Understand the importance of the letdown reflex, optimize your pumping routine, and explore tips for boosting milk supply in this insightful guide.
It’s normal to feel anxious about how much milk you are expressing but we need to remember that our body responds differently to a breast pump, even a high-quality electric breast pump than it does to a baby. It’s not a reflection on your milk supply but your ability to trick the body into releasing milk into the pump.
If you get less than 10ml, perhaps you didn’t manage to get a ‘letdown reflex’, otherwise known as the milk ejection reflex. This is when the body releases Oxytocin that squeezes the muscles around the milk storage areas and widens your milk ducts to help the milk flow. Let down is key to expressing and if you don’t achieve it, you will only get small drops of milk, which can be upsetting and frustration. You can help the letdown reflex by:
Massaging your breasts before a session
Applying warm compresses to your breasts
Trying after a shower or bath
Using visualisation or meditation techniques
Are you using the right breast shell size? Are you perhaps pressing the shell into the breast too hard? Or perhaps too lightly and not making a correct seal around the breast?
Pumping volume will also depend on when you are expressing. You may get more milk at particular times of day. If you pump soon after a feed, when the breast is emptier but does contain higher fat content milk, you may get less out but you will be sending useful signals to your supply and the small amounts of higher fat content milk can be valuable if you are supplementing your baby.
You can stimulate your supply by pumping more frequently, particularly if you have a smaller storage capacity. You shouldn’t need to pump for longer than 10-20 minutes. Don’t be tempted to think that a fuller uncomfortable breast is what we are waiting for, after a while that may reduce your supply. The first time you pump on a very full breast you may feel like you get loads and be tempted to try waiting again but over time this will send signals to slow milk production. You could also be at greater risk of blocked ducts and mastitis.
If you are worried, contact Ardo or your local breastfeeding supporters, or a breastfeeding helpline can give you further information.