Helping Your Breasts Let Down to a Breast Pump

By: Amy Peterson, BS, IBCLC of BreastandBottlefeeding.com Wednesday, 08 September 2021 05:00 PM Let Down to a Breast Pump

Some moms can attach a breast pump, turn it on, and express milk easily. But for many moms, it takes time for their breasts to become accustomed to the feel of the pump allowing them to release milk easily. Let’s look at why this is so common first, followed by what to do about it.

When your baby latches, his sucking sends a message to your brain to release prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin helps your breasts make milk. Oxytocin pushes the milk out of your breasts (letdown).

The stimulation of sucking is only one aspect of oxytocin release. Oxytocin is also released from seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and thinking about your baby. This makes sense. All of these things happen when you breastfeed your baby.

Pumping is different. Pumping lacks skin-to-skin contact. The sight, sound, and smell of a breast pump are very different than a baby. Harnessing some of these senses can help your body let down to the pump more easily.

You can encourage your breasts to release milk (let down) by following these steps:

  1. Massage your breasts for about a minute. Using the palms of your hands and fingers, rub the sides, top, and bottom of your breasts. The goal here is to provide skin-to-skin contact. You can switch to small, circular massages part way through if you’d like.
  2. Hand express a bit of milk before you attach the pump. This step is like “priming the pump.” Continue hand expression until you get milk with each compression 4 or 5 times.
  3. Attach the flanges, centering your nipples, and turn the pump on. The speed should be on the highest setting, and suction should be on the lowest setting—this setting is called the stimulation phase. Use this setting for 1 ½ - 2 minutes. Research shows that most moms will let down to a pump after 1 ½ - 2 minutes of pumping with a stimulation phase.
  4. Adjust the settings on your pump to increase suction and decrease cycles.
  5. If your milk seems to be flowing slowly, try massaging your breasts with a circular motion while you pump.

  6. Following these steps will help most moms letdown to their pump. But a few moms may still have difficulty. If this is you, here are some more ideas that may help:


  7. Smell something your baby has worn recently. Look at pictures and videos of your baby (if he is not with you). Smell, sight, and sound all support oxytocin release.
  8. Apply warmth to your breasts prior to pumping. Warmth does not directly stimulate oxytocin but does support milk flow for other reasons.
  9. Use hand expression until you get a good ½ - 1 ounce of milk, then attach the pump.
  10. Set up the pump as a single pump until your body gets the hang of letting down. This allows you to have a hand free for massage and adjusting your pump more easily.
  11. Do you have a manual pump? If so, use your manual pump to stimulate a letdown, then switch to the electric pump.

Lastly, be patient with yourself while your body is learning. Stress inhibits the release of oxytocin.


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