Power pumping and Cluster pumping can be tools in your 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 way works best for you.
Power pumping is a one-hour block of time in which you’re alternating pumping and breaks or pauses for the entire hour. 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 it 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 more organic than power pumping, so although it can occupy more time, some people find it fits more naturally into their day.
Milk is continually being produced, and your breast is never completely empty. After the milk supply is established, supply is based on demand. While milk is being removed, more milk is beginning to be made.
Stimulation of nursing or pumping releases the hormone oxytocin, which signals milk release. (1) The let down or milk ejection reflex triggers the milk stored in the breast flow. Oxytocin may begin working with the thought of breastfeeding or hearing your baby rouse. It increases 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, signaling more milk to be produced and refilling the open spaces like refilling a cup after drinking some of the water it held. Prolactin levels are highest about 30 minutes after beginning to nurse or pump. (2) So, each time that any milk is removed, prolactin rises. Waiting extended 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 yield more milk at first, the signals you send by doing this tell the body to slow it down, and the milk supply begins to reduce. On the other hand, frequent milk removals keep prolactin levels elevated, sending the message to continue 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 mean 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 increase 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.
- An 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, your increased supply will be maintained as long as frequent milk removal continues.
- Power pumping or cluster pumping is usually done for one week.
- Correct flange size makes pumping comfortable and maximizes your milk output. Flange size can change during your pumping and breastfeeding journey. Meet with an SACLC / IBCLC for 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 sore or have damaged nipples, you can soothe and heal your skin by rubbing some of your expressed breast milk or coconut oil onto the nipple and areola.
- Ensure all your pump parts are in good working order and have been replaced when needed to maintain 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 can remove. (5) Massage should be very gentle, with a light touch or stroking of the breast, including underneath and 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 will not flow. Put on some soothing music, watch a comedy, or try the Feher method (see below) to see what difference it makes.
- Cover the bags or bottles you are pumping into. Trying to increase the milk supply is stressful for some folks. By not focusing 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. Galactagogues like Legendairy Milk’s Pump Princess support milk flow and production and help reduce stress and anxiety. Black cumin seed and caraway are herbs known to relieve anxiety, reduce stress, and increase milk supply. (7) Goat’s Rue can increase milk storage capacity. (8) Liquid Gold contains Goat’s rue and Shatavari, 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 effective for thorough milk removal.
Feher Pumping Challenge
Increased stress/anxiety has the potential to interfere with the release of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for milk let-downs. This can cause disruptions in milk flow and milk volume. However, Dr. Stephen Feher showed that relaxation and guided imagery therapy may be a powerful method for mitigating stress and increasing milk volumes. His study included 55 mothers with premature infants in the NICU. They were either randomly assigned to the study group where they were asked to listen to a 20-minute relaxation/guided imagery tape each day or the control group where they did not receive a tape.
One week later, study participants pumped during a visit to the NICU. The women in the relaxation tape group pumped an average of 63% more milk than the control group.
The 20-minute recording is linked here. We recommend listening to the recording once a day for a week, preferably right before or during your nursing/pumping session.
- You may need to increase supply at some point along your breastfeeding journey for many reasons. It can help if your supply took a dip or you want 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 and cluster pumping do not replace an effective latch by your baby or a pattern of nursing or pumping that is insufficient 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 the overall milk supply.
- Overdoing power pumping can cause an oversupply which is not the goal and leads to other complications.
- It is ok if you do not get much milk at first. It is about the signals you are sending to your body to make more milk.
Power pumping and cluster pumping can be valuable tools for increasing your milk supply when you need a little boost. These methods can raise milk production by stimulating more let downs and keeping prolactin levels elevated. Remember, the correct flange size, proper maintenance of pump parts, and incorporating heat and breast massage can optimize your pumping output and experience. Relax and create a soothing environment to allow oxytocin release. Consider breastfeeding supplements from Legendairy Milk to support milk flow and production. While power pumping or cluster pumping can yield results in a matter of days for some, it may take up to two weeks for others, so be patient and consistent. Remember, the goal is not to overdo it but to find what works best for you. Trust your body's ability to respond to the signals you're sending. You've got this!