Increase Your Milk Supply While Pumping

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

If your baby was premature, you may need to use a breast pump to establish and maintain your milk supply. Until your baby grows big enough to breastfeed well, NICU staff can feed him your pumped milk in a gavage tube or bottle. The following tips will help you to establish a bountiful milk supply while pumping and increase your milk supply as your baby grows.

Establishing Your Milk Supply While Pumping

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

  • Pump often and Well: Breast milk is produced on a supply and demand basis. So, more pumping or more breastfeeding creates a more plentiful milk supply. Moms should pump at least every 2 to 3 hours, for 20 minutes at a time, to establish a milk supply.
  • Choose 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 a fully automatic, hospital-grade breast pump to establish your milk supply. Ask for one at your baby's hospital; insurance should 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. 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 aren't pumping enough breast milk to meet your baby's needs, you may wonder how to increase your milk supply. First, check the basics. Make sure that you're following the above tips on establishing a milk supply -- are you pumping often enough, for long enough, and using the correct breast pump and breast shield? If so, then the following tips may help you to pump more milk.

Read More: How Much Milk Should I Pump?

  • Increase Pumping Sessions: Once your milk supply is established, you can space out your pumping sessions every 3 to 4 hours instead of every 2 to 3. To increase your supply, step the frequency back up to every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Use Hands-On Pumping: Breast massage 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.
  • Relax! If you're stressed, you'll pump less milk. You may 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 Herbs or Medications: 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.
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Article Sources
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  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. American Academy of Pediatrics. Providing Breastmilk for Premature and Ill Newborns. Updated November 2, 2009.

  3. Academy Of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee. ABM Clinical Protocol #9: Use of galactogogues in initiating or augmenting the rate of maternal milk secretion (First Revision January 2011). Breastfeed Med. 2011;6(1):41-9. doi:10.1089/bfm.2011.9998

Additional Reading
  • Mohrbacher, N and Stock, J. The Breastfeeding Answer Book, 3rd Revised Edition. January, 2003; La Leche League International, Schaumburg, IL.

  • Hurst, N. "The 3 M's of Breast-feeding the Preterm Infant." J Perinat Neonat Nurs July-Sept 2007. 21; 234-239.