We’ve heard all the facts from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), about how breastfeeding can protect babies against respiratory tract infections, ear infections, urinary tract infections, and even lower the risk of childhood obesity.
Learning about these benefits of breastfeeding likely influenced your decision to breastfeed your own baby. When you read all the benefits, it seems almost magical. But when it comes to nursing, everything doesn’t always feel magical. In fact, sometimes a drop in supply can feel like the worst kind of trick.
Some babies can’t latch on or refuse the breast, and if you’re like some mothers, you might experience a drop in milk supply at some point, making nursing or pumping difficult, if not impossible.
But while a sudden drop in milk supply can number your breastfeeding days, it doesn’t have to. Some mothers have been able to increase milk production with power pumping.
Power pumping is a technique that’s designed to mimic cluster feeding, and in turn, encourage your body to begin producing more breast milk.
With cluster feeding, your breastfed baby has shorter feedings more frequently than usual. So rather than one full feeding every 3 hours, your baby might have two or three short feeds over a few hours each day. Since your baby is feeding more often, your body responds to the demand by naturally increasing your milk supply.
Power pumping can produce similar results. The idea is to pump more frequently within a set time frame each day so that your body increases its milk supply naturally.
Other ways to increase milk supply can include taking supplements like fenugreek, oatmeal, or flaxseed, or asking your doctor to prescribe medication. But while these options are effective for some women, power pumping might provide a faster fix and increase your supply in as little as a few days.
Plus, when you’re able to increase your supply naturally, there’s no risk of unexpected side effects from supplements and medication, which might include restlessness, headache, sleep problems, or nausea.
But while power pumping is an excellent way to produce more milk, this technique is only recommended for women who need to increase their milk supply.
So if your body produces enough milk to keep up with your baby’s demands, this technique isn’t for you. Oversupply can actually be an issue, so if your supply is good, stick to what is working.
Keep in mind that milk supply can drop for various reasons. Some mothers experience a drop when they return to work and they’re not able to breastfeed as frequently.
Also, skipping breastfeeding sessions can cause a decline in supply. This might occur once your baby starts eating solid foods and doesn’t want to nurse as often, if your baby starts taking longer naps, or if their newfound skills make them too busy to stay interested through a feeding.
Your breastfeeding supply might also shift if you become ill or are menstruating, and some women see a drop in supply when taking hormonal contraceptives or medications containing pseudoephedrine.
Regardless of the reason behind a decrease in milk supply, power pumping can help naturally stimulate milk production and get your pumping routine back on track.
To be clear, there are no hard or fast rules with regard to a power pumping schedule or duration. The general idea, though, is pumping more often during a span of time each day so that your body naturally responds to the extra demand.
For the best results, you’ll likely need to devote at least an hour a day over at least a week to power pumping, although some mothers power pump for up to 2 hours in a day.
Be mindful that it’s important to take breaks during your power pumping sessions to avoid nipple or breast soreness. One possible schedule is as follows:
- pump 20 minutes
- rest 10 minutes
- pump 10 minutes
- rest 10 minutes
- pump 10 minutes
You can repeat this schedule once or twice daily. Or try an alternative power pump schedule:
- pump 5 minutes
- rest 5 minutes
- pump 5 minutes
- rest 5 minutes
- pump 5 minutes
You can repeat this schedule up to five or six times daily.
The length of time you’ll need to power pump depends on your body. So while some mothers might have great results with single 1-hour sessions after a couple of days, other mothers may need to power pump for 2 hours a day for at least a week to see an increase in supply.
Although you can use a manual or an electric pump, an electric pump might work better given the frequency of pumping. With a manual pump, there’s the likelihood of your hands getting tired before you’re able to complete a session.
You might also try double pumping: using both breasts during each session. Alternatively, you may wish to feed your baby on one breast while pumping the other.
Before power pumping, consider the reasons why your supply may be dropping.
Investigate whether there’s a problem with your breast pump, such as broken parts or poor suction. Normal wear and tear can make a pump ineffective, producing little, if any breast milk.
As a general rule of thumb, if you’ve been using your breast pump frequently and it’s older than a year, replace it to see if your milk supply increases.
You can also take the pump to a lactation store or service center to make sure it’s working properly. They can test the machine and recommend replacement parts.
Before power pumping, consider scheduling an appointment with a lactation consultant. It may be that you’re breastfeeding or pumping improperly and, as a result, your baby isn’t getting enough milk. Some simple adjustments to the baby’s latch or your pumping routine may be all you need.
Signs of poor milk supply include your baby not gaining weight or losing weight or not having enough wet and dirty diapers. Many typical baby behaviors, like frequent feedings or fussiness, may make parents think that milk supply is low, but as long as your baby is steadily gaining weight and producing wet and dirty diapers, they’re getting what they need.
If you’re not sure, or have any concerns about breastfeeding, speak with a lactation consultant for more information.
Again, women who don’t have a problem with milk supply should not power pump. This can cause an oversupply of breast milk where the breasts produce too much milk. This can cause breast engorgement and painful swelling that makes it difficult for a baby to breastfeed.
Also avoid power pumping if your baby already has a pattern of cluster feeding and you’re able to breastfeed during those times. This schedule in itself will naturally increase your breast milk supply. Plus, cluster feeding by your baby will be more efficient than pumping.
Along with power pumping, here are other general tips to maintain your milk supply.
Keep up with regular feedings
The more your baby breastfeeds, the more milk your breasts will produce. The amount of time you’ll need to devote to breastfeeding depends on your baby’s age and their feeding habits.
For example, newborns may need to nurse 8 to 12 times a day for the first month, and then drop to 7 to 9 times a day by 1 or 2 months of age.
Keep an eye out for signs that your baby is hungry. This can include opening their mouth, placing their hands in their mouth, puckering their lips, and sticking out their tongue.
Focus on relaxing
Being relaxed and comfortable during feedings can stimulate letdown, which is a natural reflex that stimulates the flow of milk from breast to baby. During feedings, try to avoid distractions, clear your mind, and sit in a comfortable chair.
It’s easy to get into a routine of breastfeeding in the same position, which might involve starting or ending each feed with the same breast. To keep your milk supply steady, switch breasts each feeding.
Massage your breast
Massaging your breasts a few minutes before pumping or during pumping help release any clogged milk ducts, allowing your milk to flow more freely.
Use the correct pump flange
Your pumping sessions might be shorter if you have pain or discomfort. This can happen if you’re using the wrong size flange (plastic piece that goes over your nipple). Find a flange that’s the correct fit for your nipple and breast to reduce friction and pain.
A drop in milk supply can be frustrating and emotional, especially if you’re not ready to quit breastfeeding. Rather than give up, experiment with power pumping to trick your body into producing more milk. Be patient, though.
Some women notice an increase in as little as 1 to 2 days, but it might take a week or longer. If you have any concerns about milk supply, schedule an appointment with a lactation consultant.