Why Is There No Milk Coming Out When Pumping? What to Do?

Breast milk is the best nutrition for your baby, so no milk coming out when pumping may cause you some grief early on. Don't give up. Early on in breastfeeding the body is still trying to step up milk production, and there are many factors that can affect this. From worries about taking your baby to daycare, to feeling an unnatural cup around your breast, you may be thrown into an all-out panic over pumping your milk. There are ways to relieve the pressure of making sure your baby has enough while you are away. Read further for more information on why your milk supply may be low, what you can do about it, and when to contact your doctor.

Why Is There No Milk Coming Out When Pumping?

A low breastmilk supply can be caused by a few different things. One of the main reasons is lack of milk "let-down." Letting down is a reflex by the body that causes the milk to flow from your breasts. Knowing what is causing this to happen will help you find things to help increase the amount you pump for your baby. Here are some of the reasons this happens:

1. Your Baby Is Newborn

In the first few days, your breasts produce very little milk and produce more “colostrum.” This thick sticky substance is the pre-milk that is designed to give your baby the most nutrition in tiny amounts. You won’t be seeing any liquid milk until your baby is about 3 to 5 days old. If your baby has to stay in the hospital, you may need to pump milk and early on this may not work well. With continued attempts, you may notice more milk after the first week of trying.

2. Dehydration

Being low on fluids decreases milk supply. In order to provide adequate nourishment for your own body and your baby, you need to take in extra fluids while breastfeeding. This will ensure that your body has enough fluids for what it needs, and to make enough milk for your baby.

3. Low Quality Pump

Your pump may not be getting a good seal on your breast to simulate suckling. Manual breast pumps don’t work well because of the hand strength needed to simulate a baby’s suckling. Low-quality electric or battery operated pumps also may not have enough power to cause your milk to "let-down."

4. Being Away From Your Baby

Some women notice milk "let-down" when they hear their or another baby crying. A baby’s cry can trigger this reflex. If you are away from your baby and there is no milk coming out when pumping, it may be because this reflex is not able to be triggered.

5. Stress

Increased stress can reduce breast milk production. This can reduce the amount you pump and reduce the amount your baby gets when nursing. This can be common early on when new moms are stressed with caring for baby, family, and trying to recover from childbirth. It can also occur when returning to work or with major life changes, death in the family, marital stress, or issues with other children.

6. Poor Nutrition

Lack of proper nutrition can lead to a low milk supply. Both feeding your baby and pumping will take good nutrition practices. Eating fast or processed foods that lack things like protein, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates means less milk and less nutrition for you and your baby.

7. Infection/Mastitis

The inflammation that goes along with breast infections/mastitis can take up needed space for milk. The pain of mastitis can also make it painful to pump milk, therefore you tend to leave the device on for shorter times.

8. Hormone Imbalance

Breast milk production is stimulated by the hormone, oxytocin. If you have low levels of this hormone, you may make less milk or have problems with milk letting down and flowing out.

What to Do If There Is No Milk Coming Out When Pumping

There are a few ways to increase the amount of milk you can pump each day. If there is no medical cause for low milk supply, you may just need to try a few tricks. These things are helpful:

  • Keep a picture and your baby’s blanket close by: Seeing your baby and your baby’s scent can help you release oxytocin from your brain and trigger the "let-down" reflex. This is helpful for new moms whose baby is still in the hospital. It is also helpful for moms who pump at work while baby is at daycare.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy: When nursing your baby and pumping, you will need to drink at least 10 to 12 cups of water daily. Keep a bottle with you at all times and sip throughout the day. You can even find helpful apps on your phone to remind you to drink water. Make sure you are eating a variety of fresh foods and avoid “junk and fast foods.”
  • Check out pump rental services: Some hospitals and lactation centers rent high quality pumps. You will need a good quality pump with adequate suction to express a good amount of milk.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: If you are stressed, do some deep breathing exercises. You can also try meditation or mommy and me yoga classes.
  • See a lactation consultant: Ask your hospital about seeing the lactation consultant prior to leaving the hospital. You can also schedule an appointment with them after you go home. They can help you weigh your baby to make sure they are getting enough nutrition and give you tips on breastfeeding/pumping.

When to Seek Medical Help

If you have the following symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible:

  • Fever over 100.4℉
  • Painful, red/swollen breast(s)
  • Chills
  • Discharge from your nipple that is thick, odorous, yellow/green, bloody
  • No milk coming out and baby is losing weight
  • No milk let-down after the first week (milk should run from your breast or even spray)
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