How to cluster pump with an example schedule

This post is part of the series Pumping Mamas

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my secret weapons — aka most effective methods — I used to increase my milk supply was to mimic a nursing baby’s cluster feeding by cluster pumping.

Just joining us? Discover how I increased my milk supply in 8 weeks with seven simple steps.

In the days before and during a growth spurt, nursing babies usually demand a lot more time at the breast. It may feel like they are nursing all the time! Often, these cluster feedings happen in the evenings or at night.

Milk production, after all, is a supply and demand process. When more is demanded, supply is usually increased to meet those demands.

As a pumping Mama whose baby was unable to nurse, the traditional wisdom of letting baby nurse, nurse, nurse would not work for me and my baby.

So I had to figure out how to make my body think the baby was demanding more milk using just my pump.

This is where Cluster Pumping comes into the picture.

Pumping Mama, be sure you have a good quality, hospital grade double electric pump.

I love my Medela Pump-in-Style, which was used 6-10 times a day for 10 months with my first child and is being used that frequently again with my second.

And a hands-free pumping bra is a great investment, too!

Cluster pumping is when you switch from your normal pumping session of 15-20 minutes every 2-4 hours to do the following:

  • Pump for 10 minutes.
  • Break for 5 minutes.
  • Pump for 10 minutes.
  • Break for 5 minutes.
  • Pump for 10 minutes.

I set the timer on my cell phone so I would remember to take the breaks and return from the breaks.

You might be thinking: “I don’t have time for that!”

Well, I hear you. I did not think I would have the time to do this either. With an extremely needy newborn and a toddler under the age of two demanding my attention, trying to get the 15-20 minute pumping sessions every 3 hours was hard enough!

But once I started, I actually found the cluster pumping sessions were far easier to manage than my regular sessions! 

That is because, when the baby started fussing, I knew I had only three or so more minutes of pumping before I could take a break and tend to his needs.

When the toddler came over crying: “Mama! Mama! Food! Wawa!” or whatever it was he wanted, I could gently say: “When you hear the beep-beep, Mama will get you food or wawa or whatever.” That quickly ended the tears and tantrums, and it became a fun game to wait and listen for the cellphone’s alarm announcing a 5-minute break!

Or when my husband shouted from the back room that there was an extremely messy diaper that he needed assistance with, I could say: “Be there in 2 minutes!” or whatever was left on the timer.

So cluster pumping in this way is possible!

Choose at least three of your normal pumping sessions in a row to become cluster pumping sessions and do these consistently for 2-3 days.

Example Schedule

When I began cluster pumping, I was already on a strict 3-hour schedule with a large gap in the morning for much-needed sleep.

Remember to take care of your health, including sleep!

This is an example of what my day looked like when I was cluster pumping:

6:00 am – Normal pumping session
9:00 am – Normal pumping session
12 noon – Cluster pumping session
3:00 pm – Cluster pumping session
6:00 pm – Cluster pumping session
9:00 pm – Normal pumping session
12 midnight- Normal pumping session

I repeated this for 3 days in a row, then took a 2-3 day break where I returned to a normal pumping schedule. Then I would cluster pump again for another 3 days. I saw noticeable results in my daily milk output within a week.

“But,” you protest, “I work! I can’t do this!”

Yes, you can!

You will just have to do your cluster pumping when you are home. So if you work 9-5, you might cluster pumping in the evenings after work. If you work an afternoon/evening shift, cluster pumping in the mornings might work out better.

Make it work with your schedule!

And stay tuned. A future post has resources and tips just for the working Mama!

NOTE: As mentioned in this previous post, sleep is a vital component of your physical and mental well-being. You may have noticed from my example schedule above that I went midnight to 6:00am without a pumping session.

Once I had recovered from five and a half weeks with barely any sleep (only averaging 2-3 hours a night) and was well rested, I threw in an extra early morning pumping session around 3:00 am for about a week to help. Now that my supply is holding consistently (and I’m working full time), I have cut the 3:00 am pumping session out again to make sure I get enough rest.

You may find you have to make temporary adjustments to your schedule, too. Experiment and find what works best for you.

If you are struggling with low milk supply, don’t delay! Start cluster pumping today! I went from barely producing 8oz a day to consistently pumping 32-35 oz in only eight weeks!

Pump on, Mama!
~Jacquelyn


Do you have a low supply? Are you a pumping mama? I want to hear from you! Share your story, your frustrations, your victories by commenting below, emailing me personally, or on my Facebook page.




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