Pumping isn’t the most natural experience. Hard flanges are attached to your breasts, your nipples are tugged into shapes that you once would have thought were appalling, and tubes get tangled up as you try to hold everything in place without spilling a drop.
If you only produce a few milliliters of milk after this sucking-and-juggling session that requires you to have as many hands as an octopus, pumping can be downright discouraging.
Did you know that there’s an easy way for you to produce more milk while you pump, though? In addition to the basic tips for pumping more (such as pumping when you’re relaxed, listening to baby sounds while pumping or using the right flange size), you can use hands-on pumping to maximize your milk output.
What is Hands-On Pumping?
Hands-on pumping is a technique that was discovered by Dr. Jane Morton at Stanford University while looking for techniques that moms of preemies could use to make more milk. It involves using your hands to massage the breasts during and after pumping to empty your breasts.
Why would you want to do this? The benefits of hands-on pumping include:
You can pump almost 50% more milk!
Empty your breasts fully with each pumping
Boost your milk supply
Increase the amount of fat and calories in the milk that you pump
Get more milk without spending extra time pumping
The pump’s suction isn’t enough to remove milk efficiently. (This is one reason why you should never increase the pump’s suction to an uncomfortable level).
Hands-on pumping mimics what babies do when they knead your breasts with their hands and roll their tongue along your areola.
Who Should Use Hands-On Pumping?
Hands-on pumping isn’t just for preemie moms. Anyone who pumps breastmilk can use the technique.
When your breasts drain fully, they make more milk faster. Practicing this method can also help you avoid mastitis. Plus, it’s nice to know that you’ve pumped efficiently when you put a good 25 minutes into a pumping session.
But hands-on pumping shouldn’t replace being with your baby. Nothing extracts milk better than an infant. You can regulate your supply by keeping baby close to you as much as possible and holding him or her skin to skin when you can.
If you have to be apart from your infant because of medical issues or your little one isn’t latching properly, though, you may worry about providing the sustenance that your child needs. That’s where hands-on pumping can come in.
How Does Hands-On Pumping Work?
To do hands-on pumping, you need a double electric pump. A pumping bra can also help you use your hands freely while you pump.
Here are the steps for hands-on pumping:
1. Gently massage your breasts and nipples before beginning. This stimulates the milk ejection reflex.
2. Use a double pump to extract milk. Compress, squeeze and massage your breasts while doing this. Watch the way that the milk sprays out to determine whether your massage is effective. You can also feel for hard or full spots in your breasts, working those out as you pump.
3. Pump until the milk slows down to a trickle. When it does, massage your breasts again, paying special attention to areas that feel hard or full.
4. Complete the process by hand expressing more milk into a cup or into the flange of the breast pump. If you have trouble with hand expression, you can use a single flange to pump one breast at a time, and compress that breast with both hands while pumping. You may end up expressing just as much milk as the pump did when you do this.
This hands-on pumping video shows you exactly how to use this technique.
Tips for Hands-On Pumping
Everyone develops a different technique for hands-on pumping. You may have to experiment to determine what works best for you. Here are some tips for hands-on pumping:
You might start by using both hands to compress both breasts at once while you’re pumping. You can squeeze using your entire palm or massage using a few fingers. (Hint: It’s much easier with a pumping bra!)
Then, focus on one breast at a time, using your fingers or thumb to work out any hard spots, moving in circular motions or directing the flow toward your nipple.
When hand expressing, push toward your chest. It’s tempting to pull your nipple out toward the flange, but you’ll usually get more milk if you press inward well behind your nipple and areola.
As you finish the session, concentrate on one breast at a time to give the other one a chance to rest.
Don’t forget to massage and compress the side margins of your breast, under your armpits.
It’s easy to feel like you get the hang of it by reading through and envisioning the steps. But if you’ve ever tried to hand express or massage your breast as you pump, you might know that getting comfortable with the process can be tricky.
That’s normal. Most moms need to be taught how to hand express if they want to get a significant volume of milk using this method.
Contact an IBCLC to assist with hand expressi