Power pumping and Cluster pumping can be tools in your lactation toolbox for increasing your milk supply. There may be times during your nursing and pumping experience when you need a little boost for your milk supply. Both of these methods can supercharge your milk production. The methods vary slightly. One may fit better into your day than the other. Give them each a try to see which method works best for you.
Power pumping is a one hour block of time in which you’re alternating pumping and breaks or pauses for one hour of time. It is implemented during one of your usual pump times and because it is a subscribed amount of time, some folks find it easier to schedule into their day than cluster pumping.
Cluster pumping is meant to mimic a baby who is cluster feeding. The schedule is more varied than a power pumping schedule and is implemented over a longer period of time, typically closer to 3 hours. It is a bit more organic than power pumping so although it can occupy more time, some people find it fits more naturally into their day.
How does power or cluster pumping help increase milk supply?
Milk is always being produced and your breast is never completely empty. After milk supply is established, your milk supply is based on demand. While milk is being removed, more milk is beginning to be made.
Stimulation of nursing or pumping signals the release of milk with the help of oxytocin.(1) The let down or milk ejection reflex makes the milk already in the breast flow. Oxytocin may begin working just with the thought of breastfeeding or hearing your baby begin to rouse. It is increased when you are in skin-to-skin contact with your baby, looking at a photo or video of them or by smelling your baby’s scent on a blanket. You may feel a tingling sensation in your breasts or begin to leak milk.
Prolactin is a hormone responsible for making milk. As milk is removed by your baby, hand or pump, prolactin levels rise and signal more milk to be produced and refill the open spaces like refilling a cup. Prolactin levels are highest about 30 minutes after beginning to nurse or pump.(2) So, each time that some milk is removed, prolactin rises. Waiting long periods of time between milk removals, tells the body, “Hey, we don’t need that much milk so slow down production.”
Although waiting longer stretches of time between pumping may seem to yield more milk at first, the signals you send by doing this tell the body to slow it down and milk supply begins to reduce. On the other hand, frequent milk removals keep prolactin levels elevated, sending the message to keep making more milk.
Large quantities of milk do not need to be removed for this important refilling message to be sent. In fact, full breasts can mean slower milk production, but less full breasts means faster and more constant milk production.(3) Research also shows that when the breasts are emptied more frequently and therefore less full, the fat content of the milk expressed is higher than when the breasts are more full.(4)
- Both power pumping and cluster pumping increases oxytocin by stimulating more let downs in a concentrated amount of time.
- It increases and keeps prolactin levels elevated for an extended period of time which can increase overall milk production.
- Increase in supply may be noticed in 2-3 days of power or cluster pumping, but some people do not see results until 2 weeks later.
- Once your milk supply increases from power or cluster pumping, as long as the increase of milk is being removed, your increased supply will be maintained.
- Power pumping or cluster pumping is usually done for a one week period of time.
Tips and tricks for power or cluster pumping
- Correct flange size makes for comfortable pumping and maximizes your milk output. Flange size can change during your pumping and breastfeeding journey. Meet with an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) to get a flange sizing consultation.
- Lubricate your flanges/shields every pumping session for a more comfortable experience and to avoid damage to your nipple tissue.
- If you are feeling sore or have damaged nipples, you can soothe and heal your skin by rubbing some of your expressed breast milk into the nipple and areola.
- Make sure all your pump parts are in good working order and have been replaced when needed to ensure your pump maintains good suction.
- Milk can be collected all in one container, known as the pitcher method, and then divided into individual storage bags if desired.
- Breast massage before and during pumping can increase milk flow and the amount of milk you are able to remove.(5) Massage should be very gentle, light touch or stroking of the breast including underneath your breast and up into your armpit area. More pressure or digging into your chest tissue can cause damage and restrict milk flow.
- Apply a heat pack before and during pumping to increase milk removal.(6)
- Relaxation allows oxytocin to be released. If you feel stressed out, the body gets the signal that it may be time to run from a threat and oxytocin is inhibited meaning your milk is not going to flow. Put on some soothing music, watch a comedy or try the Feher method and see what difference it makes for you.
- Cover the bags or bottles you are pumping into. Trying to increase milk supply is stressful for some folks. By not focussing on every drop being removed, you will be able to be more relaxed and milk will flow more easily.
- Take breastfeeding supplements to support milk flow and production. Galactogogues like Legendairy Milk’s Lechita support milk flow and production and help reduce stress and anxiety. Anise and caraway are herbs known to relieve anxiety and reduce stress as well as increase milk supply.(7) Fennel is a digestive herb that contributes to better gut health. Goat’s Rue can increase milk storage capacity.(8) Liquid Gold contains Goat’s rue, anise and fennel as well as nutrient dense alfalfa and Shatavari which is known for increasing milk flow.
- Drink plenty of water and keep an extra snack handy during your power pumping session.
- Combining pumping with hand expression during power pumping is very effective for thorough milk removal.
Keep in mind
- There are many reasons why you may need to increase supply at some point along your breastfeeding journey. It can help if your supply took a dip or you are wanting to relactate.
- If you are power pumping or cluster pumping because your supply has decreased, It is always important to figure out why your supply took a dip and remedy the root cause.
- Power pumping or cluster pumping can give your supply the boost you want while you dig deeper and resolve what caused the decrease.
- Power pumping and cluster pumping does not replace an effective latch by your baby or a pattern of nursing or pumping that is not sufficient for maintaining your supply.
- Power and cluster pumping does not take the place of middle of the night milk removal. Prolactin levels are naturally highest during the night and milk removal during this time further elevates the milk making hormone levels which is critical for overall milk supply.
- Overdoing power pumping can cause an oversupply which is not the goal and leads to other complications.
- It is ok if at first you do not get a lot of milk. It is about the signals you are sending to your body to make more milk.