You decided a long time ago that you would breastfeed. You may have gotten off to a rocky start, but after a couple of months, you finally caught your groove. You think you’re in the clear, then WHAM: The milk supply you thought was a sure thing—the one that used to wake you up in the middle of the night, leaking through your sheets—drops. After frantically stuffing your face with lactation cookies, oatmeal, flaxseed, and Mother’s Milk tea, you decide you’re going to need something a little more powerful. Enter power pumping.
In this post we’ll answer:
What is Power Pumping?
Power pumping is a way to mimic cluster feeding with a breast pump. It’s a strategy women use to increase their milk supply when they are mostly nursing or exclusively pumping. The idea is to empty the breast through rapid on-off pumping. Essentially, you’re tricking your body into thinking that it needs to produce more milk—STAT.
“If you want to boost your milk supply fast, power pumping can help by creating an artificial high demand for breast milk. By increasing the number of times you pump, you give your body the message to increase milk production. This happens naturally every time your baby goes through a growth spurt when frequent feedings signal your body to increase production.” — Helen Anderson, Chief Lactation Officer, Fairhaven Health
Why Do Women Power Pump?
Mamas typically resort to power pumping when they start to experience a dip in their supply. Ideally, the best way to increase your supply naturally is to nurse on demand with your baby. However, many factors come into play that can make nursing on demand less than ideal, or even impossible.
For some, it’s a young baby who struggles with latching. For others, it’s an older baby who is getting restless at the breast, and isn’t interested in nursing constantly throughout the day. For others, it’s because they’ve gone back to work and aren’t in close contact with their baby all day. For these women, the pump is the one thing that provides total control over when and how long to “nurse.”
That said, it’s important to note that power pumping isn’t for everyone. Women with no supply problems should not power pump. Doing so can cause oversupply issues.
How to Power Pump
Always speak to a lactation consultant before power pumping—you may actually have plenty of milk for baby!
There are a few different variations on the power pump, but the most popular one follows this schedule:
As you can see, power pumping is a time commitment! To see results, you should plan to commit at least one hour per day (40 minutes on the breast pump and 10 minutes off the breast pump). To maximize the benefits of power pumping, you can do it up to twice per day.
How long you continue power pumping depends on your body, but it’s important to give it time. Some women experience results in a couple days, others need to power pump for a couple weeks to see results.
“Some moms see a supply increase within 3 days, other moms need to power pump for 7 or more to see an increase. Be persistent and don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away.” — Helen Anderson
What Kind of Breast Pump You Need
A double electric pump is best for power pumping. It is possible to power pump with a single breast pump, but it’s not as efficient—with a single pump you have to double the time spent pumping or, more realistically, eliminate the rest period, switching to the other breast instead.
“Double pumping also provides very strong stimulation to keep a good milk supply. Prolactin, which is an important hormone for making milk, becomes very elevated when mothers double pump.” — La Leche League
Try the Medela In Style Advanced Breast Pump or the Lansinoh Smart Pump.
Increasing Your Breast Pump’s Efficiency
Before you get started, make sure your pump and its parts are in good working condition. Sometimes a woman thinks her supply has decreased, when in fact, her pump is getting worn out after months and months of use.
If your pump is older than a year, consider replacing it. Also consider replacing pump parts—the valves, membranes, and tubing—which should be replaced every 3-6 months.
It may seem like a hassle, but it’s a cheap and easy fix that may mean the difference between 1 ounce and 2 ounces (totally worth it!).
Lastly, make sure the pump parts fit correctly. Some women have no idea that their pumping shield is too small for them and are shocked by the difference it makes in both comfort and milk output.
To ensure a good fit:
- Check the size guide. Nearly all manufacturers provide a size guide you can reference.
- Measure your nipples. Use a ruler to measure the diameter of your nipple (not including the areola) in millimeters before choosing a flange size. See how here.
- Make sure your nipple is centered in the flange.
- Ensure the tissue of your areola is not in the tunnel of the flange.
(If you have inverted nipple, check this post for tips).
When to Power Pump
You can fit power pumping into your schedule whenever is convenient for you. Replace a regular pumping session with a power pump or do so when baby is asleep or otherwise occupied.
Early breastfeeding research suggests milk volume is typically greater in the morning and falls gradually throughout the day. If possible, start your power pumping session before your baby wakes up, during their morning nap, or during your first regularly scheduled pump of the day. You could even set your alarm and do in the middle of the night if baby is sleeping soundly.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help while you’re attempting these long power pumping sessions. You may need to ask your significant other to be on baby duty or see if a friend or relative can come over so you can really focus on getting your supply back up.
No matter when you power pump, it’s important to remember: NEVER skip a feeding to power pump. Your baby is always going to be more effective at removing milk than the breast pump is. That said, if baby is struggling to latch or extract milk, you may need to start with a bottle to calm him or her down first. You can always finish off at the breast. Working with a lactation consultant is best in these situations.
Tips and Tricks to Make Pumping More Comfortable
So how are you going to get through an entire hour of pumping in one sitting? There are quite a few things you can do to make the process a little easier on yourself.
1. Get a hands-free bra
For one, a hands-free bra is a must. Consider the difference between an hour of holding onto your pumps, counting the minutes until your power pumping session is over, and sitting with a cup of tea in one hand and a magazine in the other (or even squeezing in an extra hour of work!.) For me, a hands-free bra was life-changing. There are a lot of great options out there, but if you want to save a little money, you can even make your own.
2. Set up a designated spot
When you’re little one is napping or you have just one hour between meetings, the last thing you want to do is search for your pump, wash your pump parts, and find a place to plug it in so you can get started. Set up a designated pumping spot for ease and convenience.
3. Make it a comfortable spot
Speaking of designated spots, be sure yours is a comfortable chair/couch, has pillows, a cozy blanket, a fan, or whatever you need to relax. “A watched bottle never fills.” Plus, you’re more likely to experience a “let down” when you’re serene. Treat yourself, mama!
When you are scared, stressed, or anxious, the adrenaline released by your system can inhibit oxytocin. And since oxytocin is what causes your milk to “let down”, or flow freely from your breasts, that adrenaline messes with your milk delivery system. Stress and breastfeeding just don’t mix well. — Rachel O’Brien, IBCLC
4. Keep plenty of water nearby
Forget coffee or soda—water is your best friend when breastfeeding or pumping. Staying hydrated is key to maintaining your milk supply. You can also use this opportunity to have a healthy snack. Try some fruit, almonds, hard-boiled eggs, or even dark chocolate.
5. Keep a photo of your baby nearby
Yes, you read that right! Looking at photos or videos of your baby (scrolling through your phone counts) can help your body release the oxytocin your body needs to experience a strong “let down.” (source)
6. Play soothing music
One study found that moms who listened to soothing music or guided relaxation while pumping produced more milk than those who did not. These mamas also produced milk with significantly higher fat content.
7. Have a nipple cream on hand to prevent sore nipples
A full 40 minutes is a long time to be on a pump. Try coconut oil or my DIY nipple cream to prevent cracking or chafing.
A Note About Power Pumping
Before beginning, it’s so important to consult a lactation consultant who can talk you through any supply concerns and give you a better idea if you actually need to increase your supply. In some cases, mamas are making plenty for their babies. You may just need to practice paced bottle feeding. Milk supply also tends to dip when baby starts sleeping through the night or begins eating solids. Other factors, like menstruation or a cold, can also temporarily affect milk supply. Remember, your milk supply can vary from day to day, so keep an eye on it before trying something like power pumping.
How About You?
Have you ever tried power pumping? Did it help your supply? How long did it take to see results?