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Feeding

If you’re worried about your milk supply, power pumping may be the answer

Your body bases milk production on supply and demand, which is why this technique mimics a baby’s cluster feeding to signal for more liquid gold.

If you’re worried about your milk supply, power pumping may be the answer

Photo: iStock/comzeal

For any number of reasons, you may have found yourself needing to pump breast milk for some or all of your baby’s feedings. And, if you’re like most parents, you were probably unaware that there’s a whole world of techniques, equipment, and routines for partial or exclusive pumping—right up until the moment that you found yourself in desperate need of them.

That was certainly the case for me. My son was born with a severe tongue tie, and the days right after his birth were a blur of appointments and failed attempts to feed at the breast. On day 5, I clearly remember the horrified expression of the Lactation Consultant who looked at my chest and sent me home with strict orders to start pumping, now. This was the first time, but definitely not the last time, that I tried power pumping.

What is power pumping?

Power pumping is the act of pumping breast milk for an extended period, usually an hour, with timed breaks. Since breastmilk works on the supply and demand principle, the more a baby asks to feed and drains the breast, the more milk is produced—which is what is happening when an infant cluster feeds, for example (it's the simulated equivalent of cluster feeding).

By power pumping, you tell your body to create more milk. Though results vary for each person, as does the amount of time needed to achieve them, it's almost certain to increase your breast milk supply by some degree. And it really proves why having a good pump on your newborn checklist is so important.

Medical electric breast pump to increase milk supply for breastfeeding mother and children's clothing Shavel Ludmila/ Getty Images

Why would I power pump?

If you are exclusively pumping, as I ended up doing, you may need to power pump at the very beginning of your baby’s life as well as every time they experience a growth spurt. If you have to drop a feeding or a pumping session due to something like work commitments, you may need to power pump at a different time of day to help keep your supply up.

You may also experience a drop in breast milk supply because of a period of heightened anxiety, illness, taking decongestants, dehydration, the return of your menstrual cycle or changes in your baby’s routine. Even if you can’t pinpoint exactly what caused your drop in milk supply, power pumping can help you increase it again.

You may wish to see a Lactation Consultant to look at your chest- or breastfeeding techniques and rule out any other problems.

Automatic breast pump, mothers breasts milk is the most healthy food for newborn baby. Happy mother with babys at bed room ,home,vintage color Asawin_Klabma/ getty Images

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Does power pumping work?

The simple answer is yes. But how much it works will depend on each person’s unique situation and body.

Dr. Fiona Jardine, whose Ph.D. research focused on the experiences of exclusively pumping parents, found that out of 1714 survey respondents, almost 60% had tried power pumping. The parents who had tried rated it as very effective, with only 17% reporting that they were unsure of the results. Less than 1% reported that it made their supply worse.

“It’s a zero-risk way of attempting to increase your milk supply, with a relatively high rate of success,” she says.

Other methods of increasing breast milk supply that scored higher included more pumping and stricter pumping, changing pump parts or getting new pump parts, drinking more water, and domperidone.

Reasons that power pumping may not have worked included not having enough support, lack of knowledge about power pumping, and past breast reduction surgery. It’s important to note that in the case of a breast reduction, the results are limited; it does not cause your body to create more glandular tissue, but rather stimulates the mammary glands that exist.

Dr. Jardine says many survey respondents said they wished they’d known about power pumping sooner: “People should be given this information before they even give birth.”

Child care concept. Breast pump with milk on background of small cute baby Olha Romaniuk/ Getty Images

How to power pump

Thankfully, power pumping is not complicated! It is sometimes called cluster pumping for how it mimics cluster feeding. The typically advised pattern is 20 minutes pumping, 10 minutes rest, 10 minutes pumping, 10 minutes rest, 10 minutes pumping—for a total of 1 hour.

Of course, feeding at the breast is not so exact, and so power pumping doesn’t have to be exact either. When I power pumped, I would often loosely follow the timing guidelines while also following my body’s inclinations.

If I was still producing milk at the 20-minute mark, or if a letdown didn’t start until minute 8 of a 10-minute pumping session, I would keep pumping until the letdown was finished, regardless of the time.

However, if you are following the schedule and no milk is coming, keep going. This is an essential step in signaling to your body to create more milk. While some breastfeeding parents see a difference in just a day or two, you may find it takes several days or a week to see a significant increase in breast milk supply.

This is normal; give your body a chance to respond to the process, and try to find a routine that is sustainable for you.

Woman Holding Breast Pump Bottle Emilija Manevska/ Getty Images

What are the best pumps for power pumping?

If you already have a reliable breast pump that offers strong suction, use that. If you're in the market for a new pump, look for a model with dual pumping capabilities, a powerful motor and a good warranty. That's because power pumping can wear motors out, and you want a machine that's worth every penny of your investment.

Power pumping models worth trying:

  • Medela MaxFlow: It's a portable dual-pump set up backed by one of the best warranties on the market. We like that you can use the included Medela bottles or any other standard-size baby bottle in your collection.
  • BabyBuddha Battery Powered Breast Pump: This one is easy to take just about anywhere and also offers dual pumping. We love that it offers 15 suction power settings so let you control your own comfort.
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How often to power pump

As often as you need to, want to, and are able to. Anytime your supply seems to drop below what your baby is demanding, you can use power pumping to catch up. Even if your supply is on par with your baby’s appetite, you may choose to power pump to create extra supply to freeze for later.

If you are exclusively pumping, you may need to power pump more often as supply tends to dip more often in exclusive pumpers; if this is the case for you, you may even choose to power pump once a week to get ahead of any issues.

Amanda Glenn, founder of ExclusivePumping.com, says you should be able to get what you need from power pumping once a day.

“My personal opinion is that once a day is good. That’s a full hour of pumping, and that’s just one of your pumping sessions out of possibly 8 that day. If you are doing it 3 times a day, there’s a decent chance you’ll get burnt out”, says Glenn. “The point is to mimic cluster feeding, and that typically happens once a day.”

Remember that the key is to empty the breasts. If you feel like this isn't happening, you may try to power pump for longer than an hour to fully empty your breasts, or you can try doing it twice a day.

Keep in mind that your mental health is paramount above all else. This is definitely a situation where “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” applies, and if you're feeling overwhelmed, find a frequency that you can handle.

Mother pumped milk from both boobs into Automatic breast pump machine. mom milk is the best healthy nutrition food for newborn baby. Motherhood and Child infant Healthcare blanscape/ Getty Images

How will I know if power pumping is working?

Glenn offers an important tip for measuring milk supply changes through power pumping: “When we talk about evaluating milk supply changes, I always want people to look at what they get over 24 hours, not what they get at certain sessions.”

“Milk supply varies so much over the course of the day because prolactin levels vary over the course of the day.”

The best way to measure effectiveness is to measure the baseline of how many ounces of milk you pumped over the course of a week without power pumping. Then you can compare that to the ounces of breast milk you expressed over one week when you include power pumping sessions.

“If you are getting 1-2 extra ounces a day, I would say that it worked,” says Glenn, “And then you can decide if that’s worth it to you.”

Once you are happy with the increase, Glenn recommends looking at how you might be able to stop power pumping. For instance, if power pumping helps you remove 26 ounces of milk, you may be able to alter your normal pumping schedule to remove those 26 ounces without a power pumping session. You could achieve this by pumping slightly longer at each regular session or doing breast compressions during sessions. This may help you transition away from power pumping while keeping the results.

Electric Breast Pumps Emilija Manevska/ Getty Images

Tip: stay hydrated

You should be drinking much more water while producing milk than you would normally. Keep a water bottle beside your pump at all times to remind yourself to stay hydrated.

Mother drinking water while carrying baby in kitchen Wavebreakmedia/ Getty Images

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Tip: make sure your pump flanges fit properly

Coconut oil can do wonders for comfort, but if you require lubricant to comfortably pump, chances are your flanges don’t fit properly. See a qualified lactation consultant to be properly fitted, or check out the many breast pump rulers online. Finding pump parts that fit can be a major factor in breast milk supply.

Breast pump and bottle with milk in woman's hand in blurred background Aliseenko/ Getty Images

Tip: ensure your pump parts are clean and dry

Leftover water in your pump tubing can affect suction, as well as create a risk of bacteria buildup.

Bottle and pumping parts laying out to dry in the kitchen Cavan Images/ Getty Images

Tip: get a hands-free bra

If you don’t have one, just trust us; you need one!

Woman pumping breast milk at work Orbon Alija/ Getty Images

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Tip: relax

If possible, take power pumping as a kind of break. Grab your favourite snacks, read a book you’ve been looking forward to, or watch a favourite TV show. Or just be alone in a quiet room for the first time in who knows how long.

 newbie mother pumping Expressing breast milk pumping equipment at home skaman306/ Getty Images

Reminder: your worth is not measured in ounces

As mentioned, your mental health is more important than power pumping. Remember that there is so much more to parenting than breast milk. If supplementing with formula creates a happier bond between you and your child, then that may be the right decision for you.

“Your baby loves you the same whether you pumped 5 milliliters in a day or you pumped 50 ounces in a day”, says Amanda Glenn.

“The fact you are power pumping at all means that you care a lot about your baby and are a great parent.”

woman pouring breast milk into bottle JGI/Jamie Grill/ Getty Images

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This article was originally published on Apr 26, 2021

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