Let-down is a reflex that occurs when the hormone oxytocin is released in the body. This release often happens when the nipples are stimulated either by a baby’s suckling or a breast pump, but may also occur when a mom thinks of nursing or hears a baby crying. Oxytocin causes contractions of the milk glands, which expresses milk into the milk ducts. Some mothers experience a slight tingling, pressure, pain, or discomfort during letdown. While others report not feeling anything at all.
Achieving a good let-down while pumping is important because it ensures that your breasts are being emptied. However, it is possible for the let-down reflex to be hindered. Let-down may not be achieved for several reasons including stress, fatigue, tension, pain and even being cold.
For many moms recreating the experience of cuddling with their babies while nursing can help to trigger let-down while pumping. The following techniques can help you to encourage let-down while using a breast pump to express your milk.
Thinking about your baby – Keep photos, recorded sounds, and items with your baby’s scent near you. Having these items around while pumping can trigger let-down and help you focus on the reason why you are pumping.
Taking a warm bath or shower – This can help to get your milk flowing, but often it isn’t very practical. Instead, consider applying warm compresses on your breasts prior to pumping to achieve the same effect.
Gentle, manual stimulation – Massaging or squeezing your breasts gently can help to get your milk flowing. Additional nipple stimulation (other than from the pump) can help you achieve let-down.
Realign the breast flanges – After you have been pumping for a few minutes, slighting rearranging the flanges and continuing to pump will help stimulate other glands and increase your milk output.
Try to relax as much as possible – Taking deep breaths can help you to relax. Listening to soothing music. Sitting in a comfortable chair. Enjoy a beverage while you pump.
Many pumping moms find that these techniques are easier to use when they pump one breast at a time or are able to pump hands free. Hands-free pumping bras that hold the pump breast flanges in place provide an easy way to free up your hands while pumping. These types of bras can be purchased or made by cutting slits in an older bra.
For more techniques and tips on pumping read Using Your Breast Pump. If you experience let-down problems while pumping, consider meeting face to face with a lactation consultant. She will be able to evaluate your technique and offer suggestions specific to your situation. To find a lactation consultant in your area, visit the ILCA website.
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