By Jessica Martin-Weber, The Leaky Boob
Got milk, feed baby, right? If everything is going as it should, it really is that simple. But sometimes we need to help boost milk production. The good news is, you’ve got the power! What if there was a way to increase breastmilk supply in just 60 minutes? Power Pumping could do just that and may be just what you need. (See a qualified lactation support professional such as an IBCLC to determine if Power Pumping would be a viable and helpful option for you.)
What is power pumping and why does it work?
Simply explained, power pumping is a short term option to increase supply by pumping at short intervals for limited and intense duration. More specific details on what that looks like later.
This works because breastmilk is produced on a need-be-basis. A responsive system where the more frequently milk is fully emptied from the breast, the more milk the breasts will make. The longer milk stays in the breast, the more your breasts take as a signal that less milk is required and the less milk the breasts will make. If milk is emptied frequently from the breasts, the milk factory keeps chugging away. Usually this is an effective system managed by the symbiotic nature of the baby and the breasts. It helps establish and maintain an adequate supply and preventing oversupply.
Why would you use power pumping?
Things don’t always work the way they should. Power pumping can be a way to increase breastmilk supply if supply is low. Low supply can happen for a number of reasons. A few reasons a lactating parent may experience low supply are:
- Separation from baby.
- Complications and interventions in birth.
- Medical complications for the baby.
- Medical complications for the mother.
- Baby has difficulty latching.
- Baby unable to empty the breast (i.e. impaired suck due to oral tethers resulting in restriction, etc.)
- Over-scheduling feeds- watching the clock- breasts not emptied frequently or fully enough.
- Exclusively pumping.
- Wrong flange size.
- Supplementing breastfeeding.
- Return of fertility.
- Insufficient glandular tissue.
- Insulin resistance.
These aren’t the only reasons but they are some of the most common.
Since breasts don’t come with ounce markers on the side, it is nearly impossible to tell how much milk a baby is getting. This can bring about anxiety about supply and since many normal newborn behaviors may lead some to think that baby isn’t getting enough milk, jumping to the conclusion that there is a problem with supply may happen. Keep in mind though that what goes in must come out so if your baby has an appropriate amount of wet diapers for their age, then they are probably getting enough milk. Diaper count along with adequate weight gain, good alert awake times, within normal range of developmental milestones, and healthy elastic skin tone all tell you that baby is well hydrated and fed. If you ever see crystals in your baby’s diaper, their fontanel is sunken, or they become lethargic, immediately call your child’s physician and go to the ER. It is important to work with your child’s health care provider and a qualified experienced lactation support person to determine if there is indeed a supply problem. Note that sometimes babies suddenly and sharply increase their feedings for 3-5 days with a growth spurt- this is called cluster feeding and alone is not an indication of low supply.
Sometimes there is a desire to increase supply to have more stored milk for a separation from your baby such as a trip or hospital stay and a lactating parent desires to temporarily increase their milk supply. Power pumping can be one helpful tool in such a situation.
Is power pumping the only way to increase breastmilk supply?
Once it is certain that there is low supply and you desire to increase your breastmilk supply, power pumping can be a good tool to help. However, the following are recommended to try first:
- Be skin to skin with your baby as much as possible.
- Responsive feeding (feed whenever baby gives hunger cues- don’t wait for crying!)
- Frequent night feedings (prolactin levels are higher at night).
- Avoid alternative nipple options (pacifiers and bottles).
To get started with power pumping, use a double electric pump and plan for at least an hour. Alternating pumping and rest breaks, this isn’t an hour of pumping, however, just the time required to complete the power pumping set. The more power pumping session you include in your day, the more milk in a faster amount of time you are likely to see. A good number is 1-3 power pumping sessions with at least an hour between sessions. Remember, never sacrifice a feed with your baby for a power pumping session. One power pumping session is a simple rhythm of pumping-resting:
Do you have realistic expectation?
You can expect power pumping to take anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks to truly increase supply. Following the power pumping set is far more beneficial than extended pumping sessions, don’t pump for an hour non-stop as it can damage your breasts and isn’t as helpful to increase supply. It is very possible that you will get nothing more than a few drops initially, that doesn’t mean power pumping isn’t working. Be patient with the process and celebrate every drop. Once you reach your goal you can usually stop power pumping sessions and either just have normal pumping sessions or if your baby is able to empty your breasts and maintain the supply power pumping established, cease them entirely.
Power pumping isn’t for everyone. Some may not respond at all, some may find it very uncomfortable. Power pumping is simply one tool that can be used but isn’t necessary for most and won’t work for all.
What may help?
Ensure that your double electric pump is in good working order. Pumps have a limited number of pumping hours and older pumps may experience reduced suction levels. Proper flange fit can be crucial, proper fit can make all the difference. Utilize your pump’s speed and suction controls to customize your pumping experience and avoid setting everything on the highest levels. Pain interferes with let down so use the highest comfortable suction level and adjust as necessary. Lubricating the flanges with breastmilk, lanolin, or coconut oil can reduce friction and improve milk output. Some find that using a hands-free pumping support and hands on massage improves let down and encourages more fully emptying the breasts. Warming the breasts before beginning can optimize let down and increase comfort. Distractions that are stressful inhibit let down, a quiet space with few demanding or stressful distractions may be helpful. On the other hand, some distractions can be beneficial, taking focus off of breastmilk output and allowing you to relax. Relaxing helps let down!
Some caution with power pumping is appropriate. Too strong of suction can cause breast tissue damage and actually reduce milk supply. Unnecessarily power pumping can cause oversupply which may be difficult for your baby to manage, can lead to mastitis, and cause additional challenges. Power pumping may lead to burnout so work with an experienced lactation support person such as an IBCLC to determine if power pumping is right for you.