Breastfeeding is one of the most natural, pure, and gratifying things in life. It brings us closer to our little ones and provides them with nourishment. So, when we find ourselves with a low milk supply, it can be heartbreaking.
If you’re finding that your milk supply is drying up, don’t give up hope!
Cluster pumping to increase supply can feel like a miracle, and I’m going to talk you through how it works. We’ll look at how to power pump, as well as the best cluster pumping schedule for successful cluster pumping.
Let’s dive in!
Read next: What to do about a sudden drop in milk supply
What is cluster pumping?
Have you heard of cluster feeding before?
In case you haven’t, it’s a feeding habit that some babies have where they feed in short bursts before taking a break and going back to feeding again. A baby’s cluster feeding schedule can be quite unpredictable, with the sessions being shorter than average but there are more of them.
Cluster pumping takes its name from cluster feeding as it mimics the habits and behaviors of babies who cluster feed. Cluster feeding and pumping both increase prolactin levels leading to increased milk production.
In other words: the more you pump or breastfeed, the more milk you produce.
Difference between cluster pumping and power pumping
You may have come across the technique of power pumping to increase supply before. Cluster pumping is similar to power pumping but with a few key differences.
Power pumping involves creating an hour-long pumping schedule to increase supply. Within the space of one hour, you pump for around ten minutes, stop for ten, pump for another ten, and repeat until the hour is done.
Cluster pumping to increase milk supply works similarly but it more closely mimics cluster feeding. You pump for 5-10 minutes, then take a 5-10 minute break. Mix up the number of minutes slightly for each pumping session and each break, and keep this going for more than an hour (but no more than three hours). When you cluster pump, you are mimicking the behaviors and effects of cluster feeding and this can have excellent results for the production of milk.
Supplies you need
The most important thing you need, of course, is a breast pump. My recommendation is either a Medela or a Spectra breast pump. These are the best pumps on the market and both are ideal for prolonged milking sessions. These pumps also offer the option of cluster pumping with a single pump. When power pumping, Medela pumps are an ideal choice.
Read next: Spectra vs Medela – How to choose the best breast pump
As well as a good, reliable breast pump, you also need bottles for the milk, as well as milk storage bags for freezing extra milk. Cluster pumping and power pumping produces a lot of extra milk so you’ll need some milk storage bags. You’ll be glad to have that extra frozen milk.
How to cluster pump
Your first pumping session of your new breast pumping schedule should be the longest. Pump for 20 minutes straight, then rest for ten minutes.
Your second session should be shorter: around ten minutes. Break for another ten minutes. Then pump for another ten-ish minutes and break for a further ten-ish minutes.
Mix it up slightly by pumping for eight minutes, then ten, then twelves, then seven, then nine, and so on.
Here is an example of a power pumping schedule:
6:00 am — Normal pumping session
9:00 am — Normal pumping session
12 noon — Cluster pumping session
3:00 pm — Normal pumping session
6:00 pm — Cluster pumping session
9:00 pm — Normal pumping session
12 midnight — Normal pumping session
Following this cluster feeding timeline should yield great results for increasing your milk supply. By adapting your breast pump schedule to closer mimic the feeding pattern of a cluster feeding baby, you’re encouraging milk supply and milk flow; this usually works brilliantly.
Tips for success
There is never a 100% guarantee for any technique to work perfectly, but if you want to increase the likelihood of success with your new cluster pumping schedule, here are some cluster pumping tips that you can try.
- Continue through the entire hour (resist the urge to stop sooner)
- Have a pumping station set up and ready for use
- Drink plenty of water
- Drink lactation smoothies or nursing tea
- Relax and watch TV or read a book
- Get a hands-free bra
- If possible, try to cluster pump while baby is asleep as it’s difficult to do both at the same time
Don’t be discouraged. It takes time
If you don’t find overnight success with cluster pumping, don’t be surprised or discouraged. You’re working to alter the habits of your body and it takes time for the milk flow to be encouraged. It’s just like exercise: results take time to be noticeable.
Allow your body time to adjust. Getting stressed about a lack of quick success will only make things less likely to work. Be positive and look forward to the benefits when they come.
More ways to increase your milk supply
Whether cluster pumping works for you or it doesn’t, there are plenty of other methods for increasing milk supply. Here are a few of them.
Talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant
This should be one of your first ports of call if you find that your milk supply has dropped.
Increase skin-to-skin contact between you and your little one
Studies show that skin-to-skin contact releases prolactin and stimulates oxytocin which increases milk supply.
Breastfeed at night
The hormones that stimulate breast milk production are produced in higher quantities during the night. So, a good practice to get into is breastfeeding during the night.
Massage your breasts to stimulate the flow, and avoid the cold as much as possible. Keep your body warm and your blood circulating.
Drink smoothies that increase milk supply
Mix together smoothies that contain ingredients such as flax seeds, chia seeds, oats, and nut butter. These ingredients are some of the best supplements to increase milk supply.
Use essential oils
Oils such as fennel, basil, and clary sage can yield fantastic results when encouraging breast milk production.
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