Cluster pumping – how to make it a success

Cluster pumping

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

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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.

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 produce a lot of extra milk so you’ll need some milk storage bags. You’ll be glad to have that extra frozen milk.

Read next: Spectra vs Medela – How to choose the best breast pump

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 10 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 twelve, then seven, then nine, and so on.

Example schedule

Here is an example of a power pumping schedule:

6:00 am — Normal pumping session

9:00 am — Normal pumping session

Noon — Cluster pumping session

3:00 pm — Normal pumping session

6:00 pm — Cluster pumping session

9:00 pm — Normal pumping session

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 that 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.

Gentle massage

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 the milk supply

Mix 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.

FAQ – Cluster pumping

What is cluster pumping?

Cluster pumping is a breast-pumping technique that mimics a baby’s cluster-feeding patterns to stimulate increased milk production.

It involves multiple short pumping sessions in quick succession over a few hours.

How long should I cluster pump for?

Cluster pump for one hour, with a cycle of 20 minutes pumping, 10 minutes rest, 10 minutes pumping, 10 minutes rest, and 10 minutes pumping.

Repeat this routine once or twice daily for 3 to 7 days as needed.

Which is better cluster pumping or power pumping?

Cluster pumping and power pumping are often used interchangeably, but they may have slight variations in practice. The effectiveness of either method depends on individual circumstances and goals.

Cluster pumping is designed to more closely mimic a baby’s frequent feeding sessions, while power pumping is a structured routine of pumping and resting to boost milk supply.

Some may find cluster pumping more effective, while others prefer power pumping for its schedule. The choice depends on personal preference and response to the technique.

Can pumping help with cluster feeding?

Yes, pumping can help with cluster feeding by increasing milk supply to meet the baby’s demand.

By simulating the frequent feeding behavior of cluster feeding, pumping can signal the body to produce more milk.

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