Establishing a good milk supply is the one thing all breastfeeding mothers are striving for. Once your milk supply is established though, you have to keep it there.
It’s normal for your breast milk supply to fluctuate a bit. If you’re directly nursing, you won’t even be able to tell. As an exclusive pumper though, I knew every single time that my supply dropped.
I tried everything, and I mean EVERYTHING to keep my supply up throughout my year long pumping journey, and the one thing that really changed things for me, was power pumping.
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What is Power Pumping?
Power pumping is a pumping technique used to mimic a baby’s cluster feeding.
I’m sure you’ve noticed at some point in time that your baby will want to eat a lot in a very short time period. Instead of going 2-3 hours in between feedings, he’s going 1-2 hours.
Cluster feeding is a very common thing that babies do when they are either preparing to go for a longer stretch without food, like overnight, or when they need more calories, such as during a growth spurt.
Cluster feeding is great because your baby is telling your body that you need more milk, and your body will respond accordingly.
You can mimic this whole process with a breast pump in the form of power pumping.
Why Power Pumping Works
Your breast milk supply is completely supply and demand based. If you aren’t demanding the milk, then your body will not supply it.
The trick is to remove more milk more often to force your body to ramp up production. Power pumping is a great way to do this.
Even if you don’t see any milk coming out, you are still sending signals to your body that the amount of milk made was not enough and that you need more. It may take time, but your body will respond.
Why Should You Power Pump?
Women resort to power pumping for many different reasons.
- Sudden drop in milk supply from period or not emptying.
- Trying to boost a low supply.
- Trying to boost production during different sessions throughout the day.
- Create a larger supply in order to make a freezer stash.
Power pumping isn’t for everyone. If you do not have a supply issue, then you should probably avoid it. Power pumping can and will increase your milk supply and can lead to oversupply issues.
While having an oversupply doesn’t sound like a problem, it does lead to a bit more work since you’ll need to either pump longer, or pump after you nurse to ensure your breasts empty correctly to keep clogs and mastitis at bay.
How to Power Pump
So now that we’ve talked about why you should power pump, let’s talk about how to actually do it.
Power pumping takes time. There are some slight variations that you could probably do if you had to, but the most effective method requires a full hour.
- Pump for 20 minutes
- Rest for 10 minutes
- Pump for 10 minutes
- Rest for 10 minutes
- Pump for 10 minutes.
I would always do my power pump in the evening after my baby had gone to bed. It was a nice way for me to relax and spend a little time with my husband.
I’m sure that you’re thinking that there’s no way for pumping to be relaxing, but it can be. We’ll get there.
Power pumping can be done as many times a day as you’d like, but I would strongly suggest not power pumping more than three times a day. That’s a lot of extra stress on your nipples. They need a break!
Power Pumping Supplies
First and foremost, you will need a breast pump. Preferably a double electric breast pump.
While it is completely possible to power pump with a single pump, it is much easier to be able to pump both breasts at the same time.
Make sure you check with your insurance company to see if they will cover a breast pump. Most will because a breast pump is considered a medical device.
I personally used a Medela Pump in Style Advanced breast pump throughout my year long pumping journey and couldn’t be happier with it. It worked great!
In addition to a good pump, I would suggest getting a good hands-free pumping bra. There are several options available, but not having to hold the flanges the entire time you’re power pumping will be amazingly useful.
I love the Simple Wishes Supermom bra. It’s awesome because it provides enough support to work as a regular bra so you can wear it all day. I hate having to take one bra off just to put on my pumping bra to pump. It’s such a time suck!
Check Your Pump Parts
Whether you use your breast pump all the time, or whether you’ve never used it, you should make sure that all of your parts are in good working order before attempting to power pump.
Poor fitting breastshields or worn out membranes can really affect how well your breast pump will work which can affect how your body will react to it. Poor fit and suction will mean that you aren’t getting the full benefit of the power pump.
- Check your nipple size to ensure flange fit.
- Make sure that your valves, membranes, and backflow protectors are all in good working order.
- Make sure that the tubing hasn’t stretched out and is attaching well.
Pro tip: If my tubing was in good shape, but the end didn’t fit as snugly on the pump, I would just cut off an inch or so and reattach. The tubes would fit nice and snug again and I didn’t have to shell out money for new parts. Win-win!
When to Power Pump
Power pumping can be done at any time throughout the day, but power pumping early in the morning can yield the best results.
Your body’s natural prolactin (milk making hormone) levels are the highest during the hours of 2-5am and then it will gradually decrease throughout the day. If you want to see faster results, then I would definitely suggest trying to power pump either during this window or at least as close as possible.
Yes, that would mean that you would need to wake up before your baby in order to pump. Yes, I know how much that sucks. I’ve totally been there, and I hated it, but it really does work.
If you don’t need an immediate supply increase, but are just looking to increase different sessions throughout the day, such as your evening pump since it will be the smallest, then you can power pump at night after the baby has gone to sleep.
That’s what I did and it really did make a different in how much I would produce in the evening.
I did that evening power pump for months. Not necessarily because I was trying to increase my supply, but mostly so that I could be well and truly empty before bed since I had my baby sleeping through the night and I didn’t want to wake up from engorgement.
My evening pump became my second highest producing session during the day after my morning pump. It was great!
How Long Does it Take for Power Pumping to Work?
Power pumping is not an instantaneous supply increase, it is a gradual one, but one that will definitely work.
Your body will respond to the power pump, but it can take a few days to a week to really see the increase, just keep at it until you reach a place where you’re comfortable.
Once your supply has increased where you want it to be, you can stop power pumping. Or you can do like I did and continue to have it be a part of your normal pumping routine. It is completely up to you.
If you are directly nursing your baby, it’s important to never skip a nursing session to power pump. Your baby will still be the most effective way of removing the milk from your breast so don’t skip that to pump. Power pumping is in addition to nursing.
If you are exclusively pumping, then you can simply replace one of your pumping sessions with a power pump session. It is not necessary to add in an additional pumping session, though it can be beneficial. Just see what works best for you.
Tips to Make Power Pumping Easy and Comfortable
Pumping does not have to be difficult or painful. I did it for a full year and I know many women that have done it longer than that. It is completely possible to be on good terms with your breast pump and make your power pumping sessions easier.
1. Get a Hands-Free Bra
I cannot stress to you enough the benefit of getting a hands-free pumping bra. I would not have survived pumping if I had to hold those bottles in place the whole time.
I am a big fan of the Simple Wishes pumping bra because it is an actual bra as well, so no having to take it off to put on another one. Another great option, is a pumping bra that just wraps around. I used mine a lot, especially if I was just at home and didn’t feel like wearing a normal bra.
I always wore nursing bras because my boobs were just too big and uncomfortable, so I would just throw this guy on to pump. I didn’t take my nursing bra off, just moved the fabric out of the way. Super easy.
Another great option is to take an old sports bra and cut holes in it for your flanges.
Pro tip: Cut the holes slightly off-center of your nipples. That way they won’t poke through when you aren’t pumping.
2. Have a Comfortable Spot
Designate a comfortable spot to pump. Preferable a spot with some nice distractions. Sitting and watching how much milk is coming out is only going to stress you out which can negatively affect your supply.
My husband and I are big movie buffs, so I would set up my pumping supplies next to my couch. Once the baby was asleep, I would hook up for my power pump and we would throw on a movie.
It was a really nice distraction and the movie helped me relax which can only be good. Just make sure you set a timer on your phone for when you need to stop and start your pumps. Otherwise you might get too caught up in the movie and forget. Been there, done that.
3. Drink Plenty of Water
Getting enough water is so vitally important when your breastfeeding.
Breast milk is 88% water, so if you aren’t getting enough then your milk supply is going to take a hit. Have plenty of water to drink on hand, especially when you power pump.
Power pumping can take a lot out of you if you aren’t used to it. Making sure you are well hydrated is an absolute must!
I carry my Hydroflask with me everywhere I go. I’ve been using it for years and it’s basically indestructible, which is great when you consider how many times I drop it. I’m a bit clumsy, what can I say?
Always have a water bottle or a large glass of water nearby when you power pump. You will be thirsty!
4. Use a Heating Pad
One of the best ways to help your body release more milk is to apply heat.
Using a heating pad on your breasts while you’re pumping helps to loosen up some of the fattier milk helping it to easily flow out of your breasts. This can make a huge difference in how much milk you can remove during a pumping session.
And since you’re getting more milk out at a time, you’re telling your body to produce more. Win-win!
5. Get Hands On
In addition to applying some heat while you’re power pumping, doing some light massage is also a great way to get the milk flowing.
The fatty hind milk is sticky. It can sometimes get trapped in the ducts instead of flowing easily like you want it to. Applying some light massage to your boobs while you’re pumping can help make sure that you are getting all of that liquid gold out of there.
The hind milk is the milk that your baby really needs. It has the bulk of the fat and calories that will help to keep your baby full longer as well as to supply all of the rich fat that your baby needs for healthy brain development.
Making sure that you’re removing as much of the hind milk as possible will also help to keep clogged milk ducts and mastitis at bay. As a woman that has had mastitis twice in her pumping journey, do everything you can to prevent clogs from forming. Those things suck!
6. Pump in the Car
Once I found out I could get a car adapter for my breast pump, my whole pumping journey changed. I pumped in the car all the time.
It was especially easy to throw in a power pump session when I was in the car too. Long trips and traffic jams (thank you New York) made squeezing in that longer pump no big deal.
I just wear my hands-free bra (I’m not kidding, get one) and throw on a cover and go.
I was a little self-conscious about it the first few times I did it, but now I couldn’t care less. I’ve pumped going through toll booths, drive-thrus, you name it. Do what you gotta do, Mama!
Make sure to always, always, ALWAYS pull over before messing with any of your pumping supplies. It is dangerous to try hooking up or detaching while driving. It just isn’t worth the risk.
7. Nipple Cream for the Win
If you aren’t used to pumping for so long, then your nipples may be sore. Lubing them up before and after your power pump session can really make a big difference.
I love using coconut oil when I’m pumping. Just put a little on your nipples and the flanges to help keep the tugging sensation to a minimum. Don’t worry, the milk is safe for baby.
Don’t use lanolin for pumping. Lanolin is sticky and it will just stick to the sides of the flanges and make you hate your life. Just don’t do it.
After pumping, if you want to show your nipples a little extra love, the Earth Mama Organics Nipple Butter is the freaking bomb! Your girls will love you once you start using that stuff.
Are You Going to Try Power Pumping?
As you can see, there is a lot involved with power pumping, but the benefit is an increase in your milk supply.
If you keep up power pumping long enough, you may even end up with an oversupply. If that happens then you’ll want to start freezing that milk so that you can use it later. Having a freezer stash is definitely great, but it is not the priority.
Remember, you are making milk to feed your baby, not your freezer.
Some women never make enough milk to have a freezer stash, and that’s okay. Love is not measured in ounces.
Keep pumping, but don’t stress about it. You’ll only ruin your milk supply by worrying too much about it. What will happen will happen. Just relax, you’re still doing a great job.
So, have you tried power pumping yet? Tell me about it in the comments below.
Until next time!