More let-downs means more milk and THAT is what we’ll be focusing on today, ways to help you encourage a let-down (or multiple) when pumping.
What is a Let-down?
According to the English definition, a let-down (with the hyphen) means: The release of milk in a nursing mother or a lactating animal.
To further elaborate on that and add some real life commentary, a let-down is also when you feel pins and needles bubbling up in your chest. This pins and needles sensation is a common description used by nursing mothers to describe what a let-down feels like. For some women, a let-down might even be painful.
It only takes one time having a let-down and you will always remember that feeling.
7 Ways to Encourage a Let-down
If you are a beginner at pumping breast milk, figuring how to get your milk to let-down with a breast pump can be a bit of a learning curve.
After all, a breast pump is not a suckling baby. However, there are some simple things you can do to help encourage a let-down when pumping. Soon enough, your body will adapt to the pump and your let-down will happen without much effort or thought on your part.
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This is probably an obvious tip and that’s why it’s number one on the list. It also needs to be reiterated because pumping is sometimes the opposite of relaxing.
This is especially true for those of you who are new to pumping. Or, when you find yourself having to pump at work or in public for the first time.
Still, the best way to initiate a let-down is to RELAX and here are some ways you can do that:
- Cozy up in a comfortable spot and keep yourself warm.
- Try visualizing your baby. Look at photos of him or her and/or watch a video.
- Take deep breaths. Plug in a diffuser with your favorite soothing essential oil, like Lavender.
2. Massage and Vibration
You can use lactation tools that administer massage and vibration to your breasts before or even during a pumping session to help you stimulate a let-down. I would recommend these warming lactation massage pads that can be placed right into your pumping bra while you pump.
There are many benefits to using lactation tools beyond helping you achieve a milk let-down. Lactation tools can also ward off clogs that lead to breast infections. They can also promote an increase in milk supply by helping you fully empty your breasts when pumping.
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3. Pump Speed and Suction
When using a breast pump to stimulate a let-down, it is most effective to as closely mimic a baby’s natural nursing rhythms. Which usually involves quick and shallow suckling motions at the beginning to bring the milk down and then deeper and slower swallows once milk is flowing.
You can recreate these motions with your breast pump using similar speed and suction modes. Most breast pumps have a stimulate mode and a let-down. For instance, the best Spectra settings for a newborn are as follows:
- Start in massage mode – cycle 70 / vacuum 1 and increase the vacuum every couple of minutes until milk flows (stopping if there is any discomfort). This is to simulate a suckling baby at the beginning of a feed.
- Once milk begins to flow, push the 3-wave button to switch to expression mode. This is the let-down mode and simulates how a baby would begin to swallow more deeply once milk is freely flowing.
Sometimes, our own touch can create the perfect amount of breast tissue stimulation needed in order to trigger a let-down. Breast massage can be done prior to pumping, during and even after as well. Hands-on pumping has also been shown to help lactating mothers produce more milk.
A massaging lactation tool like this one can also be used in place of your hands with the Marmet Technique shown below.
Heat is soothing and because of that, it has the magical ability of relaxing our sometimes tense muscles. Many women find that a warm compress on the breasts, a hot shower or bath will help them have a milk let-down.
Likewise, you can achieve the most impact with a lactation tool that warms and massages at the same time. Place these warming lactation massage pads in your pumping bra before and during a session.
6. Emotional Triggers
The hormone Oxytocin is responsible for pushing out/”letting down” your milk. Oxytocin can be released when you see, smell or feel your baby. Whether you are exclusively pumping or not, keep your baby close by to help you achieve a let-down.
Or, look at photos and videos of your baby – snuggle some clothing items that smell like them as well. Believe it or not, but these simple tips can be tremendously effective.
6. Flange Fit
A common pumping mistake new moms make is wearing a poor fitting breast shield, also known as a flange. It can’t be stressed enough how important a proper fitting flange is when it comes to having success at pumping breast milk.
A mother using a loose fitting flange while pumping may experience little to no milk output with a gradual decrease in milk supply all together due to low milk volume removal.
On the other end of the equation, a too tight fitting flange can lead to breast tissue damage and also inefficient milk removal. In order to achieve let-down while pumping, a proper fitting flange is essential.
See the visual diagram below to get a feel for how a proper fitting flange should look:
While a poorly fitting flange can make it hard to have a let-down – using an insert in your flange that closely simulates a suckling baby could help tremendously!
Thankfully, you can purchase liquid shield kits with inserts that were designed to feel like and mimic a baby’s mouth as they nurse.
Because these inserts are similar to the motion of a nursing baby, they do an amazing job at helping you achieve let-down while pumping.
7. More Stimualtion
A let-down is triggered through the stimulation of nerves in the breasts. These nerves then send signals to the brain to release the hormones Prolactin and Oxytocin, which are responsible for the production and the release of breast milk. ①
Double pumping may help increase stimulation, making it easier to achieve a milk let-down.
How to get Multiple Let-Downs Pumping
By now, maybe you’ve pretty much figured out how to get that first let-down, but you’ve also heard other moms getting 2, 3 or even more let-downs in one pumping session and you’d like the secret too!
In fact, there might be many more secrets about pumping you’d like access to! If that’s the case, I would recommend you register yourself in the best online exclusive pumping class I know of, find it here!
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Second Let-down Pump Settings:
- Start in let-down mode and run the cycle for 2 minutes. Most breast pumps have an automatic let-down cycle built in. I recommend using a Spectra, apply to get one free here!
- If you have another let-down, pump for 6-7 minutes after the let-down cycle is over.
- Hit the let-down button again and pump for another 6-7 minutes.
- You can do this as many times as you would like, but give yourself a 5 minute break between cycles.
Dangle pumping is a great method for relieving clogged milk ducts. However, I also found it to work wonders by helping me trigger multiple let-downs while pumping.
To perform dangle pumping, just point your breasts to the floor with the pump attached and on. It’s that simple!
Adding gravity to suction is what does the trick!
Wipe and Repeat
When I was exclusively pumping and wanted to have more than one let-down and pump more milk during a single pumping session, I would always do this next tip.
After my first let-down and once milk had stopped flowing, I would simply stop pumping and wipe down the inside of my breast shield with a clean, dry towel and then resume pumping.
Within moments, another let-down and MORE MILK!
I believe this worked so well because my flange would unavoidably build up with droplets of milk. This added lubrication would decrease the seal between breast and breast shield, resulting in decreased suction.
Now, this may or may not happen to you, but I thought it was worth throwing in regardless.
Once you’ve had your first let-down and milk has stopped flowing, you can make an attempt at a second let-down by hand expressing and here’s how:
- Unhook from the pump and wait 5 minutes.
- After 5 minutes, begin the hand expression. Hold your breast in a C shape and gently squeeze from the top of your breast towards your nipple, but do not squeeze your nipple as this can result in them becoming sore.
- Once you feel a second let-down happening, resume pumping to further pull out as much breast milk as possible.
How Many Let-downs Should You get per Pumping Session?
Many mothers claim they can release up to 3 let-downs in a single pumping session using many of the let-down pumping hacks listed above.
To give you an estimated time frame on how long it takes to get a second let-down pumping – most women say it takes them around 30 minutes. However, this is a rough time frame of events, it could look completely different for you.
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No Let-down When Pumping?
What happens if you just can’t get a let-down when pumping or it seems very slow? What does it mean if hardly any milk comes out when pumping?
There are reasons a let-down may be inhibited. Sometimes, it is totally normal to experience these things when pumping versus nursing at the breast. Still, there are some reasons a let-down could be repressed and here are some:
- Emotions: Anxiety, pain, stress, cold and depression
- Substances: Caffeine, smoking, alcohol, some medications and recreational drugs.
- Breast damage: Women who have had breast surgery may have nerve damage that could inhibit let-down.
- Parts need changed: If your breast pump parts have degraded from regular use, you may need to change them in order to get your breast pump functioning efficiently again.
- Try different pump settings: Your pump settings may not be stimulating the nerves in your breasts enough in order to trigger a let-down reflex. Make sure you are starting your pumping session at a comfortable high speed, low suction cycle.
To summarize, a let-down is the release of milk in a lactating mother. A let-down is described to feel like pins and needles and can sometimes even be painful. This benefits of multiple let-downs can include an increase in milk supply, emptier breasts more often and therefore more fat in your breast milk.
You can encourage a let-down through many different means, a couple of the most important ways being relaxation and breast stimulation.
A let-down can likewise be inhibited through the use of strong substances and emotional distress. Sometimes, it’s harder to achieve a let-down when pumping versus nursing and this is totally normal.