Last Updated on May 10, 2023 by Jada Glover
Cluster pumping is an effective way to increase your milk supply using a breast pump. It is called cluster pumping because it mimics your baby nursing at the breast often or “cluster feeding” with time between feeds.
In this article I will be reviewing how you can use cluster pumping as an effective way to up your breast milk supply.
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What Is Cluster Pumping?
Cluster pumping is a type of milk removal process in which a breastfeeding mom can remove milk with a breast pump. In this case, milk is removed at a pace that mimics a baby being at the breast often during the span of a few hours.
Does Cluster Pumping Increase Milk Supply?
Yes, cluster pumping increases milk supply. This is because you are removing more milk with a breast pump and thus, telling your body to produce more milk.
The more milk you remove from your breasts through cluster pumping, the more milk your body will produce. It can take a few hours to a few days for your body to respond to an increase in milk production.
Be patient and continue the protocol during the evening, which is typically when a baby cluster feeds.
Power Pumping Vs Cluster Pumping: Is There a Difference?
Yes! There are slight differences between the two.
Power pumping can be used to increase milk supply, just as cluster pumping can be, But, power pumping requires moms to be on a stricter schedule during a shorter window of time.
Milk is typically removed via a double electric pump when power pumping. A power pumping schedule may look like an extended regular pumping session at any time of the day. It is best to use this method if a mom is trying to increase milk supply during a certain time of day.
On the other hand, cluster pumping is when a pumping mom mimics the baby being at the breast often for a duration of time, usually at night. This type of feeding is called cluster feeding if a mom is nursing at the breast.
Cluster pumping can last 1-3 hours and is sometimes harder to incorporate into a new mom’s schedule. That’s why cluster feeding at the breast is often stressful.
Moms may feel like their feeding their baby non-stop during that time. Cluster pumping is meant to be much more sporadic than power pumping in timing because that’s how a baby cluster feeds.
When a baby cluster feeds, it does not mean that your milk supply is low. This can happen when your baby is going through a growth spurt, teething, not feeling well, or just trying to increase your milk production. This occurs most often from the first few days of a baby’s life through months three or four.
Reasons Moms Should Cluster Pump
There are a few reasons why a mom may want to produce more milk for her baby. Let’s review them now.
Increase Breast Milk Supply
This is the number one reason why moms may want to cluster pump – to increase breast milk supply. You can increase your breast milk supply for your baby by increasing your prolactin hormone level and emptying your breasts.
It will take a few days for your body to respond to cluster pumping. But, the result should be more milk as your body gears up to make more by responding to the milk removal process.
Build a Freezer Stash
Every mom will have her preference in terms of how much she wants in her freezer. I have worked with some moms that use milk that is pumped that day to feed their baby when she’s away the next day.
This is a great idea because it provides the baby with the antibodies and other nutrients that he/she may need at that time especially during times of illness. I recommend moms use the most recent milk when a baby is sick to help the baby feel better faster.
While building a freezer stash may be important for you, please remember to feed your baby, not the freezer. Some moms get very stressed about having a stash and their baby doesn’t get all the milk he/she needs first.
It is understandable if you want to have a backup supply when you go back to work or school, or need to leave your baby for whatever reason. Two week’s worth of extra breast milk is plenty (even a week is good!)
If you’re planning to donate breast milk to another baby in need, you may need to increase your breast milk supply. This is especially the case if you’re going to provide milk for your baby and another baby.
Some moms have an oversupply and decide to donate milk, while others may want to increase their supply to provide for their own baby and another baby. While this is a personal choice, cluster pumping can aid in increasing your milk supply for this purpose.
There are organizations that will help you find babies and moms in need of breast milk such as Eats on Feets and Human Milk for Human Babies. These are great organizations that are well respected in the breast milk donation realm.
If you’re trying to induce lactation, cluster pumping is an excellent method to incorporate into your overall strategy. If you’re looking for a plan to induce lactation for your baby, read this post: How Do You Induce Lactation If You’re Not Pregnant?
How To Setup For Cluster Pumping When You Want To Increase Your Breast Milk Supply
Cluster pumping will require a couple of hours, so it is ideal that you gather up some of your favorite snacks to have handy like these healthy paleo protein bars, plenty of water, and even an electrolyte drink mix that you can easily add to your water.
A hands-free pumping bra can really be helpful so you can read your favorite book or eat a snack while you’re pumping.
A hands-free pump like the Willow can also be really useful if you’re having to cluster pump often, or pump at work. It can be used inside your bra and become dual purpose for you.
You can use a double pump or a single pump. Studies show double stimulation increases your prolactin levels more, but some moms respond better to a single pump (as if a baby was nursing) with hands-on breast massage. Try both and see which yields more milk for you.
If you’re trying to increase milk production during a session, try this handheld breast warmer and massager that helps in that process. It works similar to a hands-on breast massage and can aid in removing m0re milk in the breast. Just like a baby rubs the breast or holds the breast, this can mimic that action.
Sample Cluster Pumping Schedule For Increasing Milk Supply
Let’s review a good cluster pumping schedule. With the one below, instead of the typical two pumping sessions in the evening, you are replacing it with five sessions.
A cluster pumping session in the evening may take 1-3 hours and can be done in this kind of order.
- Pump for 20 minutes
- Rest for 10 minutes
- Pump for 8 minutes
- Rest for 15 minutes
- Pump for 10 minutes
- Rest for 10 minutes
- Pump for 8 minutes
- Rest for 20 minutes
- Pump for 7 minutes
Since cluster pumping is intended to be more irregular in timing, these intervals can be adjusted if needed. Keep in mind though, the idea is that each time you pump, it should be irregular in timing (instead of 20 minutes each time).
The idea is to mimic a baby nursing for shorter periods of time over the course of a longer duration than a typical 20-30 minute nursing session (when a baby is not considered to be cluster feeding).
Even if you don’t have time to complete a full cluster pumping schedule like above, you can still add 2-3 more pumping sessions into your pumping routine to increase your prolactin level – every time will help!
When Is The Best Time To Cluster Pump To Maximize Milk Output?
The best time to cluster pump to increase milk output is in the evening. This is because a baby typically cluster feeds during this time.
So the goal is to mimic as close to a biologically normal situation as possible – from the schedule to the timing of when you do it.
How Often Should I Cluster Pump To Increase My Milk Supply?
Because it can be stressful and time consuming, you really should only do a cluster pumping session once per day in the evening, and 1-3 times as needed.
If you notice your milk supply increasing after one time, there is no need to continue cluster pumping each night. You could also spread out the evenings you are cluster pumping over a week,
For example, if you have confirmed a low milk supply, try cluster pumping Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. Or, whenever you have extra support at home to help you with your baby.
Is Cluster Pumping Or Power Pumping Better For Increasing Milk Supply?
In general, cluster pumping is better for increasing milk supply because it is the closest to a cluster feeding situation. Power pumping, however, may be easier for moms to manage because it requires less time and can be scheduled whenever is convenient.
If you are looking to increase your milk supply through pumping, it might be time to give cluster pumping a try.
Cluster pumping is a great way to increase your milk supply, and the most biologically equivalent to mimicking a baby’s cluster feeding. This will help you empty your breasts often and increase your prolactin levels, resulting in higher milk output.
Finally, if you are looking for a complete guide to increasing your milk supply, be sure to read my e-book The Ultimate Guide to Increasing Milk Supply Fast. Or, you can fill in the form below to get FREE tips for increasing your milk supply.