When your baby nurses, you may notice that they tend to place their hands on either side of the breast and will sometimes massage the breast tissue during nursing. This can look like them opening and closing their hands around whatever part of the breast tissue they can grip onto. As the milk flow starts to slow down, they may do this massage to help get that milk flow going again as this hands-on manipulation helps the milk sacs that are holding the milk to fully release what is available to baby so they can have a satisfactory feed.
When we are pumping instead of nursing, we must then take that massaging into our own hands (pun intended!).
When using a flange against the breast tissue, we do need to be aware of the placement of the shield portion to then know which areas of our breast tissue we can manipulate without impacting the suction, or ‘latch,’ of the flange. If you break that suction it can affect the overall session as you have to reconnect and get back to the rhythm of pumping that had been interrupted.
Milk is created and stored within lobules, or milk sacs, and these extend all the way up into the armpit area of the body. When using your hands during pumping, you want to start at the upper edges of where these milk sacs are and direct the movement downward, or toward the nipple. When we talk about breast massage, we don’t want to encourage excessive pressure or manipulation but light, firm touches, as if you were stroking your baby’s back. You can move your hands all around the perimeter of the breast; above and below, either side, across the diagonals.
Sometimes compressions combined with the suction of the pump can be helpful to assist in milk removal. Gentle squeezing of the breast tissue above the flange shield can help in emptying those milk sacs in ways that simple touch pressure may not be able to.
When pumping, it is ideal to express both the left and right sides at the same time as this can take advantage of the natural milk release, or let down. Wearing a pumping bra allows you to be hands free when pumping so that both hands are available to assist with the hands-on or massage aspect of pumping. If you are holding the flanges up, it can be much harder to also massage the breast tissue without losing connection of the breast tissue and the flange which can break suction and cause more difficulties in getting back on track.
Dr Jane Morton is a pediatrician who is incredibly supportive of breastfeeding and focuses on preventing breastfeeding problems by training new parents and providers about the first days and how to overcome any challenges that they may face. While working for the Stanford medical system, she has done extensive research on how being hands on pumping can support supply. This video shows how to use hands while pumping to maximize your supply. One study that she managed even found that using this hands on technique can yield up to 48% MORE milk!
Take a look at the video and combine that with the information provided to see if being hands-on helps you release more milk, more quickly!