Hands on Pumping
What is ‘hands-on pumping’?
The hands-on pumping method involves using your hands to massage your breasts while you express breastmilk with a pump. Ever notice your baby grabbing and kneading at your breast while they’re feeding? It’s an instinct that helps them extract more milk. And it may sound a little strange, but you can use hand expression while pumping to extract more milk than with a breast pump alone.
Dr. Jane Morton, a pediatrician and lactation consultant, originally developed this technique to help mothers of very premature babies reach and maintain high levels of breastmilk production. But any mom who needs to pump more breastmilk can use it.
Why go through all the extra effort? Pumping can be a lot more effective when you learn to combine it with breast massage and hand expression, especially early on. One study showed that moms of premature babies who used the hands-on pumping method increased their milk by an amazing 48%1. Their expressed milk also had higher fat content2 , which supports baby’s brain and nervous system development. Hands-on pumping for the double win!
How do I do it?
Tip: Use a hands-free pumping bra like the Lansinoh Simple Wishes Bra to free up both hands while you pump.
- Start by massaging both breasts and nipples to stimulate your milk ejection reflex. Having your baby nearby or thinking about your baby may help to get your milk flowing. Some mothers look at photos of their baby, watch videos, or even hold a blanket that has baby’s scent to help stimulate this reflex. Using heat can also help encourage your let-down and stimulate faster milk flow3. Lansinoh’s Therapearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy packs are a great warm-up for your pumping routine.
- Use a double electric breast pump on the highest suction setting that is comfortable and pump both breasts at the same time. Pumping should not hurt. Some pumps, like the Lansinoh Smartpump 2.0, offer different pumping styles and suction options to help you find the one that‘s most like your baby’s feeding pattern.
- While pumping, use your hands to massage and compress milk out of your breasts, and be sure to include areas further back on the breast. Milk comes out through your nipples but it’s produced further back in the breast tissue, so massage or compression in those areas can improve pumping results. Feel for any areas of firmness and focus your massage there. Moms find that different techniques work for them, so try different techniques like massaging in little circles or using compression. Experiment to find what works for you, and watch as your milk sprays into the collection bottle to help guide you.
- When your flow slows to a few drops, stop pumping and massage your breasts again for a minute or two. Pay special attention to any areas of fullness.
- Finish expression, either by single pumping or using hand expression while pumping, alternating from one breast to the other until both breasts feel fully drained.
Tip: Recording how much milk you express each time may help you fine-tune your technique.
To maximize the amount of milk you express, spend as much time as possible holding your baby skin-to-skin. It’s not only fun to get baby snuggles, but it helps stimulate the hormones that cause your milk to let down. It takes practice and extra effort, but for many moms, hands-on pumping is worth it.
1 MORTON J et al (2009). Combining hand techniques with electric pumping increases milk production in mothers of preterm infants. J Perinatol 29:757-764. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26335360_Combining_hand_techniques_with_electric_pumping_increases_milk_production_in_mothers_of_preterm_infants.
2 MORTON J et al (2012) Combining hand techniques with electric pumping increases the caloric content of milk in mothers of preterm infants. J Perinatol 32:791–796. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/jp2011195#citeas.
3 KENT JC et al (2011) Effect of warm breastshields on breast milk pumping. JHL 27(4):331-338.