Breast Pumping Tips: How to Deal If You’re Struggling

Struggling with breast pumping? It’s tough! But help is on the way. Follow these tried-and-true pumping tips that can make your job easier.

Struggling with breast pumping? It's tough! But help is on the way. Follow these tried-and-true pumping tips that can make your job easier.

If you need to be separated from your breastfeeding baby for any reason—whether you are returning to work, or will just be away for an afternoon—you will likely need to pump. While not necessarily an enjoyable activity, we have some great tried-and-true breast pumping tips to share with you.

Breast Pumping Tips: The Basics

1. Find a quiet, comfortable place

“Letting down” and collecting milk for the pump requires you to feel at ease and comfortable. For most of us, this means finding a private, quiet space that is separated from the rest of the world. Keep in mind that federal pumping laws require your workplace to provide such a space for you as well.

2. Don’t stress

When you’re stressed, hormones like adrenalin and cortisone are released, both of which can inhibit oxytocin, the hormone responsible for releasing milk. Many moms find that practicing relaxation techniques—or even distracting themselves by watching videos or scrolling through their phones—can help immensely when it comes to pumping their milk.

3. Take care of yourself

It can be hard to balance your own needs when you are the busy mom of a baby (and maybe other children, too). But your basic needs are important, especially when it comes to successful pumping. Make sure to get as much sleep as you can (even if it’s in interrupted chunks!), and keep yourself well nourished. Breastfeeding moms burn up to 500 calories a day, the equivalent of running 1 hour!

4. Dress to make it easier

Nursing shirts aren’t just useful when you are breastfeeding your baby. When you are pumping, you’ll want to wear either a nursing top or a shirt that opens in the front for easy pumping access. At home this might not be as big of a deal, but when you’re on the go, you’ll be especially glad you don’t have to strip down to pump.

5. Get a hands-free bra for comfort

Hands-free bras—where the flanges fit into the bra cups—are so helpful when you are pumping. If you are pumping while caring for your baby, hands-free pumping bras leave your hands free to hold your baby. But it’s also helpful to have your hands free for so many other tasks, including working, eating, you name it…

6. Get a pump that can drain both breasts simultaneously

For better time management, most women prefer a double electric pump, so that both breasts can be stimulated and emptied at once. Some moms prefer a manual pump (hyperlink to amazon product), which is lighter and more portable than an electric pump. It can also be used when your baby is nursing on the other side.

7. Make sure you are well hydrated

Nursing and pumping will make you extra thirsty, so keep water or another favorite beverage on hand while you are pumping. Just note: While drinking extra fluids doesn’t necessarily increase your supply, you won’t feel well if you are dehydrated and you may not have adequate energy to complete your pumping session.

8. Don’t rush the process

Pumping your breasts completely typically takes about 20 minutes, but sometimes it can take a bit longer. Try not to compare yourself to other moms, or even to your last pumping session. Rushing your pumping session will only stress you out, which can decrease your output. Set aside plenty of time to get the job done.

If You Still Need Breast Pumping Tips…

Even once you’ve got the basics covered, it’s normal to run into other problems along the way—we all do from time to time on our pumping journeys. Don’t worry: There is always a way to make things work. Here are some other breast pumping tips to help you troubleshoot:

9. If it’s early morning, pump right after a feeding

The morning is a great time to pump, because your supply tends to be somewhat higher then. In general, most moms like to wait to pump until after they breastfeed their baby, about an hour or so after your last nursing session.

10 Grab a photo of your babe

A picture is worth a thousand words! If you aren’t with your baby while you pump, looking at their sweet face can help release the oxytocin you need to let down while pumping. Other moms will listen to audio or video recordings of their babies for similar effects.

11. Try a breast massage or warm compress

Massaging your breasts while pumping and adding heat (like a warm washcloth or other compress) can really help drain the breast. Give it a try if your milk flow seems to have slowed.

12. Try hand expressing for 1-2 minutes first

Hand expression can help get your flow started before you even start pumping. You can also add hand expression in the middle of pumping if things have slowed—or at the end to get any extra milk out.

This video can help you learn how to hand express:

13. Toggle between phases for extra stimulation

There are two different pumping settings on an electric pump: stimulation and expression mode. You generally use the stimulation mode to elicit your letdown, and the expression mode once your milk is flowing. However, some moms find that switching between the two at different intervals can help, too.

14. Pump on one side while breastfeeding on the other

Many moms find great success in pumping the other side while their baby nurses. Not only does this save time, but it al helps produce a letdown, which can be helpful if you are finding it hard to let down for your pump.

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When things really aren’t working…

If you are still having issues with pumping, don’t despair. There is almost always a solution out there, and sometimes it isn’t even something you are doing wrong, but an equipment issue. If this could be the case for you, here are a few key breast pumping tips to keep in mind.

15. Make sure your flanges fit properly

The flange is the part that fits over your breast during pumping. Some lactation consultants claim that most women are using flanges that are too large. Flanges can also be too tight, which causes chafing and irritation.

Flanges that fit properly should leave some space around your nipples, so your nipples can move freely during pumping. Your flange may be too small if your nipple rubs against the sides of the flange while pumping. Alternatively, your flange may be too big if a large portion of your areola is drawn into the flange while pumping.

Properly Fitting Flange Graphic

16. Be sure you have a high enough setting to extract the milk

If your pumping speed is turned too low during the expression phase, it will not adequately stimulate your breasts. If it’s too high, however, it can cause nipple damage. Try to keep it on the highest setting possible while also allowing you maximum comfort.

17. Try galactagogues

Galactagogues are foods or supplements that work to naturally increase your milk supply. There are many that you can try, including foods like oatmeal or almonds, or herbs like fenugreek, blessed thistle, and alfalfa. For a more comprehensive list, check out this post on increasing milk supply. You can also try my lactation cookies. Legendairy Milk Products makes a supplement called “Pump Princess” which may be helpful in boosting your supply!

18. Try power pumping

Power pumping is a pumping method used to mimic “cluster feeding,” where babies nurses very frequently for a few hours in a row. The idea is to pump for 10-20 minutes a time, with short breaks in between, for a few hours in a row. This isn’t something you can do all the time, obviously, but it can really help increase your milk supply in a pinch. Keep in mind that it can take a couple of days for your breast milk supply to respond and increase in quantity.

19. Check your pump

Sometimes pump parts are not functioning correctly. Use this as a guide on when to replace various parts:

  • Valve membranes: Replace every 2 weeks to 2 months
  • Duck valves: Replace every 2 to 3 months
  • Backflow protector diaphragms: Replace every 3 to 6 months
  • Tubing: Replace if tubing begins to show signs of stretching or easily slips off the pump
  • Breast shields: Replace every 6 months

Note: If you pump frequently, use you’ll need to replace your parts more frequently. If you only pump occasionally, you can stretch time between replacements a bit further. 

If you’ve tried all of the above breast pumping tips and nothing is working, contact your pump company. In many cases, they will help you fix the pump or even send you a new one.

20. Get help

Bottom line: Pumping can be stressful! You are not alone if you feel that way. Make sure to reach out to a lactation consultant, or a breastfeeding volunteer organization like La Leche League or Breastfeeding USA for help. It’s always better to address any problems sooner rather than later.

And don’t underestimate the power of connecting with fellow moms, either online or at a breastfeeding support group. Sharing stories and concerns with other pumping mamas can make a huge difference!

Most of All, Don’t Give Up!

You’ve got this, and please know that whatever struggles come your way, you are an incredible mama. The effort you’re putting into feeding your child is amazing!

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 85,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

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