Increase Your Milk Supply While Pumping

Preemie moms may wonder how to increase their milk supply while pumping.
Cheryl Morrissette

Whether you have a premature baby and need to pump for future feedings or you are simply struggling with a low milk supply, there are a number of things you can do to establish and increase your milk supply.

For premature babies, the NICU staff can feed him your pumped milk in a gavage tube or bottle until your baby grows big enough to breastfeed well. For other moms, you can continue to breastfeed while building your milk supply. The following tips will help you to establish a bountiful milk supply as your baby grows.

Establishing Your Milk Supply

Even if your premature baby is so small that they are only getting a few teaspoons of your pumped milk each day, it's important to establish a good milk supply in the early days. Soon, your baby will be big enough to drink the milk you'll be putting in the freezer.

Pump Often

Remember, breast milk is produced on a supply-and-demand basis. More pumping or more breastfeeding is what creates a plentiful milk supply, so in order to increase your supply, you need to pump often and well. You should strive to pump at least every two to three hours, for 20 minutes at a time, to establish a milk supply.

Select the Right Pump

Many breast pumps sold in stores are designed for occasional use only. These are great for moms of full-term, breastfeeding babies who want to give the occasional bottle. If you're exclusively pumping, though, you need the right pump—a fully automatic, hospital-grade breast pump to establish your milk supply. Ask for one at your baby's hospital. Many times, insurance will cover the rental fees.

Choose the Right Breast Shield

The flange, or breast shield, is the part of the pump that is placed on the breast during a pumping session. Because breasts come in all sizes, breast shields are not one-size-fits-all. So finding the right fit is essential.

For instance, if your nipples rub against the flange's tunnel or if your areola is pulled into the tunnel while you pump, you need a different size flange. Many moms find that their milk supply goes up dramatically when they switch to a breast shield that fits better.

Increasing Your Milk Supply

If you're still struggling to pump enough breast milk to meet your baby's needs, you may wonder what else you can do to increase your milk supply. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to increase your milk supply while pumping on a consistent schedule. Here's an overview of things you can try.

Increase Pumping Sessions

Once your milk supply is established, you can space out your pumping sessions every three to four hours instead of every two to three. But, to increase your supply, step the frequency back up to every two to three hours.

Use Hands-On Pumping

Breast massage, or hands-on pumping, during pumping sessions has been proven to dramatically increase a mom's milk supply. Massage breasts before you pump and while you're pumping for maximum benefit.

Make Sure You're Relaxed

If you're stressed while you're pumping, you'll pump less milk. You may even find your milk supply dwindling if your baby is sick, if you're arguing with your partner, or if you're worried about work or home. Having a baby in the NICU is very stressful, but making sure that you get enough rest, healthy food, and exercise can help you cope with the stress of having a sick baby.

Try Kangaroo Care

The hormones that are released when you hold your baby close can increase your milk supply. If your baby is too small to breastfeed, try kangaroo care. Just holding your baby skin to skin can increase the hormones that affect your milk supply.

Pump in the NICU

If your baby is too sick for kangaroo care, talk to NICU staff about pumping at the bedside. Most NICUs will be happy to provide you with screens and privacy so that you can pump next to your baby, making the most of your mothering hormones to increase your pumped milk supply.

Consider Supplements

If your milk supply still seems low after you feel like you've tried everything, talk to your doctor about herbs or medications to increase your milk supply. But, don't take anything over-the-counter until you have talked to your doctor. Anything you take could pass through your breast milk, and you want to ensure your milk supply is safe for your baby.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Spatz DL, Froh EB, Schwarz J, et al. Pump early, pump often: A continuous quality improvement projectJ Perinat Educ. 2015;24(3):160–170. doi:10.1891/1058-1243.24.3.160

  2. Academy Of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee. ABM clinical protocol #9: use of galactogogues in initiating or augmenting the rate of maternal milk secretion. Breastfeed Med. 2011;6(1):41-9. doi:10.1089/bfm.2011.9998

By Cheryl Bird, RN, BSN
Cheryl Bird, RN, BSN, is a registered nurse in a tertiary level neonatal intensive care unit at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia.