This post may contain affiliate links. Full disclosures here.
How do you know if your breasts are fully empty after pumping?
Not being able to tell if you have fully drained your breasts is not only worrisome, but it can quickly lead to milk supply troubles and serious problems, such as clogs.
In this read, I’m going to share with you some pumping tips and resources that should help you feel more confident about being able to fully empty after you pump.
The Dangers of Not Fully Emptying Your Breasts
Did you know that your breasts are never truly empty of breast milk? This is because your body is always in milk-making mode.
However, it is still important to remove as much sitting breast milk from the breasts as possible.
Having said that, what happens if you aren’t able to fully empty your breasts of breast milk after you pump or breastfeed?
Let’s start with answering that question before we move on to the breast emptying tips and techniques I would like to recommend to you.
Not Fully Emptying Your Breasts Could Lead to Clogs
A clog is no fun and you know what it can lead to, right ladies?
Yep, unfortunately that’s right. Mastitis, the three syllable word all breastfeeding moms fear!
I myself have never suffered from mastitis, but I do know it can be very common and also VERY painful.
I hope you can take away some pumping tips form this section below to avoid this awful breast infection!
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is inflammation of the breasts that cause pain, swelling, redness and sometimes an infection. ❶
Signs and Symptoms:
- Breast tenderness
- Thickening of breast tissue
- Burning Sensation
- Feeling flu-like symptoms
- Clogged Milk Duct
Mastitis can be caused by backed up breast milk that sits too long in the milk ducts, causing a nasty clog that lead to an infection. ❶
Bacteria can enter the milk ducts through contact with baby’s mouth, pump parts, and not fully emptying breasts leading to a breeding ground for bacterial growth.
How do I Prevent Myself from Getting Clogs while Breastfeeding?
- Fully drain the breast milk from your breasts.
- If nursing, allow your baby to drain one breast before switching and make sure your baby is latching on properly.
- Use lactation tools like these from LaVie (shop the link for 10% OFF, no email required) to help loosen and warm sticky milk ducts.
- Sunflower Lecithin (find it here at Amazon) can be taken and is thought to help keep milk ducts lubed to help them drain with more ease.
Now that we’ve covered what can go wrong by failing to fully drain your breasts properly, let’s jump into the other pumping tips I promised to share with you today!
How to Know When My Breast is Empty When Pumping?
Let’s first make some notes on how to tell if your breasts are empty when pumping.
It is important to note that there is a difference between breasts feeling full due to sitting milk versus breast tissue that may be inflamed.
Be sure to evaluate that carefully before you attempt an aggressive routine of trying to drain them further.
The Signs of Empty Breasts
- Your breasts will feel flat and flaccid (floppy).
- It has been over 10-15 minutes since your last letdown and the milk has stopped flowing.
- Hand expressing is getting little to nothing extra out.
How to Initiate a Letdown
As bulleted above, the lack of letdowns while pumping is usually a pretty good indication that you have successfully removed the most amount of breast milk from your breasts during a pumping session.
Here are some ways you can initiate a letdown:
- Breast and nipple stimulation.
- Hearing, seeing or smelling baby.
- Breast massage.
- Heat and vibration using a lactation tool like this one from LaVie (use code LOVEOURLITTLES10 for 10% OFF!).
11 Tips to Help Fully Empty Breasts with Pump
In this section, we’ll address each tip thoroughly to help you best empty your breasts with a pump.
I was able to come up with these tips based on the expertise of many exclusively pumping moms, as well as my own experience.
1. Hand Express while Pumping
This tip is a must learned skill for pumping moms! A good pump can do a lot of the work for you, but sometimes they still need our assistance.
Hand expressing is a superb way of manually forcing breast milk out of sticky and stubborn milk ducts.
It is a good idea to always massage while pumping and finish with hand expressing.
In fact, using a breast massaging tool like the LaVie Lactation Massager will help make this task much easier.
This is a good place to recommend the added help and expertise of an online course that will guide you through all of these pumping techniques.
Milkology’s course, The Ultimate Exclusive Pumping Class is where I would recommend you begin building up your pumping and lactation confidence.
PSSST… If you enroll in this course through the link provided, I’ll send you my First Steps to Pumping Success Course for free! Contact me once you have successfully enrolled and I’ll do the rest!
How to Hand Express while Pumping
To use this tip to ensure you are fully emptying, simply apply massaging pressure and work your way down your breasts toward the nipple as you pump.
I find that this method works best if you are pumping one breast at a time without a pumping bra getting in the way.
2. Use A Manual Breast Pump
The usefulness of a manual breast pump is sometimes overlooked, but don’t disregard it as an afterthought.
A manual breast pump is actually really good at getting out clogs too!
If you feel like you may still be full after the use of your everyday pump, bust out the manual pump for a few minutes and see what happens!
3. Change Positions of the Flange
This is a really effective pumping tip when you see milk ceasing to flow, but you think you could still drain your breasts some more.
Simply begin to move the flange around your breasts and apply tension to different sides where you feel like you could possibly pump more milk from.
I can attest to this tip, as it worked every time for me and I could not go a pumping session without performing it.
4. Dangle Pump
What is dangle pumping?
Dangle pumping is pretty much as it sounds.
To perform, you literally dangle the flange from your breasts as you pump – using gravity to help further empty the breasts or to achieve another letdown.
This technique takes some practice, but once you have it mastered, it will be one of your favorite tools in your pumping tool box to use!
5. Add Heat
Using moist heat especially, helps to loosen up the milk ducts and create a smoother flow.
You can use warming lactation massagers, a warm moist wash cloth or take a hot shower.
Remember to pump directly after using heat for maximum results.
6. Try Different Pump Settings
You may want to experiment with your pump’s settings to see if switching things up will help you have more letdowns and in turn pump out more milk.
As an example, most breast pumps have a “suckling mode” which mimics a baby’s nursing motion (like these Liquid Shield Kits from Pumpables).
This setting can help you achieve multiple letdowns by returning to it after milk has stopped flowing.
7. Nurse On One Breast Until Breasts Empty
If you are nursing, let your baby fully drain one breast before offering the other.
Your baby’s ability to empty your breasts is more effective than any other method or tool. After all, that is what they were designed for!
Have you noticed when a newborn latches, it’s like lock jaw?
I almost thought I could have stood up, let go and she would have still been attached me! OUCH!
Another tip for new moms hoping to breastfeed is to grab your seat in the BEST online breastfeeding course there is!
The Ultimate Breastfeeding Class is a first time mom’s must-have milk supply and breastfeeding guide!
P.S. Also get my regularly updated pumping and milk supply course for FREE when you enroll in The Ultimate Breastfeeding Class today!
Contact me when you finish your enrollment and I’ll send you the other course straight to your inbox, quick and easy!
8. Try Sunflower Lecithin
I’ve written about the power of sunflower lecithin a lot of times before, but that’s because it really was a game changer for me! It came in especially handy when I was in the process of weaning from the pump.
It’s not uncommon for milk to become a little sticky at times. This could be a result of your breastfeeding diet or hormonal changes.
Sunflower Lecithin (linked at Amazon) helps to prevent sticky milk ducts that can make it hard for breast milk to flow as easily.
Always consult with your doctor before taking any type of supplements or medications while breastfeeding.
9. Dry Your Pump Parts
While pumping, it’s normal that your flanges will begin to accumulate some moisture.
If you notice the seal between your breasts and flange isn’t quite solid and there is a loss of suction, try wiping down the insides of the flanges and start again.
I had to regularly do this throughout my entire pumping sessions. It’s a super simple task that can have a big impact!
My pumping course (free when you purchase any course from this list) has a complete guide with printables on how to properly clean and care for all of your pumping parts and equipment.
This information is so nice to know without having to scourer the whole internet looking for it or doing it wrong and leaving room for common, but potentially dangers pumping mistakes!
10. Change Your Breast Pump Parts
If you are not fully emptying during your pumping session, your breast pump parts may be causing the problem.
You should be changing out your pump’s parts regularly to keep your breast pump performing optimally
11. Do You Need A More Powerful Pump?
If you are consistently changing your pump parts, but are still having a hard time feeling fully empty when you pump, it may be that your breast pump is not performing up to par.
To help you determine if you are missing out on a better milk supply, see this breast pump buying guide with pumps for every occasion and need.
You may be using the wrong breast pump!
A powerful pump doesn’t have to mean a big pump either!
If you are looking for a compact, quiet and extremely powerful pump, you must check out the BabyBuddha! This little portable breast pump is my top recommendation.
You can shop for the BabyBuddha at LaVie with a 10% discount using the code LOVEOURLITTLES10!
If you haven’t yet, you should be applying for a free breast pump and supplies through insurance.
It’s a quick and easy process that could save you big money!
Final Words on How to Fully Empty Breasts
In summary, fully emptying your breasts must be dealt with after every feeding or pumping session.
Not doing so often enough can potentially lead to a serious breast infection.
To check if you have properly emptied your breasts, feel for any remaining fullness.
Finally, try out the pumping tips I suggested and do them often.
Not only will these practices keep you from acquiring an infection, but regularly performing them may help you improve your milk supply.
Here’s one last look at those tips:
- Hand express while pumping
- Use A Manual Breast Pump
- Change positions of the flange
- Dangle pump
- Add heat
- Nurse on one side until empty before switching
- Supplements can help
- Dry your pump parts off
- Change your pump parts
Once again, I want to remind you to head over to Milkology and take a look at the wonderful resources they have for breastfeeding and pumping moms.