Perhaps the most common concern about producing breast milk is having enough for the baby to drink. Whether mom directly breastfeeds or is an exclusive pumper, there are many reasons why boosting milk supply is crucial.
In general, you can assume your baby is getting enough milk if he or she is gaining weight according to schedule. Still, you may want to consider power pumping to have extra on hand.
While many milk-making products claim to boost mom’s supply, the tried-and-true method that almost never fails is by increasing demand.
After all, it’s truly demand first when it comes to the supply and demand chain.
Power pumping creates a demand which encourages your body to respond, resulting in more milk in record time. Learn all about power pumping and how to implement it as part of your regular pumping schedule in the following sections below.
What is Power Pumping?
Power pumping is a method of pumping moms use to make more milk.
The premise is simple: moms follow a specific schedule of pumping for a set amount of time. Schedule recommendations vary, but most include expressing milk for a set time, then taking a short break. The pattern then repeats, typically for a full hour.
Although power pumping sessions can prove time-consuming, the potential benefits are worth the extra work for many moms. While most sources suggest power pumping one time per day, others recommend taking a weekend to focus on pumping as much as possible.
How Does Power Pumping Work?
As Medela explains, power pumping follows the breastmilk demand and supply concept.
By spending additional time pumping, mom is mimicking the way a baby naturally cluster feeds. The additional suckling sends the message to mom’s body saying the baby needs more to eat. Therefore, your body will produce more milk to compensate.
Further, the more often you empty your breasts, the more production should ramp up naturally. Of course, there are exceptions to the power pumping ideal, so there are no guarantees it will work for all moms alike.
Still, if you are in good health, don’t have any breast injuries, and you’ve been regularly emptying your breasts either through pumping or nursing, you have a good chance of making more milk with power pumping.
Steps to Power Pumping
When you’re ready for a power pumping session, you’ll start a timer when you turn on the pump. Depending on the schedule you choose, you’ll pump for a specific amount of time, then turn the device off.
While you can detach from the pump during your “break” time, doing so is not a necessity – it’s optional. You can choose to remain connected to the pump to catch any extra drops of milk and for convenience, if you prefer it that way.
However, you should make sure your nipples are free from the suction. Shutting the machine off mid-cycle will not break its suction, stretching your nipples out and potentially causing pain or tissue damage.
Some moms power pump once per day, while some sources suggest adding two to four sessions into your current routine.
Whatever you choose, don’t feel discouraged by the lack of immediate increase in milk supply. It can take a while to see results, but keep at it, even if you only see a few extra drops per day at first. All the pieces to the puzzle will come together eventually if you stay consistent.
Sample Power Pumping Schedule
Each pumping schedule has its own potential benefits and methodology, so moms should choose what works best for them.
If you only have the weekend to try and increase milk production, then a one-session-per-day schedule may not help at all.
Conversely, if you only have time for extra pumping once per day, a longer-term schedule may help more.
Here are sample pumping schedules for you to try out, but keep in mind every mom is different. Just like anything else, there’s no one perfect way to power pump.
Ideally, you should spend at least half of your time pumping and a bit of time resting. (Keep in mind that properly resting is equally important in making this a success.)
The intervals are up to you, however. For example, 10 minutes may not be enough, but the milk may stop at minute 11.
If milk is still flowing, though, you won’t want to stop until it stops first. Continuing to pump until the milk stops flowing tells your body to keep producing more – which goes hand in hand with what we’re trying to achieve: an increased milk supply.
Once Daily Power Pumping Schedules
The Milk Meg recommends replacing one regular pumping session per day with a power pumping session.
Along with using hand expression and breast compressions or massage to encourage milk production, the schedule involves:
- Pumping for 20 minutes
- Resting for 10 minutes
- Pumping for 10 minutes
- Resting for 10 minutes
- Pumping for 10 minutes
In total, you’ll pump for 40 minutes over the span of one hour. Maintain this schedule daily until you see the increase you’re looking for.
Exclusive Pumping suggests a total duration of 60 minutes as well, but at differing intervals. For example, one schedule includes 12 minutes of pumping, then an 8-minute break. You’ll repeat the process two times to total about 38 minutes of pumping, all in all.
Feel free to adjust your pumping duration, especially if your milk is still flowing after 12 or more minutes.
Pumping for too long can damage breast tissue, however, and ranks among the top risks of using breast pumps. Therefore, you will want to avoid pumping for longer than 30 minutes at a time.
Benefits to Power Pumping
Most moms wouldn’t put up with pumping at all if it didn’t benefit their babies.
Power pumping is another inconvenience moms undergo to try and make more milk for their babies – talk about love and dedication!
Therefore, the top benefit of power pumping is an increased milk supply.
1) Making More Milk
Most moms who power pump report positive results within a few days, if not sooner.
However, there are currently no (or very little) available studies on the practice of power pumping. Although at least 85 percent of nursing moms use a breast pump, individual pumping practices are more of a mystery.
While it’s true some moms will be unable to increase milk supply by power pumping alone, it will work just fine for many others.
Like other mothering trials, this one appears to be hit or miss when it comes to individual moms and their milk making abilities – but when done right, chances are it’s going to be a hit.
So, the least you can do is give it a try for yourself and see if it works for you. Worst case scenario is you try it, it doesn’t work, and you now know one more technique you shouldn’t waste your time on anymore.
2) Improving Mom’s Well-being
While breastfeeding is good for moms overall, it can be a stressful experience for many who experience low supply issues. Therefore, when moms can make more milk, they feel better from a psychological perspective.
Further, many moms decide to pump because it’s easier for those who want or need to quantify how much milk their babies are consuming.
One study examined a collection of surveys and summarized their findings, dividing reasons for moms using breast pumps. The main reason moms wanted to pump was for more control over how and what their babies ate.
Therefore, if power pumping helps moms achieve peace of mind, it qualifies as an additional benefit to the process.
Potential Drawbacks to Power Pumping
While power pumping is a helpful practice for many moms, it’s definitely not something for everyone out there.
In some cases, power pumping sessions can prove painful, inefficient, and even stressful or emotionally damaging.
1) Precursors to Painful Pumping
In some cases, moms shouldn’t power pump because of past nipple or breast damage. Even for moms who regularly pump to maintain a milk supply, power pumping can irritate previous injuries and cause pain.
Moms who have Raynaud’s of the nipple, for example, may wind up with worse pain from pumping than from directly nursing. Also, moms who have had breast surgery with an incision along the areola may feel pain while pumping but not with nursing.
In most cases, it won’t hurt to attempt power pumping, but you should stop if it becomes painful.
2) When It Doesn’t Work
Unfortunately, not all moms’ bodies will respond to power pumping the same way. One potential drawback is there are no guarantees, so moms may spend extra time pumping without seeing results.
Sadly, this can happen because of pre-existing conditions such as:
- Breast injury or past surgery
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Thyroid or hormonal imbalances
- Underdeveloped milk-producing glands
Moms without pre-existing conditions may also fail to increase milk supply just as well. Especially for women who don’t respond well to a breast pump in the first place, power pumping may not yield the expected results.
Again, you won’t really know until you try, though – so giving up before you’ve even given it at least one shot isn’t the best of ideas.
3) When Pumping Takes Priority
Another potential drawback to power pumping is mom’s inability to multi-task.
If you have a portable breast pump and a pumping bra, you may be able to manage household or parenting tasks while pumping.
If your baby needs you, though, you’ll have to pause pumping to tend to him or her. In the end, you should prioritize you and your baby’s wellbeing over pumping time. Many moms feel they’re missing out when they spend so much time pumping.
Overall, if power pumping is too time consuming or takes away from your personal time for hygiene, eating, or other needs, you may want to re-examine the options for increasing supply.
Power Pumping FAQs
Although there is plenty of advice on using power pumping to increase milk supply, most moms have specific questions about duration, best practices, and potential results.
Here are some the top FAQs.
Q: How Long Should I Power Pump?
Even five minutes can make a difference in your overall milk supply. However, most power pumping schedules involve at least ten-minute intervals of milk expression.
Aim for between 10 and 15 minutes of pumping, then from 5 to 10 minutes of “break” time.
Once per day may be sufficient to increase your milk supply, and you should continue to pump every three hours or so for the rest of the day.
Q: How Soon Will I See Results?
Although every mom is different, most moms will see the impact of their power pumping within about two to four days.
Sometimes, mom’s body may take a day or two to catch up with increased demand. In other cases, moms may power pump for a full week before seeing a boost in milk supply.
Remember, every mom is different, so you should give power pumping plenty of time before giving up.
Also, you should consult with a lactation consultant for additional help with increasing supply. Especially if your baby is slow to gain weight, you may require more immediate intervention.
Q: What Type of Pump is Best for Power Pumping Sessions?
Ideally, moms who need or want to pump for any reason should use a double electric pump. Moms who exclusively pump or who need to produce milk for multiples likely rely on a double electric model already.
Using a double electric pump plus a hands-free pumping bra can help make power pumping less of a chore. Pumping both sides at the same time is also more efficient than working on each side separately.
With a portable pump, you can also take care of other responsibilities while expressing.
Although it’s possible to power pump with a single manual version, your hands will likely tire fast. You can use your manual model for occasional milk expression, however. After all, even five minutes of extra pumping is better than nothing.
Note from Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC: “Renting a hospital-grade pump briefly and using it for power-pumping may be helpful.”
Tips for Power Pumping Moms
Power pumping may not be the easiest task in the world, but there are ways to make it less of a hassle. Here are some of the top power pumping tips for moms looking to make more milk.
1) Eat and Drink More
Every lactating mom needs to drink plenty of water and eat a healthy, nutritious diet. Adding nutritious snacks and better hydration to your routine may help your supply more than power pumping alone.
2) Have Spare Parts on Hand
With power pumping, you’ll be spending more time than usual with your breast pump. Therefore, you may want to have a spare set of flanges and valves at the ready for whenever you need them.
This way, you won’t have to worry about washing the parts to pump again in the next hour or two. Keeping spares available is convenient for daily pumping, too.
3) Invest in a Portable Pump
Medela, Spectra Baby, and other breast pump manufacturers offer rechargeable battery-operated pumps. Newer ‘wearable’ pumps can help you stay mobile while pumping.
A portable pump can mean the difference between sitting idly and getting things done while expressing. Plus, you can get snacks or tend to your child if necessary without unhooking from the machine.
Note from Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC: “Keep in mind this battery power may nto be as effective as having it plugged in to an electric outlet.”
4) Stick to a Schedule
Keeping a loose schedule is crucial for pumping, both regarding your commitment and maximizing production.
Most moms pump every two to four hours during the day, going longer stretches at night. However, with power pumping, you must schedule even more carefully to get the most out of your sessions.
Choose a time for power pumping when you can sit, hopefully uninterrupted, for an hour at once. If you don’t have an extra hour, plan for a pump-in over a weekend and follow the above schedule for “weekend power pumping.”
5) Be Hands-On
While multitasking is one perk with a portable pump, you may want to reconsider taking care of other tasks while powering through.
A breastfeeding study from Stanford Medicine concluded that moms who used “hands-on” pumping techniques produced more milk than moms who let the pump do all the work.
Moms who participated in the study and used massage techniques while pumping produced 45 percent more milk than those who did not.
The method combines hand expression with pumping, where moms massage and compress the breast. This ensures as much milk empties out as possible, creating further demand for milk production.
6) Pump in the Morning
If you’re lucky enough to have a child or children who sleep late, the morning is a good time to sneak in extra pumping time.
Plus, pumping in the morning takes advantage of hormonal peaks which help you make more milk. Higher levels of prolactin mean higher milk secretion.
Milk production can also be higher in the morning thanks to your breasts’ storage capacity. If you can store more milk overnight, you’ll see higher output in the morning at your first pumping session.
7) Directly Nurse When Possible
Not all moms have the desire or ability to directly nurse. Still, lactation consultants maintain direct nursing as the most effective way to make more milk.
However, nursing won’t be efficient if your baby has latch issues or any other condition affecting their ability to drink from the breast.
Note from Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC: “Working through these issues with the help of a lactation consultant will give you the best chance of success, whether or not you include power pumping in the process.”
Experts such as Dr. Sears recommend increasing milk supply via direct nursing whenever possible. Strategies include offering the breast more often, nursing longer, nursing through the night, double-nursing, and taking away pacifiers and bottles.
Hopefully, power pumping will yield the results you’re hoping for.
While extended pumping sessions won’t work for every mom, it’s worth a try before moving on to other more drastic measures such as medication or switching directly to formula feeding.
In most cases, nursing or pumping more is enough to send mom’s body the correct signals for increased production.
Overall, power pumping (when done right and consistently) should help boost supply.
With the addition of galactagogues, lactation supplements, hand expression techniques, and keeping yourself fed and hydrated, you’re covering all the elements which create an ideal pumping scenario.
For most moms, power pumping can become even more productive and rewarding with these techniques and tips.