Why Pumping Isn't the Same as Breastfeeding
Nook Blog

Why Pumping Isn't the Same as Breastfeeding

EXPERT ADVICE


A lot of moms really struggle to keep up with their babies when they have to pump. This is because our bodies respond differently to pumps than they do to nursing babies. Here are a few things you can do to make your pumping output more productive:

  1. Make sure you have the correct flange sizes
  2. Replace old breast pumps
  3. Stay hydrated and keep healthy carbohydrates as a part of your diet
  4. Look at photos or videos of your baby while you pump
  5. Compress your breast while you pump
  6. Use MilkSavers to capture milk letdowns from the other side while you pump
  7. Get plenty of sleep and remember to relax
  8. Try cluster pumping
  9. Pump for at least 15 minutes per side

Working mothers face a unique challenge that can hinder their ability to nurse long term: they don’t always get the same amount of milk from a pump as they do from nursing.

For women who spend extended periods of time away from their babies, whether for work or a NICU stay, maintaining a milk supply without nursing a baby can be incredibly challenging. If this is you, rest assured, it’s not just your imagination: Most women don’t get as much milk from a breast pump as their babies do from nursing.

Women’s bodies respond differently to babies versus pumps, and it can have a huge impact on your ability to nurse long term. It’s important to give yourself a break, because oh my GOSH is this hard, and to do what you can to help your body respond as well to the pump as it does to your baby.

Luckily, there are a few tricks you can use to ensure your supply is able to keep up with baby’s hunger — read on to up your pumping game.

#1 - Check Your Flange Sizes

The wide pieces that cover your nipples during a pumping session are known as flanges, and having the incorrect size can be detrimental to how much milk you get when you pump. Your nipple isn’t properly positioned, so the pump can’t work effectively.

Also, ouch . A poorly fitting flange can lead to some seriously sore nipples. Check your pump’s manual and review the positioning diagrams, and when in doubt — order another set to try out.

#2 - Drink Plenty of Water

Surprisingly, studies show that moms’ bodies are so amazing that we can continue to produce milk on even the most minimal diets (albeit nutritionally different). However, one thing we absolutely cannot produce milk without is water.

Drink TONS of it. Even if you’re hitting your 64 ounces a day, if you’re still thirsty, keep going — making milk uses a lot of water, and you need to stay hydrated to keep up.

#3 - Keep Carbs in the Picture

Low-carb diets may have their place, but it’s generally not in a pumping mom’s diet. It’s not impossible, but it is tough to follow a low-carb diet and maintain a healthy milk supply, especially if you’re pumping.

If you want to reduce complex carbohydrates in your diet, do so by swapping in whole food carbs in their place, such as sweet potatoes and quinoa.

#4 - Try Galactagogues

Galactagogues are foods that help you increase your milk supply (and yes, they actually work). Most mothers don’t need the help of a galactagogue — breastfeeding is primarily a supply and demand game.

If you’re struggling to maintain your supply when relying primarily on your pump, these foods can help you keep up with baby’s appetite:

  • Oatmeal
  • Brewer’s Yeast
  • Coconut oil
  • Nuts
  • Lentils
  • Fenugreek seeds
  • Spinach, kale, and other dark leafy greens
  • Fennel

As with any dietary change, particularly when it comes to breastfeeding mothers, always consult with your doctor before introducing a galactagogue — an oversupply is a problem that can quickly get out of hand.

#5 - Look at Your Baby While You Pump

Looking at babies while we nurse them actually tells our brains to make more milk. It releases serotonin, makes us feel all warm and full of love, and creates the chemical process necessary for a letdown much quicker than what you’re likely to get with a pump.

To compromise, get a sense of your baby while you pump — smell his clothes, look at a photo of him — anything you can do to trick your brain into thinking you’re nursing, not pumping.

#6 - Upgrade Your Pump

This is the simplest problem to solve, even if it can be the most expensive. An old pump can have a weak motor, parts can need replacing, and some pumps just aren’t as effective as others for moms. If your pump is brand new, consider renting a hospital grade breast pump (check your local hospital) and seeing if there’s a difference in your output.

#7 - Try Breast Compression

Sometimes you just need to help the milk get moving. While you pump, gently massage and compress your breast to help your milk ducts move a little faster.


Women’s bodies respond differently to babies versus pumps, and it can have a huge impact on your ability to nurse long term. It’s important to give yourself a break.

#8 - Capture Leaky Letdowns From the Other Side

Most women experience two letdowns at the same time — pumping or nursing from one side usually means leaking from the other. Instead of letting all of that milk go to waste, either pump both breasts at once or use a milk capturing “pad” during pumping and nursing sessions, like Milk Savers .

#9 - Hormones Play a Role

Sometimes your milk output can be impacted by your hormonal chemistry. If you’re pregnant, you’re likely to experience a dip in supply. Your milk’s taste can even change and trigger a nursing strike from your baby!

Ovulation and menstruation also trigger hormonal changes that can impact supply. Keep an eye on the calendar and plan to use other milk-stimulating strategies during these times.

#10 - Get More Sleep

A well-rested mom has been shown to produce significantly more milk than a sleep deprived one. It may be easier said than done when you have a baby to care for, but do whatever you have to do to get as much high-quality sleep as possible. Safe co-sleeping can be a lifesaver for nursing moms and can help pumping moms struggling with supply to get caught back up.

#11 - Baby Say RELAX

Stress also inhibits the production of milk. If you’re constantly tense, tired, and edgy, it’s time to take a step back from the housework and your inbox and take care of YOU. Turn off your phone and spend a day (or three) in bed with your baby and your organic nursing pillow if you’re struggling to pump enough for baby.

#12 - Nurse More

Cue the eyeroll, right?

It’s true though, breastfeeding is 100% a supply and demand game. If you’re struggling to keep up with the supply, it helps to have more of it easily available. Give your baby a few extra nursing sessions to ask your body to produce more milk and use the pump to capture it.

It’s a cyclical process, and one that takes a bit of balancing between nursing and bottle feeds to land somewhere between supplementing with formula and engorged breasts. Take it slowly at first, and it can be hugely helpful — there’s no one better at placing an order for more breastmilk with your body than your baby.

#13 - Try Cluster Pumping

Babies do something when they’re experiencing a growth spurt, get sick, or are building some new developmental skills. It’s called cluster feeding, and ask any nursing mother — it can be exhausting.

It’s also great for your supply though. Newborns often go through an intense period of cluster feeding to ask mom’s body to pick up the pace on the supply. It’s a survival instinct, and it works like a charm.

You can mimic this process by pumping multiple times per day in rapid succession for short periods of time. Don’t overdo it and make your nipples sore, or you may need to reduce your pumping time to compensate. Even if you do that though, the act of pumping more frequently instead of longer can be great for kicking your milk production up a notch.

#14 - Make Sure You’re Pumping Long Enough

On the flip side, if you’re pumping a standard schedule for the number of feedings you’re missing with baby, make sure that you’re pumping long enough — at least 15 minutes per side.

If by five minutes in your nipples are screaming in pain, it’s time to look for possible causes. Check your flange sizes, adjust the power of your pump, but do whatever you can to adjust and drag those sessions out longer.

Do you have any secret tips and tricks for getting more out of your pumping sessions? Share them with us and other readers in the comments below?

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