Pump Like a Pro: 5 Tips Help You Get More Milk

A BPA free bag with ice cooler and two yellow baby feeding bottles full of breastmilk.


Nobody LIKES pumping. But, for many breastfeeding or chestfeeding parents, pumping is an essential part of helping you meet your feeding goals. Anxiety and stress about pumping is at the root of many parenting woes, and it doesn't have to be that way. If you have recently found yourself wondering (or worrying) about pumping - from how long you should pump, to how often and what your output means about your supply, then this is for you. In this post, you'll learn how to maximize your output, minimize your pumping time, and gain the knowledge to find a pumping plan that works for you.



The easiest way to understand the internal anatomy of the breast/chest is to think of a cluster of grapes. The grapes are the cells that hold milk and the stem is the ducts that carry the milk to your nipple.

The anatomy of mammary tissue

The anatomy of mammary tissue

When your baby feeds at the chest, they stretch the nipple, and this triggers the brain to release the hormone oxytocin. The released oxytocin travels to the chest (and the uterus) and activates muscles surrounding the grape clusters. This causes them to contract and squeeze the grapes, which releases the milk and pushes it into the ducts and out through your nipples. This process is more commonly called the ‘let down’. Some people can feel this sensation, but many do not. Both are normal.

This process normally happens multiple times during feeding sessions with your baby. You may have noticed that they cycle through periods of actively swallowing and periods of suckling with few swallows throughout a feed, and this is exactly how things are designed to work. Over the course of a feeding, multiple contractions occur, squeezing different clusters of grapes. The most important thing to know is that it takes multiple muscle contractions to more fully remove milk from your breast. This leads us to the second rule for pumping.



No matter how great your pump is, it will never be able to fully replicate the way a baby removes milk from the breast/chest, because it does not continually trigger the same hormonal response. Because of this, when most people pump, they often only get one letdown. But you can get more.

It’s also important to mention that pumping fit matters. A lot. You need your pump flanges to fit you like cinderella’s slippers - if they are too big, your output will suffer. If they are too small, it can cause pain and damage. So before experimenting, make sure your flanges fit each just right, and that may even mean you need a different size flange for each side of your body.

There is no single right way to pump and you won’t get a second letdown for EVERY pumping session. Think of a second letdown as unlocking a bonus round. If you can get it, great. If not, that’s OK too - there is always a next time.


What you need to get multiple letdowns depends on your body, your environment, and your stress level. And this can change with each pumping session. You are going to have to experiment to learn more about your body and discover what works best for you. 

How do you know when you have a letdown when you are pumping? For most pumpers, you’ll know because your milk will start to flow more rapidly. Once you have removed the milk from the first letdown, the flow will slow way down, and for some pumping folks, it will stop altogether.  That is letdown number one. This process usually takes 15-20 min for most people.

Here are two tested strategies for getting a second letdown:

  1.  Pump for a longer period of time

  2. Cyclic Pumping (also called Power Pumping).

Many folks report that a second letdown occurs between 25 - 30 min of pumping. This one seems like it should be pretty straightforward, but it’s important that you experiment with this pathway carefully. Pumping for 30 min is not necessary to protect your supply, and you should not pump for that long for every pumping session. For many folks, pumping for longer than 15 -20 min. can cause nipple soreness, damage, and if they don’t get a second letdown, it can cause anxiety and unnecessary concern about their own milk supply. If you fall into these categories, opt for method 2. 

With cyclical pumping, you are cycling between pumping and taking a break from pumping. This is also commonly called “power-pumping”, but since it has nothing to do with the power of the pump, it can be a confusing misnomer. The benefit of this style of pumping is that by taking a break, you are often able to get a second letdown without the constant wear on your nipples. 

There isn’t a right way to do cyclical pumping. There are only different options based on what works for you and what time you have available for a pumping session. The chart below shows some example options as starting points for experimentation. The only hard rule for Cyclic Pumping is that you take breaks between pumping sessions, and everyone is different, so experiment with what works best for you. When you come back from your pumping break, you can start with the “let-down” mode again (or not…see if it makes a difference for you).


It’s also important to keep monitoring your breasts/chest for wellness. Because pumps work differently and expose your tissue to more targeted physical stress, small problems can quickly become large ones if they go unnoticed. Some early indicators of damage are bruising or discoloration on your nipple or areola, circles on your areola near the base of your nipple, and/or pain when pumping.  If you notice any of these things, get help right away.



If you remember from the first section, oxytocin is the hormone that is responsible for triggering your let-down. Cortisol and adrenaline are “fight or flight” hormones that are released when your body is under stress. These two groups of hormones are complete opposites can’t be elevated at the same time. When one is up, the other is down, and your body will always prioritize survival.

Your body perceives work stress in exactly the same way it perceives being confronted by a bear. Those fight or flight hormones can make your body do amazing things, but feeding a baby isn’t one of them. Your body knows you can always feed your baby later.

Snuggling your sweet-smelling baby has a built-in calming mechanism, but being attached to a mechanical pump doesn’t. And if you have had a stressful day at the office, or are trying to squeeze pumping in between meetings, taking just a bit of time at the beginning of your pumping session to focus on calming your body will both help your milk output and also your health.

While being stressed can be a normal part of being a new parent (particularly when transitioning back to work), there are lots of ways to help calm a run-away nervous system. Breathing is particularly effective. Here is a great article with some breathing tips for regulation. Apple and Samsung watches have a built-in ‘stress’ monitor, and you can visually assess your current stress level. Try to do some breathing exercises to bring you into (or closer to) “the green zone” before you pump. If you don’t have a smartwatch, try an app with some deep breathing exercises, Here is a link to 3 min meditation app.

If you have flexibility, establishing a routine where you make some warm tea, and try some deep breathing before you pump may help you with your production. If you are trying cyclical pumping, try some breathing again during one of your rest phases. Anything that helps to get your system to recognize that there is no actual bear will help you to increase your milk output.

If you can’t do the breathing before every pump, don’t worry. Not every pumping parent has the luxury to take time before every pump to re-ground themselves, and that’s OK. Just be careful in mistaking a lowered output in a session for a lowered supply. 



Copy of Common Breastpump Valves.pngCommon Breastpump Valves (3).png

Like every machine, your pump needs to be maintained. If you have a pump that has a part that looks like either one of these pictures below, you need to change them regularly. These are the components of your pump that generate a vacuum, and if the membrane gets damaged or torn this will impact your pumping output. They are inexpensive to purchase and easy to replace. Replace them monthly or anytime you are getting a less-than-usual pumping output.



The “What If” track that we take ourselves down because of a low output in a pumping session rarely leads anywhere good, and it usually isn’t honest. There are a lot of variables that you may not be able to control that can impact your pumping output - the time of day, where you are in your menstrual cycle, what you are doing just prior to pumping, your pumping environment, your general stress..etc, can all impact your output.


It can be helpful to think of any individual pumping output as just a data point. Then you can feel free to experiment to see what happens when you make changes. It’s important to experiment so you can learn how your body best responds to pumping.

In addition to the strategies described above, you can also experiment with the type of pump you are using. Each pump has a slightly different technique for creating a vacuum, and some women simply respond better to some pumps than others. Reach out to your local lactation consultant - they often have different pumps for you to try so you can experiment.

And finally, there are often situations that are out of our control that may impact our ability to produce milk. Some people simply don’t respond well to pumping and have a hard time letting down to a mechanical baby substitute. Sometimes, we have childcare situations where the amount of milk fed to our babies in a day is a mismatch for the amount of milk we can collect, and no amount of pumping can change that. Sometimes, we have jobs that don’t allow us the flexibility to be able to pump as often as we would like.

Sometimes, we internalize these challenges and equate the amount of milk we can provide to our value as a parent, and that is a lie. You are worth more than the milk you provide. No matter how much or little that is, you are enough. 

If you get stuck or just want to know how to make sure your pump fits you perfectly, get the most milk from your pumping sessions, or how to make pumping more sustainable for you, check out our  Stress-Free Pumping Webinar, and get all the tips and tricks you need to make all your hard work worth the effort. 



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