Maximizing Milk Production while Pumping at Work
By the time you return to work your milk production is dependent on “autocrine regulation” or the local feedback your breasts receive. The primary local factors that control your milk production are frequency of breast stimulation and thorough emptying of the breasts. Your breasts are always making milk but frequently drained, empty feeling breasts turn on local hormonal signals in the breasts to make more milk faster. On the flip side, full breasts will make less milk slower as the filled breast signals the body to decrease the volume of milk made.
Q: What can I do on maternity leave to ensure I will have plenty of milk when I return to work? Help your body “set” a plentiful milk supply by breastfeeding on demand. Breast feeding frequently and following your baby’s feeding cues helps ensure you have a full supply.
The week before you return to work, count up the number of times you usually breastfeeed in 24 hours, that number is your “magic number.” Once back at work, most mothers will need to either breastfeed or pump that “magic” number of times in 24 hours in order to keep making a full supply of breast milk. Many times that magic number is between 7 and 9.
Q: How can I protect a full milk supply when I return to work?
- Remember your “magic number” for a guide on frequency of breastfeeding and pumping for the day
- Frequently drained breasts make more milk. Try not to go too long without breastfeeding or pumping
- While at work: try to pump as frequently as your baby would feed
- While at home: breastfeed a lot while you are with your baby. It helps your supply if your baby wants to nurse more often through out the night, and/or more frequently on week-ends.
- Get rest: try using the side lying position while breastfeeding in the evening to rest while protecting your milk supply
Q. How many times do I need to pump at work? How long should a pumping session last?
As a general guide, you will pump as many times as the feedings you are missing. It’s not necessary that a mother pump at work at the exact times her baby is feeding during the day at the sitter or daycare. The goal is to stimulate and empty your breasts the same number of times as your baby feeds. Pumping both breasts at the same time decreases your pumping time. On average women double pump for about 10-15 minutes when you are pumping at work.
Q: My baby feeds three times during my work day, but I only have a one hour lunch and one other short break?
You can use your lunch break for two pumping sessions. For example, you can pump for 10 minutes take a break and then pump for another 10 minutes. You can feed your baby just before you leave for work in the morning and then plan to get to work 15 minutes early and pump again before your shift starts for the day(even if its only been 30 to 45 minutes since you last fed). Remember hand expression as an option when you just have shorter breaks and do not have time to get the pump out.
Q: What can I do to increase the amount I pump?
- Combining hand expression and breast massage with pumping can increase the amount of milk you get with pumping. This is called Hands on Pumping, and it is a simple, very effective technique that can be viewed on the Standford Universtiy web site: http://newborns.stanford.edu/Breastfeeding/MaxProduction. You can use an old bra to help hold the pump flange in place while double pumping. Having your hands free will allow you to use massage and breast compression to keep your milk flowing. When the milk stops flowing then take a short break from pumping to massage the breast. The session is completed by removing any remaining milk with pumping or hand expression.
- Some mothers use the pump to better mimic the baby’s suck pattern by adjusting the cycle speed. Using a fast speed when pumping may increase the number of let downs a mother has when pumping. You can try pumping on the fast speed and see for yourself if it seems to increase your number of letdowns and amount pumped. Set the pump cycle speed (not vacuum) on the highest speed. When the milk starts to flow during a let down, turn the cycle speed down to near the slowest setting (similar to the way a baby’s sucking rate slows down during the let down). When the milk flow slows to a trickle, return the pump to the fast cycle. Repeat using the fast cycle to trigger let down and the slow cycle to drain the breast.
- All methods for increasing milk production will be more effective if the mother assists her body by relaxing and imagining her baby at her breast. Remember, anytime a mother increases breast stimulation it takes several days to see any increase in milk production.