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 cluster pump. That means mimicking a nursing baby’s cluster feeding with my pump.
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. Supply usually increases to meet the greater demand.
As a pumping Mama whose baby was unable/unwilling 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.
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Supplies you need
Pumping Mama, first you need to be sure to have a good quality, hospital grade double electric pump.
I love my Medela Pump-in-Style Advance. It has been used 6-10 times a day for 10 months with my first child, 6-10 times a day for 8 months with my second, and 3-4 times five-days a week for 7 months and counting with my third.
Another electric pump with a good track record among working moms and moms that pump exclusively is Spectra S2 Plus.
If you have to money (sadly I did not) you may want to consider the wearable breast pump Willow. I wish this technology was more affordable for us working moms on tight budgets, but I hope the price will go down in the next few years.
Other items of importance include:
- Bottles that work with your pump and that have caps and nipples.
- Milk storage bags for freezing extra milk.
- Soap that cuts through the residue breastmilk leaves on pump parts and bottles.
Though not strictly necessary, a hands free pumping bra is a great investment if you are a full-time pumper. I primarily used the Medela hands-free bustier but I’ve also heard good things about Simple Wishes.
Check out this list of resources for the pumping Mama!
So what is cluster pumping? It is when you pump in shorter clusters, much like a baby might nurse, to trick your body into increasing its milk supply.
To cluster pump successfully, you need to switch three of your normal 15-20 minute pumping sessions to 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.
But isn’t that time-consuming?
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!
Also 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!
Simply choose at least three of your normal pumping sessions in a row to become cluster pumping sessions and do this consistently for 2-3 days.
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!
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.
To sum up
First I had to recover from five and a half weeks with barely any sleep (only averaging 2-3 hours a night). I needed to be well rested. In full disclosure, I also drank one cup of lactation tea a day. (My favorite, and the one I saw the most increase with, is Pink Stork’s Lactation Tea.)
Then I threw in an extra early morning pumping session around 3:00 am for about a week to help. About then my supply began holding steady (and I was working full time), and I was able to 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, you might wan to consider trying cluster pumping.* I went from barely producing 8oz a day to consistently pumping 32-35 oz in only eight weeks!
*A side note
If you are a few days postpartum and your milk supply does not come in OR you are further along in your breastfeeding journey but the advice shared here is not working for you (we are different, after all), there may be some underlying issues and causes unique to your situation. I highly recommend talking with your doctor and a lactation consultant. You may need medicinal help to jumpstart your supply and that is ok!
If you are tired of the struggle and decide to wean early, that is ok, too! With my first, we reached 10 months of exclusive pumping with only the occasional formula supplement. With my second, also exclusively pumping, I reached a point where I decided to wean at eight months. I view it as a success, and I never would have reached eight months without the assistance of donated breast milk and formula supplement. With my third – my only breastfed-from-the-tap baby – we are at 15 months and still going strong.
Each baby and each breastfeeding journey is unique.
I highly encourage that you discover the right combination for you and your baby. Happy, healthy baby and a happy, healthy Mama should always be your goal.
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.
Disclosure: The links in this post may be affiliate links, meaning that, at no additional cost to you, I may receive a commission for purchases. Learn more. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog.
Continue reading this series:
The Pumping Mama’s Ultimate List of Must-Have Items
10 thoughts on “How to cluster pump with an example schedule”
Hello. I am doing the cluster pumping that you have mentioned here in your post. I have two newborn twins and I would like to know if I could cluster pump for longer than 2-3 days so that I can build my milk supply up more. Thank you for your help.
Congratulations on your twins, Danielle! Wow! You definitely have your hands full. Just remember that any breastmilk you can provide – no matter how much or how little – is wonderful for your little ones. Do what you can, but don’t stress yourself out or put undue pressure on yourself. Our bodies, and milk supplies, don’t respond well to stress.
My recommendation is to cluster pump for no more than 3 days in a row and then take at least a two day break (meaning, resume your normal pumping schedule for two days) before doing another 3 days of cluster pumping. This better mimics the pattern of babies who cluster feed directly from the breast, and it also provides your nipples a rest as pumping can be rough. Make sure you are using a flange/breast shield that is the right size for your nipples. (Following your pump’s sizing instructions.)
If you find you are having letdowns throughout the day that aren’t happening when you pump, I found Lacti-cups to be very beneficial. It collects the letdown milk so it does not go to waste, and when you are feeding a hungry newborn (or two, in your case) every saved ounce is precious! If you need a little boost or something yummy to drink, I love Pink Stork’s Lactation Tea. It really helped when I was working on my milk supply with my second baby, and I’m still enjoying it currently with my third baby.
Remember to be kind to yourself, too! You are amazing! Congratulations again on your little ones.
You are doing amazing work! Thanks for sharing your wonderful posts 👍. Cluster pump is great. But until I started the domperidone my baby may well have fed on blood from a stone. We tried the skin-to-skin, the constant feeding, the teas, the massages, but basically my milk never came in in sufficient quantity. Just as I was about to quit, a friend suggested domperidone (So happy 😊 I found ‘GET247DOM’ in Google and got Dom). ❤️ I was able to stop the domperidone after a while and supply held more or less steady.
That is wonderful, Crystal! Yes, sometimes our bodies need some additional help beyond cluster pumping, lactation teas, or eating more oatmeal. I’m so glad that domperidone was your solution! ♥️
hi Jacquelyn, thank you so much for your blog and sharing all the tips and methods so detailedly. I’m so happy i have chanced upon your blog. I have been trying to up my milk supply; today is the first time i hear of cluster pumping and i am so excited to start on it tomorrow onwards. although for now what i have been doing is to nurse the baby (direct latching) and power pumping once a day without fail between 1am to 2am for the past 2 weeks. sometimes my 3 month old baby girl tends to take longer naps in the afternoon and I will pump out the milk instead of missing the feeding session . however whatever i have been pumping has only been sufficient to feed my baby , i have zero milk stash in the freezer. she’s also on mix feed (formula to supplement on fussier days when my own supply is inadequate for her needs). I am primarily aiming to achieve exclusive breastfeeding, and if i am able to do that I will then plan to work on a freezer stash. I would like to know if cluster pumping will be effective for me as a direct latching mum; so far with my once-a-day power pumping there has been only little increase in my supply.
Hello, Anisha! And congratulations on your precious little girl.
Since you are trying to achieve exclusive breastfeeding, I would focus solely on nursing (direct latching) right now. The pumping and freezer stash can wait. You want baby to nurse as frequently and for as long as she wants. If you aren’t already, try laying down with her when you put her down for a nap or for bed at night. A successfully nursing baby is one of the best methods for increasing your milk supply, but if you still need a little help, I highly recommend a reputable lactation tea, such as Pink Stork’s Lactation Tea. Drink one to two cups every day and you will see an increase. (This increase looks different for everyone, though.)
However, I do need to caution you. Some women are naturally over-producers (their bodies make lots of extra milk), some women are just-right producers (their bodies make just enough to satisfy baby), and some women are under-producers (their bodies do not make enough milk to feed baby). And just like every pregnancy and every baby is unique, so is the breastfeeding/milk producing experience. Some women may be an under-producer with one baby and an over-producer with the next baby.
If you have done everything possible to increase your milk supply and you find baby still needs some supplementing, please do not be discouraged. Breastfeeding challenges are normal and far more common than many first-time moms realize and have happened in centuries past and all over the world today. The difference is that there used to be support networks to help moms who struggled with producing enough milk. So do what you can to increase your milk supply, but don’t be discouraged if you find you have to continue supplementing. I was an under-producer who had to pump and supplement with my first two children, but my third child was and is an exclusively breastfeed baby going on 15-months now!
Thank you i related to your storie and appreciate finding direct , simple advice , going to give a try today …. feeling hopeful and thankful…..
I am glad you found it encouraging, Kayla! I hope you find success. Just remember: Each baby and each breastfeeding journey is unique. May you discover the right combination for you and your baby. Happy, healthy baby and a happy, healthy Mama should always be the goal. 🙂 Best wishes!
Thank you so much for your advice! I just started cluster pumping over the weekend using your method and am already seeing results. I had tried everything and nothing helped as much as this did. I am so grateful to you, blessings!
I’m so glad that the cluster pumping is working for you. Wishing you the best!