Does Pumping After Baby’s Done Breastfeeding Help Increase Your Milk Supply?
In some cases, it can be a useful technique.
It’s not uncommon for some breastfeeding parents to struggle with low milk supply. Even if your baby appears to be breastfeeding well, you might have a nagging worry about whether or not they’re getting enough to eat. Breastfeeding anxiety is very real, because unlike giving your baby a bottle, you can’t actually see how much milk they’re taking in. If you’re concerned that you’re not making enough breast milk, you might consider pumping after nursing to increase your milk supply.
First, you should know you’re not alone. An estimated 10% to 15% of women fail to produce enough milk when it comes to breastfeeding, according to a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism. And lactation consultants often see a lot of people who come to them with concerns about low milk supply.
As with all nursing-related issues, if you have low supply concerns, you should always speak with your doctor or lactation consultant to ensure you’re producing enough milk and see what other issues could be causing milk production problems. There are many health conditions, including inverted nipples, insufficient glandular tissue in the breasts, breast surgeries, spinal cord injuries, and possible hormonal issues, that can lead to milk supply problems.
One possible solution is to breast pump after nursing — and even those who aren’t dealing with low milk supply might consider doing it for other reasons, too. For all you need to know about pumping to increase milk supply safely, read below.
Why someone might pump after nursing
There are a few reasons why someone might consider pumping to increase milk supply — the biggest being simply that they aren’t producing enough. “They just don't have enough milk for their baby, and so it just kind of makes sense to pump a little bit more,” Emily Middleton, RN, BSN, IBCLC, owner of The Latch RN, tells Romper.
Another reason is if someone is anticipating returning to work soon and might want to build up a milk supply stash. “I tell people a lot of times that it's sort of like a savings account — you just want to start putting it away, because when you go back to work, it can be kind of stressful, and you may not be making as much milk,” Middleton says. Increasing your supply now can help you have extra on hand when your daily schedule shifts.
It’s worth noting that additional pumping that isn’t replacing a feed should really only be done if you’re looking to make more breast milk. “Only try to boost your supply if there is a deficit,” says Liza Janda, certified lactation educator counselor. “Otherwise you’ll get an oversupply, possibly, and that can lead to other problems.”
Oversupply can occur when someone with healthy breast milk production hormones creates more demand for the milk in their body, which then increases supply. “The more she empties her breasts, the more they're going to fill,” Middleton says. “If you have somebody who has an oversupply, a lot of times what mamas think is, ‘Well, I need to empty because I'm so full,’ and so they're working really hard at just constantly trying to drain their breasts. But in reality, what they're telling their body to do is make more milk, feeding that hormonal loop.”
Oversupply is a problem because it can lead to pain and other more serious issues. “Part of the problem with overproduction is that you can lead yourself into situations where you have clogged ducts and mastitis, and it can cause a lot of problems,” Middleton says. Engorgement can be incredibly painful, and mastitis is an inflammation of the breast that can lead to fever or flu-like symptoms. “[Pumping the correct amount] is a delicate balance for certain women, according to how their bodies react.”
Additionally, just because someone can pump doesn't necessarily mean they should pump. As Middleton explains, breast pumping (especially right after feeding) can be exhausting. “If some people are struggling with low supply, and then they're having to pump on top of that, it may just not be the best fit for their mental health,” she says. “But that's just a personal decision and something that they would want to talk through with their lactation consultant.”
How pumping to increase milk supply works
The process of pumping after nursing can look different depending on a person’s needs. But in all cases, the general concept behind it is the same. “Pumping stimulates the breasts and sends a message to the brain that more milk is needed,” Janda tells Romper. So, while the last thing you might want to do after a long breastfeeding session is to break out the pump, this method can really help to boost your supply.
Janda advises to start adding on pumping sessions at three weeks postpartum after the first feed of the morning, but you might need to start sooner depending on you and your baby's needs. For example, Middleton might recommend someone with medically evaluated low milk supply to start pumping a few days after giving birth, on a schedule of twice a day with a well-fitted breast pump. In contrast, she might recommend someone who anticipates returning to work in a month to wait until the baby is three or four weeks old, then start incorporating one or two pumping sessions a day right after the baby eats.
If you have doubts or questions about what to do, check in with your baby’s pediatrician, who can tell you exactly if your breastfed baby is gaining enough weight for their age. They can also give you a schedule of how often you should be pumping to increase your milk supply and when to start.
When pumping after a nursing sesh, you’ll need to do so right away. “The emptier the breasts are, the faster they make milk so they [will] be ready for the next feeding,” Andrea Tran, a certified lactation consultant, tells Romper. To ensure that your baby isn’t losing breast milk from their next feeding, Trans advises moms to pump right after the end of a breastfeeding session so that "you’re taking the leftovers from the previous session, and not taking milk from the next feeding,” she says. Although you might score more milk if you wait longer, you’ll essentially be taking breast milk from your baby’s next meal — and that's not a good thing.
Don’t expect to produce a prolific amount of bonus breast milk the first time you pump after a feed. It’s going to take some time for your pumping to produce the results you’re looking for. “The amount of milk women produce is all dependent on supply and demand,” says Janda. “It usually takes three to five days to increase milk supply and the same to decrease it.” And try not to get too caught up in pumping, especially if you’re nursing non-stop as well. “It takes time and then a mom has to wash everything, so I encourage women to do what they can but don’t overwhelm themselves,” advises Tran.
Beyond breaking out your pump, there are also other ways to prime your body for the best breast milk-producing results. “Moms can use warm compresses before pumping, do breast massages, and take a warm shower,” says Janda.
Additionally, those who have serious low supply may not see any increase in production even with pumping. “No matter what some women do, it's never going to change their production as some just don't have mammary tissue to make enough milk,” Middleton says. “In situations like that, they can go to their physician and have hormone panels drawn so that we can understand a little bit better why their body is not producing milk.”
In many cases, though, you can certainly make more breast milk by pumping post-nursing sessions. But it requires dedication and time, and it’s advisable only with the support of a lactation consultant or doctor. Monitoring how much breast milk you make (and how much your baby really needs) can give you a good guideline of how often you’ll need to pump it up.
Lee, S. & Kelleher, S. L. (2016). Biological underpinnings of breastfeeding challenges: the role of genetics, diet, and environment on lactation physiology. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism 2016 311:2, E405-E422. https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/ajpendo.00495.2015
Emily Middleton, RN, BSN, IBCLC, the owner of The Latch RN
Liza Janda, certified lactation educator counselor
Andrea Tran, certified lactation consultant
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