Breastfeeding A to Z

Getting The Most Breastmilk–Enhancing Let Down

It takes a baby about a minute to get your milk to let down. With a pump it can take upwards of 4 minutes. (1)

Lots of things can get in the way of pumping breast milk: fatigue, pain, tension, fear of failure, anxiety. All these things can block the responses your body requires for your milk to let down. (1)(2)

Ways to enhance the process of getting your milk to let down:

If your baby is available:

  • Have them nurse on one side, pump the other. Or have them get the let-down started and continue pumping. If they are willing to be stopped.
  • Looking at them, hearing the sounds they make, smelling them, touching them, can all assist in getting your milk to let down.

If you aren’t with your baby you can try to utilize all your senses and some imagery to get the milk let-down started.

  • Imagine a waterfall, imagine you’re with your baby, how they smell, sound, look, feel. Utilize a picture or video of them on your phone.  With sound can be especially helpful.
  • Focus all your senses on thinking about your baby. (2)
  • Smell and/or hold a piece of your baby’s clothing or blanket. while you’re pumping.
  • Try to be relaxed and unhurried when pumping—not easy, but pretend!
  • Use Lamaze breathing or other relaxation techniques. (2) Try a meditation mantra or relaxing music.
  • Minimal distraction and a warm environment can help too. (2)
  • Sometimes it can be something you wouldn’t expect. True story—a mother noticed when a certain friend kept her company while she was pumping, just talking while this mom pumped, she got twice as much milk as when the friend didn’t join her. Things that relax you can make a BIG difference.

In either situation with/without your baby, you can use warm compresses, take a warm shower and/or use breast massage. Try massaging from the chest wall towards the nipple, using finger-tips to make small circles, moving to a new area of breast every few seconds. Go around the entire breast. The pressure and motion are similar to doing a breast exam. (2)

Realize, the amount of milk you pump is not necessarily the amount your baby is receiving. It is simply the amount you were able to pump in those particular circumstances.



  1. Mannel, R, Marten, PJ, Walker, M, Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice, 3rd edition, Burlington, MA, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2013, p 628.
  2. Mohrbacher, N, Stock, J, La Leche League International The Breastfeeding Answer Book, 3rd Revised Edition, Schaumburg, IL, La Leche League International, Jan 2003, pp 43, 213-15, 217, 244.