If a mother has been encouraged to use breast compressions by a breastfeeding support person she may have some questions about how to use the technique. She may be thinking, “Is it just squeezing the breast?” Some of the common questions about breast compressions relate to when to do the compression, where to place the hands, and how compressions help milk removal. Because breast compression stimulates let-down, the technique is useful when a mother is assisting her baby that is having a difficult time removing milk at the breast, or when she is increasing her milk supply through pumping.
Breast compression is simply using your hand to apply gentle pressure to the breast while nursing or pumping in order to increase milk transfer. The technique can assist a baby (or breast pump) in removing the milk through the positive pressure created in the breast. Both breast compression and gentle breast massage can help keep a baby actively sucking during breastfeeding, and can also increase the fat content of breastmilk. This technique can be helpful when a baby is not gaining weight well or is breastfeeding for extremely long periods because of an unorganized sucking pattern. In some cases, breast compression can assist babies that are nursing in clusters of frequent back-to-back periods of feeding by helping them take in more milk for their efforts (cluster feeding is common and normal during periods of rapid infant growth). Breast compressions can also make breastfeeding more productive for jaundiced babies (symptomatically sleepy, groggy or hard to wake babies) by pushing the milk to the forward part of the breast for easier removal. Similarly breast compressions can help babies that need additional support because of low muscle tone. If breastfeeding is going well, there is no need to use breast compression!
Before you begin breastfeeding, cup your breast with your hand, placing your thumb on the upper side (top) of your breast and your fingers below. Keep your hand close to your chest wall (imagine making a “C” shape with your hand). Assure your baby is latched on well. Watch for active sucking and drinking, and when your baby is “nibbling”, gently squeeze the breast ( place your fingers away from the baby’s latch so they don’t pop the baby off!) . Gently squeeze and hold until your baby stops to take a breath. Stop the compression cycle when your baby rests, so that your compressions are in tune with your baby’s pattern of eating.
Dr. Jack Newman shares a video of a woman nursing and compressing for better milk transfer here:
You can also use massage and breast compression to improve your milk flow while pumping. Release your gentle squeeze when the visible streams of milk in the tunnel of your pump flange dwindle. The Standford School of Medicine offers a fantastic video about combining breast compression and hand expression with pumping in order to maximize milk production here:
How To Use Your Hands When You Pump
Breast Massage How-To
With your hand on your upper chest near your collarbone, begin to massage toward the nipple with your palm using firm but gentle circular strokes. Work from the top of the breast down towards the nipple. Move your palm over and start at the top again. When you reach the armpit, place your opposite hand over the hand doing the
massage and continue toward the nipple with gentle but firm pressure. Breast massage stimulates the let-down reflex, and helps with increasing a mother’s ability to remove milk.
Morton, J et al (2009) Combining hand techniques with electric pumping increases milk production in mothers of preterm infants Journal of Perinatology 29, 757-764
Mohrbacher, N (2010) Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple: A Guide for Helping Mothers Amarillo, Texas. Hale Publishing, L.P.
Riordan, J. , Wambach, K. (2009) Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Sudbury, MA. Jones and Bartlett Publishers