Have you ever looked at stock images of mothers pumping while sipping wine or typing furiously at their computer and thought, “wow, what alternate universe do those women live in?”
There is a reason you don’t relate to those experiences, and that’s because it is fundamentally not how pumps work.
Pumps only apply suction at the nipple and do nothing to engage the rest of your breast the way a baby does. The actual glands that produce milk reside deep within the breast tissue, and moms know intuitively that it can take a fair amount of breast massage to express the milk stuck in those deeper glands.
The structure of the lactation glands within the breast are often described as a tree
“The alveoli are the leaves and the ducts are the branches. Many smaller branches merge into a few bigger branches that finally become the trunk of the tree.” — La Leche League
Staying with this tree metaphor, if your breast is an apple tree and the mammary glands are the branches and you want to get all the apples from it, you could shake and pull the trunk of the tree (your nipple) as much as possible to get a few of the loosely held apples to topple to the ground. That will definitely get you a few apples, but there will still be many apples left untouched deeper within the tree branches.
Instead, the best way to get all the apples from the tree would be to take a ladder, get up in the tree, and move methodically through the different sections of branches to pick all the apples deep in the branches. This method would get you a lot more apples, but definitely involves more work…
When you are pumping, your breast has a lot of milk that is not being reached by the pump. To get all this milk from the further reaches of your breasts, lactation experts recommend a technique called “hands on pumping”. This helps engage and release the alveoli that actually produce the milk so that the milk can travel down the ducts to be collected by the suction pump.
If you work hemispherically around your breast — applying massage and compression in motions towards the nipples — you will be amazed by how much “extra” milk your pump will collect. Studies conducted by the Stanford Children’s hospital have shown this technique can increase your milk output by almost 50%!
Now, you may be reading this and thinking — wow! that sounds great, but what if I don’t have time for that? I work a full time job and barely have enough time to pump at work. There is no way I can not have the use of my hands for all of my pumping time. — I hear you! I know that hands on pumping is hard work and that it is honestly not realistic for working or really any busy mother (which mom isn’t busy, right?). That is why along with my 3 co-founders we started a company called Lilu at the end of our Integrated Product Design Masters degree at the University of Pennsylvania.
We’ve seen too many mothers fall into the trap of thinking that pumping should look like the stock images of mothers pumping hands free and accomplishing others things while pumping. Pumps only provide half the equation of expressing milk away from your baby and traditional pump manufacturers are not super keen to show images of women doing the compression needed to make a pump work. That’s why we have been developing a new type of pumping bra that provides this compression and breast massage automatically while you pump. We are making truly hands-free pumping a reality by allowing mothers to get all the benefits of breast compression without having to do all the work themselves.