Although nursing is tough on its own, pumping is a unique challenge for moms who are making milk! It’s time-consuming, frustrating, can be uncomfortable, and as hard as a mom might try, there are no guarantees when it comes to how well the pump works or whether she’s producing enough milk.
Of course, there are a lot of ways to make pumping easier. And one of those is by power pumping. For moms who haven’t heard of it, power pumping is a method that so many moms—exclusively pumping ones included—swear by to increase their milk production and get their milk-makin’ back on track.
Whether it’s an illness or an extended separation from the baby, or any number of other scenarios, there are plenty of reasons why moms’ milk supplies drop. There are also mamas who aren’t able to nurse directly but turn to exclusive pumping to maintain a milk supply to bottle feed their babes for as long as possible.
Whatever reason a mama decides to—or needs to—pump, power pumping can be a lifesaver! Here’s more on power pumping, including 10 things moms need to know about it and 10 reasons why it actually works to make more milk.
20 It’s Not Hard To Do
First, the idea of “power pumping” might sound a bit difficult, and maybe a little bit intimidating. After all, no one wants to hear “power” when we’re referring to the milk makers! But power pumping isn’t that hard, and it doesn’t hurt! The idea is that you pump for short amounts of time, with breaks in between, which total an hour. It’s a process that starts off with pumping until you feel “empty,” then taking a break for a few minutes—usually 10 or so—and then pumping again for 10 or so minutes. The precise schedules vary depending on who you ask, but it’s off and on until an hour or so is up.
19 Baby Might Be Best
For many moms who are struggling with supply issues—or even think they have supply problems—they may think pumping is the only answer. But if you have a baby who nurses effectively and is willing to latch on more often, the absolute best way to make more milk is to have the baby nurse! Besides, it’s a win-win—you don’t have to deal with pumping, and your baby is getting topped off more frequently than normal. Of course, power pumping is a close second if you’re not able to nurse your baby for a short time or if you’re having other breastfeeding struggles.
18 Power Pumping Can’t Fix Everything
While power pumping is great, it’s not a permanent solution to supply or other issues. Even if you power pump often, if your baby isn’t nursing effectively, you will probably still have trouble keeping up your milk supply. Also, power pumping once a week and then slacking on the rest of your pumping sessions on other days doesn’t help, either! Consistency is key with pumping and nursing, as it is with everything else, and that includes between power pumping sessions. So don’t expect miracles, especially if you’re slacking a bit on encouraging your milk production, and most especially if you’ve had low supply for a while already.
17 Moms Might Overdo It
While power pumping is helpful for many moms, the key is doing it right. If you pump for too long or at too high of a suction setting, you can actually hurt yourself. If you hurt yourself, you won’t be able to keep making milk, so taking that kind of chance defeats the purpose of power pumping altogether! The idea is to use the same—hopefully gentle—settings that you already use but switching up the timing to make sure you truly “empty.” Some moms might need to use a higher/deeper suction setting to get the milk out, and that’s fine, as long as they’re not doing it without taking breaks and ensuring there’s some lubrication to prevent chafing or other damage.
16 Doesn’t Have To Hurt
Nursing and pumping can both be a bit uncomfortable, especially for new moms. After all, your body has to adjust to having something attached to your milk makers almost constantly! But beyond that point, pumping shouldn’t hurt, and if it does, you’re probably not doing everything properly. First, your flanges (the part of the pump that touches your body) need to fit correctly, without rubbing, and it’s also helpful to use lubrication to prevent rubbing. Also, your settings should be high enough that you can get the milk flowing, but not so high that you have pain or discomfort during or after a pumping session. Fortunately, most lactation consultants are great at helping moms navigate their pumping process!
15 Setting Aside Time Is Tough
Part of what intimidated me about power pumping was the sheer time commitment of it! You typically need an hour—plus prep and milk storage time for before and after, respectively—to sit with your pump and be able to concentrate on what you’re doing, and time it. So if you have older children or just your nursing baby who need you, it can be tough to set aside that time. It’s also tough when you’re mid-pump and someone needs something. Since power pumping takes “breaks,” you could get up and go do something for those few minutes, but you have to put everything away, so to speak, and it usually turns out not to be worth it!
14 Any Pump Will Do
I touched on this a bit above in regard to exclusively nursing moms, but any mom who uses a pump at any point can power pump. You can use a double or single pump to power pump, a manual one, or any other pump you can get your hands on. And while some moms swear by certain brands of pumps, you don’t necessarily have to have a hospital-grade pump to get the milk out. Sure, a hospital-grade and very effective pump is ideal for exclusively pumping moms, but for many mamas, any old pump will do. The best thing you can do is learn your pump’s settings and figure out what your body responds to best, no matter what brand or type of pump you have.
13 Double Electric Is The Way To Go
Okay, admittedly, you can use any pump to power pump (or pump exclusively). But let’s be honest—who really wants to? Your hand will probably start to cramp up with a manual pump, and manual pumps can only express milk from one side at a time. Double electric pumps, however, can pump both sides at the same time, and you don’t have to do anything. Of course, massaging while pumping is helpful for getting all the milk out, but it’s not a requirement. So I totally recommend a double electric pump for power pumping, both for cutting the time it takes and for the comfort of your hands.
12 Other Methods Might Not Help
Although so many moms who nurse struggle with supply, there are endless suggestions for how to fix things that involve food. The thing is, power pumping is successful because it’s creating a demand for milk, while all those other methods are relying on other facets of biology to encourage milk production. Many mother’s milk teas, for example, have galactagogue ingredients—stuff that stimulates milk production. But there haven’t been enough studies on the subject to definitively say whether those ingredients are helping enough to justify glugging gallons of tea or choking down yeasty-tasting cookies. Power pumping works because it’s emptying you out, not trying to jump start milk another way.
11 Letdowns Keep Letting Down
For most moms, they either pump until the milk stops flowing or nurse until the baby is done eating. In either case, you may not really know how many times you have a “letdown”—when the milk starts spraying out. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe, and it’s often tough for nursing moms to notice, but moms who pump can usually tell their milk is letting down because you suddenly feel a sort of twinge and a bit of pressure. Then the milk starts spraying. So many moms might be surprised to know that even after you think you’ve gotten all the milk out, you could still have another letdown—which the “breaks” with power pumping take advantage of!
10 You’re Never Really “Empty”
While you might see the letdowns stop for the most part, power pumping is also effective because your milk storage is never truly empty! Because as soon as you take the milk out, your body starts making more. This is the whole premise that power pumping is based on, as you’re removing the milk and making room for more, which starts flowing in. Those small breaks in between are often just what your body needs to start regenerating your milk supply. It might not result in extra ounces in one session, but the act of removing and then requesting more milk from your body tells it to gear up for making more over the long term.
9 Demand Creates Supply
Here’s why “emptying” isn’t really a thing with pumping: every time your baby nurses or you turn your pump on, you’re creating demand. Demanding milk from your body tells it that there’s not enough and you need more. So in response to power pumping, where you’re still pumping even though milk is barely coming out halfway through the session, your body will kick your supply up a notch to meet the demand. This is the essential theory behind nursing your baby more to make more milk, and that’s why power pumping is so effective in helping bolster your supply further.
8 Mimicking Nature’s Solution
When a new mom has a baby and is nursing, she’s often told to feed the baby whenever the baby shows an interest. That’s because new babies may not eat much at a time, so they need to eat more often. Also, the demand your baby is showing encourages your body to keep making more milk so it’s ready whenever the baby needs it. And just like cluster feeding, where a baby may nurse for ten minutes and then twenty minutes later want another snack, power pumping takes advantage of your body’s processes the same way. So if your baby can’t or won’t nurse, or you’re exclusively pumping, you can imitate nature with the pump.
7 Making It Regular Trains The Body
Another reason why power pumping is so effective is that if you do it repeatedly—say once or twice a week—it teaches your body to keep making more milk. Think of it like training for the gals—you’re reminding your body that there’s still a demand for more milk than what it’s currently producing, and if you keep it up, your body will start to respond on its own. It’s the same explanation that’s behind moms who have oversupply and who pump to relieve engorgement. If they keep pumping to remove the milk, their body will keep making more because they’re training it to keep putting out more milk!
6 It’s Not An Everyday Thing
Although pumping itself is no fun, especially if you do it a handful of times per day every day, power pumping is an occasional thing. You don’t have to spend an extra hour per day attached to your pump. Many moms swear by power pumping once a week—or just when they notice a dip in supply—and so there’s no adjustment to the daily schedule because of it. And sure, an hour seems like a long time to be stuck to the pump, but since it’s just one time every few days or so, in the scheme of things, it’s not such a tough commitment to make.
5 Sending Signs To The Body
Power pumping is also one of the things nursing moms can do to send messages to their bodies. Supply and demand is the system that works to keep making milk even once you feel “empty,” but power pumping also sends other signals to your body. If your baby nurses, for example, your milk is custom-tailored to your tot. And when your baby is sick, going through a growth spurt, or teething, your milk will change to accommodate different needs. So it follows that power pumping will only promote those types of functions—if your baby’s been nursing and she’s sick, when you power pump, you’re telling your body to make more of whatever milk it’s currently producing—which may very well have more antibodies than the “regular” milk.
4 When Moms Concentrate, Milk Comes
If you exclusively pump, you could probably go through the motions without even opening your eyes. And if you do exclusively pump, you probably have before, thanks to being bleary-eyed in the middle of the night but feeling engorged! So committing to power pumping once or so per week almost forces you to pay more attention to the milk production process. At first, it’s like a normal pumping session and you pump until empty. Then you pause for a few minutes, and when you start back up again, you’ll be paying more attention to whether or not the milk is coming, how the letdown feels, and whether one side is putting out more than the other. Basically, power pumping makes you work harder on concentrating!
3 Your Body Recognizes The Signs
Even for moms whose milk supplies are fading fast—let’s say your baby weaned due to an illness but decided to nurse again, or your pump broke and you didn’t have access to a new one for a few days—power pumping can help. It works because your body inherently “knows” when you need milk from it due to the mechanical process of pumping. The moment you turn the pump on and start coaxing the milk out, your body starts responding—even if you can’t see it yet! Being consistent with pumping, even after barely having a supply at all, can reestablish your milk stores and help you provide mama milk for your baby again.
2 Just Like Baby
While admittedly, there’s nothing truly like nursing your baby, using a pump is a great second-best. And when you power pump, you’re basically imitating your baby’s natural habits and taking advantage of your body’s biological programming to respond to those habits. In that sense, power pumping is just like your baby because it’s showing your body that demand for milk production is variable and unpredictable, and that things can change in a snap! So if your baby can’t or won’t nurse—or you need to amp up your supply to store milk for when you’re away—power pumping acts like another “baby” and keeps your body on its milk-making toes.
1 Not Just For Pumping Moms
Even though moms who nurse their babies exclusively experience supply worries, too, it’s more common for moms who exclusively pump to be familiar with power pumping to begin with. But even moms who exclusively nurse can still power pump to help their supply, as long as they either purchase a pump or learn to hand express. You can also power pump with a manual pump, even doing one side at a time if you need to—and actually, that makes for a perfect rotation of on-off for the timing of power pumping. Regardless, moms who nurse can pump milk and give it to their babies later, and still nurse before and after the pumping session, too.