If you’re breastfeeding, more than likely a large part of your day is consumed with feeding your baby. (And if you’re not feeding them, you’re probably worrying about when to feed them next, how much food they’ve gotten, and other related questions.)
While many find that breastfeeding provides a special connection between them and their little one, it also requires a lot of time, energy, and dedication — to put it mildly.
One of the major concerns for people who are breastfeeding is making sure that their breasts are emptied enough and that their little is getting enough to eat.
So, what if we told you that there was a trick to help with this? Allow us to introduce you to breast compressions.
A breast compression is when you apply pressure to the outside of your breast to help continue the flow of milk.
This is particularly useful when your baby is only sucking at the breast and not actually drinking milk. (You’ll know this is happening, because their chin won’t drop and you won’t hear the sweet sound of swallows!)
Breast compressions manually stimulate the milk ejection reflex, and can help your baby to get more milk out of the breast during a feed. They can also increase the speed of the milk flow to keep your baby awake at the breast.
Breast compressions can be helpful for:
- babies who aren’t gaining weight quickly, since breast compressions can help transfer more milk
- fussy babies, who may be upset that milk isn’t coming as quickly as they would like
- babies needing to do frequent or long feedings
- sore nipples due to the amount of time your baby is sucking on them during feedings
- recurrent blocked ducts or mastitis, since a common cause of these conditions is milk not being fully expressed and staying in the breast too long
- babies who are falling asleep quickly and sucking without drinking
- babies who are sucking to pacify rather than to drink more milk
By now you’re probably wondering, how do you properly do breast compressions? Here’s the good news: The process is probably simpler than you think!
- Find a comfortable place and position to breastfeed. Make sure you have any supplies (e.g., nipple cream, diapers, water bottle, pump) that you might need available nearby.
- Help your baby to properly latch and double-check the latch. Hold baby with one arm.
- Support your breast with the other hand. Encircle it so that the thumb is on one side of the breast and the other fingers are on the other side close to the chest. (Your fingers should be near the chest wall and not the nipple.)
- Watch baby as they feed and observe to make sure that their jaw is dropping, indicating they’re swallowing milk.
- When baby is no longer drinking with a wide open mouth-pause-close mouth suck pattern, compress your breast to increase the external pressure. No need to roll your fingers down the breast towards baby. Just squeeze down and hold. Try to avoid squeezing so hard that the areola changes shape inside baby’s mouth or that the compression hurts you. You should hopefully notice that baby begins drinking again.
- Continue to hold the breast compression until baby stops drinking. Release the compression at this point.
- If baby doesn’t continue drinking, try breast compressions again, rotating your hand around the breast. You should try at least 2 or 3 different hand locations around the breast.
- Continue doing this on one breast until baby will no longer suck, even with breast compressions. It can be a good idea to leave baby on the breast a little longer after this point is reached, just in case you get another letdown reflux that causes baby to start to swallow again on their own. However, if baby doesn’t start to drink again fairly quickly, you’ll want to remove them from the breast to prevent unnecessary nipple soreness.
- Offer baby the other breast and repeat the same breast compression process.
You may wish to continue switching back and forth between breasts following this same process each time if:
- your nipples aren’t sore
- your baby has interest
- you have more milk that you want to express
Here are some additional tips and tricks that may help:
- You should ideally begin breast compressions when your baby has stopped drinking much, but is still awake.
- Many babies take a bit to begin sucking again after you release the compression. This is normal, and after enough time has passed for the milk to begin flowing again, they may go back to sucking!
- Breast compressions may be particularly beneficial in the first few days as you try to help baby get every bit of colostrum (liquid gold!) possible out of your breast.
- Breast compression may not be necessary if everything is going well or you have very fast let down. You’ll want to take your cues from baby. (If everything is going well, you can just allow baby to finish feeding on the first side and then offer the second breast without compressions.)
- Remember: A baby gets more milk when they’re well latched. In addition to using breast compressions, it’s important to check baby’s latch. (Beyond milk production benefits, this will also help to keep your nipple and breast from being injured.)
- In the first few weeks of life, babies may fall asleep at the breast when there’s slow milk flow and not necessarily when they’re full. Babies may also choose to pull away from the breast when milk isn’t coming as quickly. Breast compressions can help with this.
Whether you’re trying to drain your breast or just get your little one interested in a bit more milk, breast compressions can be helpful. If you’re feeling stressed about trying something new, there’s no need to fear. Breast compressions shouldn’t be painful.
If you’re having trouble breastfeeding your baby and need additional advice or support, you may want to see if there are local lactation support groups available to you. (Many operate for free, offer breastfeeding hotlines, or meet online.)
You may also want to reach out to a lactation consultant or your child’s healthcare provider.