Pumping and I have never really been great friends. I’ve always wanted to produce enough milk to donate, whether to a milk bank or through peer-to-peer milk sharing, but my output has been nothing more than sufficient for my own babies’ needs. When I had twins, I was hopeful that I’d become a milk factory and early pumping attempts encouraged this thinking. However, a few months after my twins were born, it became evident that the pumping I did when my babies managed to sleep hours at a time (which they did until they were four months old, when they decided to stop being so kind) was influenced by hormones. A few months after they were born, once I had to pump regularly at work, I was back to getting just what I “should” and nothing more.
Facebook tells me that this was one of my more popular posts until recently.
What “should” you get when pumping? Like so much about breastfeeding, there is a wide range of normal. According to KellyMom.com:
It is typical for a mother who is nursing full-time to be able to pump around 1/2 to 2 ounces total (for both breasts) per pumping session… Many moms think that they should be able to pump 4-8 ounces per pumping session, but even 4 ounces is a rather large pumping output for a mom who is breastfeeding full-time.
Considering that the average intake of a breastfed baby is 25–30 ounces per day, pumping about one ounce per hour was my goal, and I managed to pump exactly that. Or almost; I had to make up for that time between the last pumping of the day and coming home to nurse my babies during the other two or three pumping sessions of the day.
In an attempt to increase my pumping output, I experimented with a few different things, even though I am skeptical of the benefit of interventions with breastfeeding other than milk removal. The best way to increase the amount of milk you make—assuming there are no underlying causes that need to be fixed first—is always to increase the amount of milk you remove, whether that means you nurse more or pump more (or better).
How did the “experiment” turn out, you ask? Try as I might, I couldn’t see a significant correlation between the things I tried (eating oatmeal, drinking less caffeine on some days—which was accidental and regrettable when it happened, and bitter drops several times per day of More Milk Plus Special Blend tincture) and the amount of milk I pumped. However, I did notice a slight uptick in production after nights where I got a little more sleep and when I was particularly well fed, both things that could influence stress levels (in various ways), which improves letdown. Adrenaline, a hormone associated with stress, inhibits oxytocin, which is that happy, feel-good hormone that helps you let down milk, among other things.
Another thing that decreased my stress level was finding a source of donor milk so some pressure was removed from me. How ironic; by having some extra milk in the freezer, I was able to pump more milk myself.
There are many, many things to look at when a mom reports that her pumping output is low. Are her expectations in line with reality? Is her pump in good condition and is she using the right pump for the job? Is she pumping enough, and nursing enough? After the basics are covered, one piece of advice I might give to a mom hoping to increase output at the pump would be to decrease stress as much as possible. Sometimes that includes doing less instead of more; remove the pressure to eat more oatmeal, take more herbs, drink more water. Self-care can also go a long way; take a more holistic approach by taking care of your entire self instead of just your milk-making components.