Power Pumping: Does it Work?

Written by Jody Segrave-Daly, RN, IBCLC, The Momivist & Co-Founder of The Fed Is Best Foundation

What is power pumping?

Power pumping refers to when a breastfeeding mother uses a breast pump to remove as much
breast milk as she can in rapid (concentrated) intervals, in an attempt to stimulate her milk supply.

The theory behind power pumping is that it hyper-stimulates the prolactin hormone cascade that stimulates breast milk production, by completely emptying the breasts. Mothers report that this process takes 4-7 days to begin seeing any results and some report not seeing a difference at all. The science on this theory is as split as the results are.

Various studies support regularly spaced intervals of pump stimulation as a very effective method in increasing milk supply, particularly in the cases of women with premature infants who may not be able to feed at the same rates as a full-term infant. The difference with power pumping is that it suggests taking that regular pumping pattern and concentrating it into an intense one-hour removal process, which is aimed to increase milk supply.

After milk supply levels are up, a mother may begin to wean from daily power pumping according to her production amount. And power pumping may indeed be an effective solution for some mothers, but not all. The bottom line is every mother is different. And it is extremely important to consult with a lactation consultant and physician to determine why your milk supply is low, otherwise, an opportunity could be missed to increase milk supply, if other interventions are needed.

If you’re interested in powering pumping to try it out, here’s a general guideline:

How to power-pump

While there is no research evidence that recommends how long a pumping session should last, or how far apart those sessions should be, according to mammography ultrasounds, a lactating breast typically empties in 10-15 minutes. Research tells us completely emptying both breasts is what produces more breast milk. That means a range of 10-15 minutes may likely a good time period for a pumping.  

Power pumping cycles are meant to be started immediately after breastfeeding

Power pumping cycles are meant to be started immediately after breastfeeding

Power pumping is suggested to be done immediately after a breastfeeding session or in lieu of a feeding session (for pump-dependent mothers). If a mother cannot power pump immediately after a feeding, it is best to wait until after the next feeding as she will not have enough milk at the baby’s next feeding otherwise.

And, sometimes a baby will need supplemented after a power pump session (either with your own milk, milk bank milk, or formula, or a mix) until milk supply begins to increase.

The general recommendation is to pick a time for an uninterrupted pumping and then pump for 10 minutes, and then rest for 10 minutes. This cycle will continue for one full hour. That’s 3 pumping sessions in 60 minutes. Some mothers will need to PP into 2 divided sessions, because of time constraints – after all, all of this time away from the baby can be difficult to achieve without an extra set of hands. An example schedule would be 30 minutes of power-pumping, 2 times a day (pump, rest, pump. And then later, pump, rest, pump).

Where do I start?

I suggest using a hands-free pumping bra for maximum comfort and massaging and compressing your breasts while pumping, especially when a let-down is occurring. Some mothers report getting almost 50 percent more milk using this technique.  This technique is called hands-on-pumping and we know full removal of milk is more effective than frequent pumping. Making a hands-free pumping bra is easy using a very tight sports bra and cutting out the access area for the flanges.

Here are a few resources I find helpful:

Review the video Maximizing Breast Milk Volume.” This video is a fantastic free resource and I can’t stress to you, the importance of watching it. There is a study that even shows how listening to music while pumping can help with milk expression!

Ideas from pumping mothers are to video/record a breastfeeding session on your phone and then view it as you are pumping. Mothers report when they see and hear their babies, pumping can be more pleasurable.

Tips for Power-pumping and maximizing milk removal

A few additional tips, which apply to any pumping mother, but can be especially helpful if you’re trying to undertake power pumping:

  • Applying warm rice packs on your breasts 10 minutes before pumping can be very helpful relaxing smooth muscles before pumping. Please be careful to avoid burns by testing the temperature of warm rice packs before application.
  • Rinsing the pump flanges under warm running water can be helpful too.
  • Make sure your pump flange size is correct. Some mothers may need different sized flanges for each breast and some mothers report getting more milk with a bigger size flange. Just like every mom is different – so is every breast!
  • Pump at the maximum suction strength, according to personal toleration is best. Increasing suction strength during a let-down and reducing back to original suction setting after let-down is complete (around 2 minutes later), is helpful.
  • Apply a small amount of lubricant before pumping to minimize friction from pumping, which can cause sore nipples if not done properly.
  • Make sure the pump is in good working order by having it tested with a pressure gauge. Valve membranes need to be replaced monthly if pumping often.
  • One breast will typically produce more than the other. Research has shown the right breast is the biggest milk producer for the majority of mothers (about 76 percent).
  • Mothers of boys produce a significant difference from mothers of girls. (about 151 mls.)

To date for power-pumping, there is no difference in the kind of double electric powered breast pump for milk removal. Most mothers find they have their own personal preferences for the type of pump that works best for them. Again, it is the removal of milk that determines increased milk production. But a new pump is recommended with each baby or after using it for one year as pumps can begin to lose their suction strength and remember, the only personal breast pumps that can ever be reused are closed system pumps. There are known risks for mold and bacterial contamination in open pump motor systems.

Updated study.

Which Breast Pump for Which Mother: An Evidenced-Based Approach to Individualizing Breast Pump Technology

This review provides extensive evidence for each of these categories and can serve as a reference for individualizing the breast pump type and use to the specific mother-infant dyad. This information can also serve as an evidence-based guide for public and private payers to ensure that mothers receive a breast pump that is individualized to their specific HM expression needs.


A Final Note About Milk “Boosters”

When it comes to breast milk production, there is no scientific research that shows using galactoguges, such as fenugreek, goat’s rue, wild asparagus, fennel, blessed thistle and nettle (to name just a few) are effective or safe. In fact, breast milk is rejected at milk banks, if fenugreek is found during the screening process.

And I urge you to please talk with your physician before taking any Lactation Consultant suggested herbal supplements or domperidone bought off the internet.  Domperidone is banned in the US and should never be bought on the internet for personal use, and prescription medications such as Reglan should only be used under the guidance of your physician. 

Pumping is the best tool we have for potentially increasing milk supply in mothers, and power pumping might be an additional method of pumping to make that happen more easily. But the truth is we simply don’t know ENOUGH about lactating mammary physiology in humans to say so with scientific certainty, only that we know with scientific certainty that pumping has a high rate of success. Clearly more research is desperately needed!

JodyBioJody Segrave-Daly NICU RN, IBCLC, The Momivist, Co-Founder of the Fed Is Best Foundation

A champion for debunking pseudo-science in the breastfeeding community and a staunch advocate for protecting underfed breastfed babies. The Momivist on Facebook.