Looking to Increase Your Pumping Output? Try Parallel Pumping!

by Jessica Martin-Weber with Dr. Kathleen F. McCue, FNP-BC, IBCLC-RLC
This article made possible by the generous support of Littlebeam Nursing Pillows.

Not every lactating parent will find it necessary to pump to reach their breastfeeding goals. Many, however, do find it necessary. Whatever the reason for pumping breastmilk- whether it is to supplement your baby with your milk when you are away from them, to supplement at-the-breast feeds regularly, or in order to donate – efficiency and sufficient milk supply are certainly desired. While the primary way to increase breastmilk supply is to empty the breasts fully and frequently, and usually nothing is quite as good at that as your baby, sometimes other strategies are helpful particularly if you’re looking to increase your pumping output. It is important to note that output isn’t the same as supply and sometimes it is just about getting the milk that is in the breast, out of the breast! Typically, if everything is functioning normally, our sweet, soft, warm, cuddly babies are much better at emptying the breast than a cold, whirring machine pressed against your breast sucking mechanically. Letting down to a breast pump may take time and practice and there are several different aspects of milk let down with a pump that can help such as proper flange fit, lubricating flanges, and utilizing the suction and speed settings on the pump to customize cycles that encourage let down and expression. Without that cuddly, sweet, soft, and warm baby, trying to get letdown can be, well… a let down.

But what if you could have the cuddly warm baby help with both emptying the breast and having more of an output with the pump?

Rather than feeding baby directly from the breast, then pump, then bottle-feed (also called “triple feeding”), pumping one side while baby is latched on the other can cut down on a step if supplementing with mother’s milk is necessary. Pumping one side while baby is latched on the other is called “parallel pumping.” Parallel pumping may cut down on work, save time, and may lead to increased output. Parallel pumping is the breastfeeding version of working smarter, not harder. It is believed parallel pumping yields such results because having baby latched helps with initial letdown (ever leak from one breast when baby is latched and breastfeeding from the other breast?), trigger additional letdowns to the pump, and double stimulation increases the body’s response and increases milk production- much like having twins. My own personal experience with parallel pumping was such that even when my own babies no longer needed my milk, I was responding so well with parallel pumping that I continued in order to donate my milk to other babies. It made pumping seem like less of a time commitment in order to donate as I was able to do it when I was already sitting to feed my baby, and it took less time to pump while having an even higher output.

*Keep reading for tips on getting started with parallel pumping.

The technique of parallel pumping works so well and with such efficiency that many parents have tried it with excellent results. Dr. Kathleen F. McCue conducted a study that is being published in Clinical Lactation journal that looked at satisfaction with the technique of parallel pumping. 

Some comments from patients:

“I was able to sit there and nurse him and also pump so that my husband can do the next feeding, which was fabulous.”

“I felt a sense of accomplishment the first time I did it. [Like,] ‘Okay, look at this. It’s working really well.’ She got into the football hold. I was able to pump, and it did feel like it was maximizing time.”

“Once you get the mechanics down it felt good in a way to feel like you were being efficient, like an efficient use of time.”

“I feel like I’m getting the pumping done simultaneously. Because I’m only pumping one breast at a time I can have one clean flange waiting… for next round. It actually takes a little bit of pressure off of me and I feel like I’m getting more done.”

“It is just efficient, because if my daughter only wanted to nurse from one side then normally what I would do is that I would feed her and then get her down sleeping, and then pump the other side. So, if I could just pump while she was nursing, it’s more efficient that way. That was nice not to have to then, after I get her down, then sit down and have to pump for another 15 minutes.”

Now you have heard how well parallel pumping works, it’s time to get started!

  • Get comfortable feeding your baby with a variety of holds. Many find the football hold most comfortable for parallel pumping but try different holds and get comfortable with them to see what best works for you.
  • Pillows are your friend. Support your baby’s body with pillows. A versatile nursing pillow such as the Littlebeam Nursing Pillow will allow you to find the best position that works for you and your baby. Use as many pillows as necessary to support your baby at your breast.
  • Choose your pump. A double electric pump may be most efficient even though you’re only using one side to parallel pump. However, some find a single electric or manual pump to be sufficient. A passive silicone suction pump may be a comfortable, effective option as well.
  • Set up and be familiar with your pump before trying to parallel pump. A few pumping sessions with just the pump can go a long way in making the experience of parallel pumping a smooth one. Remember, it isn’t always best to crank the speed and suction all the way up, particularly if it makes you uncomfortable or causes you pain. Instead, use the highest comfortable vacuum setting with the highest speed to encourage letdown, slowing the speed when letdown is achieved. Adjust multiple times through the feed/pumping session for best results.
  • A hands-free-pumping bra is the way to go. Free up your hands to support your baby, use the pump controls, utilize hands on pumping/breast massage, or even just to be able to take a drink while you feed the baby and the pump.
  • Get comfortable. Find a spot that is comfortable with plenty of room for you, the baby, and your pump. 
  • Don’t wait for late hunger cues. Set up before baby is too hungry by catching those early hunger cues and get situated before baby is upset and “hangry.” Have flanges and milk storage container (bottle or bag) washed and ready to go between feedings/pumping sessions.
  • Position pump first. Have the pump placed on your breast before bringing your baby to your breast. It is much more challenging to get the pump in place with a squirmy baby on the other breast.
  • Distraction. Some babies find the pump to be a distraction and may hit or kick the pump, yank tubing, or simply stop feeding to look at it. Have something for baby to focus on such as a nursing necklace or safe toy.
  • Have baby prime the pump! Latch baby before starting to pump then turn on the pump (remember, not too strong- pain interferes with letdown!) and pay attention to your baby. Before you know it, your milk will be flowing!

Want more on parallel pumping? Watch the following video with Dr. Kathleen McCue.

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