Maintaining Milk Supply with a Breast Pump

  • The amount of milk your body makes depends on the number of times your breasts are emptied throughout the day. Draining the breast by pumping often, like your baby would be nursing, will build or maintain a good supply of pumped milk.
  • Babies breastfeed about eight to 12 times every day. Nighttime feedings may stretch to every four to six hours as a baby gets older. Pumping should closely follow the same pattern as your baby would be breastfeeding.
  • Use a medical-grade or hospital-grade electric breast pump if your baby is not feeding well at the breast. Ask your lactation consultant if you're not sure you are using the right kind of breast pump.
  • The milk-ejection (or let-down) reflex causes the breast to release milk. Some mothers have a tingling feeling in the breast when their milk lets down. It is important to stimulate this reflex when using a pump. Look at a picture of your baby or have a piece of your baby’s clothing or blanket that has your baby’s scent on it close by, or pump where you can see your baby to help with milk let-down. Using relaxation or deep breathing exercises can also help.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with a variety of foods. Keep a water bottle with you and drink plenty of water. Limit alcohol, caffeine and smoking.
  • Some medications can affect milk supply. Check with your doctor before taking any medications.
  • Medical-grade pumps can be rented for use by the day, week, or month. Ask your care provider for more information or call the Center for Breastfeeding Medicine, 513-636-2326, for locations of Medela pump rental stations.
  • If you receive WIC benefits, your local WIC office may be able to provide a loaner pump free of charge if your baby cannot breastfeed.
  • Many insurance providers, including Medicaid, cover the cost of pump rental when a "medical necessity" exists (i.e., the baby is not able to feed at the breast). Your doctor can give you a prescription. Check with your insurer if you have questions about your coverage. Some insurers require durable medical equipment rental from preferred providers. Let your care provider know if you need a letter of medical necessity for your insurer that states the reason why you need to pump breast milk.
  • Pump in a clean location. Sanitize surfaces with an antibacterial wipe.
  • Wash your hands before pumping.
  • Assemble your kit for double-pumping. Pump both breasts at the same time to increase milk production hormones and save time.
  • Center your nipples in the breastshields and turn on the pump with the suction adjusted to the lowest setting. You can increase the suction as needed to a comfortable level. More suction will not make more milk.
  • Sit comfortably and take a few deep breaths to relax.
  • Pumping will usually take about 15-20 minutes. Pump for two minutes after your milk stops flowing to build a good milk supply.
  • Refer to the Health Topic "Collection, Storage and Use of Expressed Breast Milk for Well Infants" for information on milk storage.
  • Use dish soap to clean all parts of the Medela kit that come in contact with milk after each use (collection bottles, breast shields, backflow valves and membranes). Disassemble all pieces and wash in a basin of warm, soapy water. Rinse well. Air dry on a clean paper towel. Make sure the thin white membrane is dry before reassembling the backflow valve.
  • If the backflow valve is working properly, you should not see milk in your pump tubing. If milk does get into the tubing, wash, rinse, and air dry.
  • If moisture builds up in the tubing, leave the pump on while cleaning parts and disconnect bottles and shields from tubing. The movement of air through the tubing will dry it.
  • Wipe the breast pump and counter with an antibacterial wipe after pumping.
  • Sterilize your kit pieces that contact the milk once a day. Parts can be sterilized by boiling for 15 minutes or running through a dishwasher cycle.
  • Pumping should not hurt. Tell your lactation care provider if you are experiencing pain.
  • Stop the pump and change bottles if the milk level approaches the backflow valve.
  • Use moist warm compresses and gentle breast massage prior to and during pumping if you are having trouble with milk let-down. Your breasts should feel softer after the milk has been drained by the pump.
  • To increase milk supply, pump more frequently. Your supply should start to increase within a few days of frequent breast emptying.
  • Some mothers find it helpful to keep a written log of time spent pumping and volume of pumped milk. You can check your log to make sure you are pumping frequently enough.

Last Updated 09/2012