What You Should Know About Power Pumping

If you need to produce more milk, power pumping is often an effective way to boost your milk supply. Power pumping is also called cluster pumping, as it mimics a baby's cluster feeding sessions (frequent nursing sessions with minimal breaks), which results in increased letdown and helps to stimulate more milk production.

Before you undertake power pumping, there are some things to keep in mind. Consider why there might be a drop in your milk supply as well as other ways of increasing supply. Additionally, it's important to know if your milk supply really is inadequate or not.

Reduced Milk Supply

There are a lot of reasons your milk supply might run low—if it is, in fact, actually running low. It can be challenging to know if you are producing enough milk and some moms end up worrying unnecessarily. It can be particularly difficult to tell when breastfeeding as you can't see how much milk is going into your baby.

However, you do see what's coming out. So, if your baby is producing regular dirty and wet diapers, you are likely giving your baby enough food. Additionally, if your baby's growth is on track, that's another indication that your milk supply is more than adequate.

If you have any concerns about your milk supply or your baby's growth, check with their pediatrician.

If you’re worried because you don't get much milk when pumping after nursing, your supply might be fine but there just isn't much "extra" left over for pumping. You could also be experiencing a change in volume since a baby is more effective at getting milk than a pump.

But it's also very normal for milk supply to wane, especially if you don't pump or nurse often or on a consistent schedule. So, if you primarily pump and are noticing a reduction in output, then several days of power pumping might be the answer to reinvigorating your supply.

Power pumping
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin 

Supply and Demand

Your breastmilk production is directly related to how much milk your body thinks your baby needs. Your body gets this feedback from the amount of time you spend nursing and/or pumping and the quality of suction (hungry babies with a good latch and medical-grade electric pumps are the most efficient).

Essentially, the more you breastfeed and/or pump, the more milk you will produce. However, it's not always that simple.

Some women seem to produce more milk than others and/or their bodies are more receptive to pumping. Also, your milk supply will vary over time—even over the course of a day.

Many women find that their supply is greatest in the morning (as your body wants to refuel your baby after sleep) and less in the later afternoon or early evening (after a full day of nursing and/or pumping). However, every women's body will have its own milk production rhythm.

Additionally, milk supply will ebb and flow over weeks and months due to a range of factors, including your growing baby's changing eating habits and growth spurts, your nursing and pumping habits, your health, stress-level, and general wellness, and the introduction of solid foods.

If you’re nursing on-demand with no other supplementation or pumping, then your supply generally adjusts to the demands of your baby. If you’re doing a combination of nursing and pumping or exclusively pumping, the issue of supply can get a bit trickier.

A nursing baby is more effective than any pump, so maintaining an adequate supply can be more difficult when pumping.

If you’re currently breastfeeding full-time and are trying to pump to build up a freezer stash or to store some for an upcoming short separation, getting extra milk may be difficult as your baby may be draining most of your supply.

This means you might have to pump several times to get enough milk for one feeding—and that’s normal. It’s also normal to have an oversupply of milk in the first few weeks or months after birth as your body settles into producing the optimal amount.

When your baby gets into a routine and your supply regulates itself, sometimes there is a decrease—but this decrease is only relative to the oversupply you once had.

Other Factors

In addition to the frequency of nursing and pumping, other issues can influence your milk supply. These can include the following:

  • Hormones
  • Illness
  • Some medications
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of fluids
  • Not consuming enough calories
  • Natural variations among women

Hormones can play a role in decreased supply as ovulation and menstruation (which can occur even if you are breastfeeding and/or pumping exclusively) often result in a brief drop in supply. All of these factors should be taken into consideration, many of which can often be resolved with added rest and self-care.

Once you've determined your supply is low and you've addressed any of the above issues that could be impacting your supply, you're ready to try cluster pumping.

What Is Power Pumping?

Power pumping is meant to give your supply a nudge. It simulates cluster feeding, which is when your baby nurses very frequently, which cues your body to start producing more milk. Essentially, jumpstarting your milk supply chain to enable you to create a stockpile of milk for your baby.

Power pumping doesn’t take the place of regular pumping or nursing. Instead, it's meant to be done in addition to your normal routine. Although, it can take the place of one regular pumping session.

This strategy works best if you are bottle-feeding part or all of the time. If your baby is nursing frequently, it will be challenging for your body to make enough extra milk between feedings.

Don't worry that your baby won't have milk at the breast on days you power pump, though, as your breasts are never fully empty and your baby's sucking motion will stimulate more as needed.

How It's Done

To perform power pumping, set aside one uninterrupted hour, ideally in a location where you feel comfortable and relaxed. It may be best to try to do this in the morning since most women’s milk supply is higher in the morning than in the evening. However, it can be done at any time that works for you.

Ideally, this method is done with a double electric breast pump and a hands-free nursing bra so that you can relax during the process rather than having to hold a flange to your breast. If your hands are free, you are free to have a snack, read, use a computer, or do any other stationary activity you find enjoyable.

If you’re nursing, try to power pumping after a nursing session. In that hour, here is the pumping routine you could follow:

  • Pump for 20 minutes, rest for 10 minutes
  • Pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes
  • Pump for 10 minutes

For the rest of the day, follow your normal pumping and/or nursing routine. While some women do power pumping twice a day, once a day may be sufficient for many women. Additionally, keep in mind that doing two long cluster pumping sessions in one day can be mentally and physically draining.

Be aware that every women's body is different. Some will respond quickly to power pumping, while others will need more time.

If you do this for two or three days, you’ll likely start to see results. Some women say that it takes four to seven days to yield results, and some women don’t see a change at all.

Once you notice an increase in supply, you can cut out the power pumping sessions until you think you need another boost.

Tips For Success

Follow these suggestions to improve your power pumping experience:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Eat an extra snack or two to fuel your extra milk production
  • Relax as much as possible as lower stress levels encourage letdown
  • If using a hand pump or hand expression, simply switch sides rather than taking a break. Aim to pump four times on each side, for 12 minutes, followed by 8-minute sessions
  • If you have your baby with you, another option is to nurse on one side, while pumping on the other
  • Continue through the entire hour

Keep pumping even if nothing comes out ("dry pumping") as the continued pumping action will activate additional milk production for future expression.

More Ways to Increase Supply

In addition to power pumping or cluster pumping, try these other ways to encourage an increase in your milk supply:

  • If you nurse, nurse more frequently.
  • Add an extra pumping session or two to your usual routine.
  • Pump on one side while your baby nurses on the other.
  • Make sure to pump long enough by continuing to pump for at least two to five minutes after you see drops of milk.
  • Try breast massage or breast compression, both of which can help with stimulating lactation.
  • Use a larger pump flange.
  • Eat protein-rich foods and drink enough fluids.
  • Supplement with fenugreek; ask your doctor if this is safe before using it.

A Word From Verywell

Power pumping works for many women but not all. It's easy to get discouraged if you aren't easily producing an adequate supply but help is out there.

Making milk and balancing pumping and nursing on top of taking care of a baby (and yourself) is hard work, so enlist support as needed. Lactation consultants, your doctor, other nursing moms, and your child's pediatrician are all helpful resources that can likely help you get your milk production on track or come up with other feeding strategies that will work best for you and your baby.

 

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Article Sources
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  6. Shawahna R, Qiblawi S, Ghanayem H. Which Benefits and Harms of Using Fenugreek as a Galactogogue Need to Be Discussed during Clinical Consultations? A Delphi Study among Breastfeeding Women, Gynecologists, Pediatricians, Family Physicians, Lactation Consultants, and Pharmacists. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018.  doi:10.1155/2018/2418673

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