Breast pumps are a breastfeeding mother’s best friend and, at times, worst enemy. There are times when a breast pump may stop working or not be as effective as it once was. When this happens, you may notice that your breasts are not responding to the pump anymore. This can be incredibly frustrating especially for working moms and/or exclusively pumping mamas. If you find yourself in this situation, there are several things you can do to troubleshoot the issue and get your breast pump working again.
How do I get my breasts to respond to pumping?
There are a variety of reasons why you may find that your breasts are not responding to a pump anymore. In most instances, you can find the problem and remedy it to get your milk supply back. We’ve outlined several of the most common reasons this happens below. Keep in mind that you may need to try several of the options to find what works for you. Every mom’s breastfeeding and pumping journey is different so what works for one mom may not work for another.
Related article: When To Stop Sending Breast Milk to Daycare
Why is my body not responding to a breast pump?
Milk production is about supply and demand. The root cause of your breasts not responding to the pump anymore likely has to do with how you are demanding (i.e. pumping) milk. The issue could be that something is wrong with your pump which is interfering with your body’s signal to produce milk. Or it could be you aren’t pumping enough. It may be trial and error at first, but most of the moms we know are able to get their milk supply back by addressing the below issues:
1. Check the Breast Pump
The first thing you should do if your body is not responding to your pump anymore is to check the pump itself. Make sure that all the parts are assembled correctly and that the pump is clean and free from debris. Check the tubing for any cracks or leaks, as this can cause a loss of suction. If you are using a corded breast pump, make sure your electrical cord is in good condition. Read through our article Breast Pump Not Working? Here’s 5 Troubleshooting Tips to Try to see if there are any other issues with the pump itself.
Related article: One Breast Producing Less Milk Than The Other? Mine, Too!
2. Replace Breast Pump Parts – Most Common Reason Breasts Are Not Responding to Pump Anymore
It’s recommended that you replace some of your breast pump parts on a regular basis. You may also find that there is an issue with one of the parts of your pump and it needs changing. Common parts that need to be replaced include the valves and membranes. These parts can wear out over time and need to be replaced periodically to ensure that the pump is working correctly. See our article How Often To Replace Pump Parts – Everything You Need to Know for a complete run down on what you need to replace and how often to do so.
You may also need to adjust the breast pump flange size that you are using. If you’ve never measured the size of your nipple and determined the correct flange size you should be using, you may need to do so. Pumping with the wrong flange size can lead to nipple damage and may be why you are no longer responding to the pump. Check out our article on Determining Your Correct Flange Size (So Pumping Doesn’t Hurt!) for more help with this.
Related article: Does Flange Size Affect Milk Output? Yes, Here’s How.
3. Adjust the Suction Level of the Breast Pump
Sometimes the suction on a breast pump may not be strong enough to effectively express milk. If this is the case, you may need to adjust the suction level on the pump. Most pumps come with adjustable suction settings that allow you to increase or decrease the strength and/or frequency of the suction. If you’ve used the same suction levels for several months and your breasts are not responding to the pump anymore, try increasing the suction strength and/or frequency.
Breast pump suction can wane over time. The suction power of a breast pump is generated by the motor, which can become weaker over time due to wear and tear. If the motor of the pump has been used extensively, it may not be as powerful as it once was, which can also result in a decrease in suction power.
This is especially true for moms who are using a breast pump from a previous baby or a hand me down breast pump. You are entitled to a free breast pump for every pregnancy through your insurance provider. If you didn’t get a new breast pump and are using an older pump, it may be time to order a new one. See our article on How to Quickly & Easily Get a Breast Pump for Free for instructions on how to do so (even if you’ve already had your baby). You can also click the banner at the right (or at the bottom if you’re reading this on your phone) that says ‘Free Breast Pump’. That will take you to our medical equipment partner, Aeroflow, who can send you a breast pump for free.
Related article: BeauGen Cushions for Pumping: What Exactly Are They? Do I Need Them?
4. Try a Different Breast Pump
If you have tried all of the above and are still having issues with your breast pump, you may need to try a different pump. Not all pumps are created equal, and what works for one mom may not work for another. Consider trying a different brand or type of pump to see if that makes a difference. See our article on The Top 3 Breast Pumps for Working Moms if you need help picking out a new one.
Trying a different breast pump is especially true if you are using a wearable breast pump. Wearable breast pumps, such as the Willow breast pump, take some adjusting and getting used to. If your breasts are not responding to the pump anymore after switching to a wearable pump, you may want to switch back to a corded pump or vice versa.
Related article: Top 10 Willow Breast Pump Hacks – Tips & Tricks You Need!
Additionally, you can try using a manual pump (our favorite on Amazon) instead of an electric pump. We know many moms who swear they can express more milk with a manual pump than an electric one. Your mileage may vary with this approach, but it’s something to consider.
5. Modify Your Pump Schedule
Breast milk production is regulated by a feedback system that involves hormones, supply and demand, and the baby’s needs. When your baby breastfeeds or you use a breast pump, it signals your body to produce more milk. If you aren’t pumping regularly, your milk production may decrease. This can also happen if you haven’t used a breast pump in a while.
You can modify your pump schedule or increase the amount of times you pump in a day in order to signal your body to create more milk. You can also try power pumping, which is pumping every 10 minutes during an hour, to help jolt your body back into milk making mode. See our article on the Pros and Cons of Power Pumping – Everything You Need to Know for more information.
6. Reduce Stress
Stress can have a significant impact on breast milk supply and can cause your breasts to not respond to the pump anymore. When you are stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol, which can inhibit the production of oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for milk letdown. When milk letdown is inhibited, milk production slows down, and the amount of milk you pump decreases. Try to find ways to relax and reduce stress when you’re pumping. Look at pictures of your baby, listen to music, or kick back and simply close your eyes. Also, make sure you are eating a healthy, balanced diet, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep. I know this is incredibly hard to do with a baby and can be a cause of stress in itself, but it is worth a reminder. You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your family.
Related article: Do I Need to Pump at Night When Baby Sleeps Through The Night?
7. Seek Help If Your Breasts are Not Responding to the Pump Anymore
If you have tried all of the above and are still having issues with your breast pump, it may be time to seek help. Talk to a lactation consultant or your healthcare provider for advice on how to get your milk flowing again. They may be able to offer suggestions or recommend a different pump that will work better for you. Lactation consultants can help you at any point in your breastfeeding or pumping journey–not just in the early days. If you don’t have a lactation consultant near you or can’t swing an appointment, there are several lactation consultants available online such as the Nest Collaborative.
Ultimately, many moms encounter this issue of their breasts not responding to the pump anymore at some point during their pumping journey. If you find yourself in this situation, there are several things you can do to troubleshoot the issue and get your pump (and boobs!) working again. Start by checking the pump and replacing any parts that need it. Adjust the suction if necessary and consider trying a different pump if all else fails. Try modifying your pump schedule if you think you may not be pumping enough, and reducing stress where possible. Finally, if you are still having issues, seek help from a lactation consultant or healthcare provider.
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