To Pump More Milk, Use Hands-On Pumping

Would you like an effective method for pumping more milk? Until 2009, most of us assumed that when a mother used a breast pump, the pump should do all of the milk-removal work. But this changed when Jane Morton and her colleagues published a ground-breaking study in the Journal of Perinatology.1 The mothers in this study were pumping exclusively for premature babies in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.

For premature babies, mother’s milk is like a medicine. Any infant formula these babies receive increases their risk of serious illness, so these mothers were under a lot of pressure to pump enough milk to meet their babies’ needs.

Amazingly, when these mothers used their hands as well as their pump to express milk, they pumped an average of 48 percent more milk than the pump alone could remove. This milk also contained twice as much fat as when mothers used only the pump.2 In most mothers exclusively pumping for premature babies, milk production falters after three to four weeks.3 But the mothers using this “hands-on” technique continued to increase their milk production throughout their babies’ entire first eight weeks, the entire length of the study .

Hands-on pumping is not just for mothers with babies in special care. Any mother who pumps can benefit from it. How does it work? To do hands-on pumping, follow these steps:

  1. First, massage both breasts.
  2. Double pump, compressing your breasts as much as you can while pumping. (Search “hands free pumping” online for pumping bras or bustiers that fit any brand of pump and allow you to double pump with both hands free.) Continue until milk flow slows to a trickle.
  3. Massage your breasts again, concentrating on any areas that feel full.
  4. Finish by either hand expressing your milk into the pump’s nipple tunnel or single pumping, whichever yields the most milk. Either way, during this step, do intensive breast compression on each breast, moving back and forth from breast to breast several times until you’ve drained both breasts as fully as possible.

This entire routine took the mothers in the study an average of about 25 minutes. For a demonstration of this technique, watch the online video “How to Use Your Hands When You Pump” at: http://newborns.stanford.edu/Breastfeeding/MaxProduction.html.

These three online videos are examples of three different hand-expression techniques that some mothers have found helpful and can be used as part of hands-on pumping: http://ammehjelpen.no/handmelking?id=907 (scroll down for the English version), http://video.about.com/breastfeeding/Hand-Expression-Technique.htm and http://newborns.stanford.edu/Breastfeeding/HandExpression.html. See also the article Hand Expression on the Breastfeeding USA website.

Hands-on pumping can be used by any mother who wants to improve her pumping milk yield or boost her milk production. Drained breasts make milk faster, and hands-on pumping helps drains your breasts more fully with each pumping.

References
1Morton, J., Hall, J. Y., Wong, R. J., Thairu, L., Benitz, W. E., & Rhine, W. D. (2009). Combining hand techniques with electric pumping increases milk production in mothers of preterm infants. Journal of Perinatology, 29(11), 757-764.
2Morton, J., Wong, R. J., Hall, J. Y., Pang, W.W., Lai, C.T., Lui, J., Hartmann, P.E., & Rhine, W. D. (2012). Combining hand techniques with electric pumping increases the caloric content of milk in mothers of preterm infants. Journal of Perinatology, Jan 5. doi: 10.1038/jp.2011.195. [Epub ahead of print]
3 Hill, P. D., Aldag, J. C., Chatterton, R. T., & Zinaman, M. (2005). Primary and secondary mediators' influence on milk output in lactating mothers of preterm and term infants. J Hum Lact, 21(2), 138-150.

added links to references and studies.