulled into a vicious cycle of supplementing and low supply. Dealing with a low supply or not pumping enough breast milk can be fixed, however, in most cases. It is important to remember that all feedings given to your baby by bottle need to be replaced with pumping.
So if it is necessary to supplement with formula, you still need to pump to replace that feeding or your supply will never recover.
To get off the crazy cycle, make sure you are nursing and/or pumping as often as possible!
For each feeding, offer the breast first. If you need to offer a bottle of formula, then give it after nursing. Though it is best to give the bottle at times that you are away from the home and focus on nursing when you are with your baby.
After nursing, pump for at least 15 minutes. Frequent nursing or pumping increases your milk supply so nurse, nurse, nurse or pump, pump, pump!
One tip that is often referred to as being successful in helping a mother increase her supply is a “sit in nursing day”. Basically, you stay home cuddling your baby for a day or two, allowing baby to nurse as often as she wants. Even if she is just snacking all day.
The closeness and frequent nursing stimulate your nipples and signals for more milk production. You can use the same concept with pumping. Having your baby near you helps your supply.
Another option that is worth looking into is using a supplemental nursing system like the Lact-Aid. A supplemental nursing system is basically a bag of expressed milk or formula with a small tube attached that you run over your nipple and nursing baby as normal. The tube gives your baby the nutrients and milk it needs while the suckling helps stimulate your breast.
This would be the first thing I would try before offering a bottle to a young baby. It will help your supply recover much faster than traditional supplementing.
See below for more tips on increasing your milk output.
How to Pump More Breast Milk
Here are some tips on pumping more breast milk:
- Use a Hospital grade pump or high quality double electric pump.
- Nurse more often when you are with your baby or add extra pumping sessions and pump for longer.
- Ensure you are pumping at least 8 to 10 times a day for no less than 15 minutes at a time if you are exclusively pumping.
- If you are pumping in between nursing sessions and struggle to feed your baby (if they seem bothered by the slow milk flow) then try only pumping one breast in between feedings. Be sure you alternate.
- Power Pump- Try a power pumping session where you pump 10 minutes, rest 10, pump 10, etc for an hour or few.
- Apply a warm compress to your breasts or run warm water over them before pumping.
- Try massaging your breasts before and after pumping or nursing – start at the outer sides of the breast rubbing in a circular motion with two fingers working your way inward to the nipple. Stimulate the nipple by rubbing with your palm or pinching lightly with your fingers.
- Use herbal galactagogues like Fenugreek or nursing tea like Mother’s Milk Tea.
- Talk to your Doctor about prescription medications available such as Domperidone or Reglan if increasing your supply naturally doesn’t seem to be working.
A quality breast pump is key to a healthy supply! Click here to see my review on six great breast pumps.
Have you overcome a supply issue? Are you currently struggling with low supply? Share your story or tips here by leaving a comment on this page!
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