Breast compression: What is it and how do you do it?
Incidentally, breast compression is not a requirement. You only have to use this method if breastfeeding is an issue.
When you are low on milk supply or unable to release milk, you may have to perform breast compression. It is a method where you gently squeeze your breast to put extra pressure on the milk glands.
The immediate result will be either an increase in the flow or the release of more breast milk. Breast compression essentially stimulates an easy milk let down or ejection reflux.
Breast compression: Everything you need to know about this technique
The greatest benefit of this method is that it encourages your baby to keep sucking actively. This way he can consume more milk. Fortunately, there are many more benefits of breast compression:
- Breast compression increases the production of breast milk. The more you compress, the more you release. And the more you release the more your milk glands will make.
- It will help your baby put on weight as he consumes more milk.
- Drinking breast milk will soothe any issues of colic.
- Breast compression reduces the problem of mastitis or blocked ducts.
- It encourages the baby to continue sucking and not sleep during feeds.
- More milk will also help to pacify a cranky baby.
Keep in mind, breast compression is not a requirement. You only have to use this method if breastfeeding is an issue. Now the next question you may ask is, "How do you breast compress?"
How do I do breast compression?
The technique of breast compression is fairly simple. Here's what you do:
- Watch out when baby stops breastfeeding. Once your baby latches on and starts breastfeeding (open mouth wide – pause – then close mouth), give him a few minutes. Observe if he stops abruptly in the middle and just sucks onto the breasts. You will hear rapid sucking sounds without a pause. This means he is no longer breastfeeding.
- Squeeze and compress the breast. Now slowly cup and squeeze your breasts between your index finger and your thumb. Your thumb should be on top of the breast and your index finger should be below it. Alternatively, you can also press the breast against your chest with the fingers on top and the thumb below it.
- Placement of hands. At this point you should be careful not to disturb your baby's breastfeeding process. So keep your finger and thumb away from the nipple as you squeeze your breasts. Simply put gently pressure on your milk glands.
- Release the pressure. The International Breastfeeding Centre advises to, "Keep the pressure up until the baby is just sucking without drinking even with the compression, and then release the pressure. Release the pressure if baby stops sucking or if the baby goes back to sucking without drinking. Often the baby will stop sucking altogether when the pressure is released, but will start again shortly as milk starts to flow again. If the baby does not stop sucking with the release of pressure, wait a short time before compressing again."
- Be careful of the pressure. This exercise is one that involves gently pushing. So do not be harsh and squeeze your breasts with all your might. You do not have to hurt yourself. A gentle push will suffice to push the milk out. Remember, breast compression should not be a painful process.
- What to do when the milk starts flowing rapidly. Once your milk starts flowing rapidly, your baby will begin swallowing again. You can continue to compress till your baby feeds and then take a break when he pauses. Repeat the process till your baby stops active swallowing. Repeat the process on the other breast as well.
Sometimes you will notice that changing the baby's breastfeeding position also helps in breast compression and better milk flow.
Breastfeeding positions that make breast compression easy
In order to know which position will work best for breast compression, let's first take a quick look at breastfeeding positions.
To discuss these positions, we spoke to Dr Sangeeta Saha, Senior Physiotherapist, Motherhood Hospitals, Bengaluru, India. She briefly explained the four breastfeeding positions all new mums can try.
- Cross over hold: This is a comfortable position for infants and mothers. In this position, mother can use either of her arms to support the baby. Newborn babies feel safe in this position.
- Cradle hold: This is a common position that many mothers follow. Here, the mother holds the baby so that her elbow supports the head and hand supports the bottom of the baby. With the other hand, mother can support her breast. The mother has to be careful while holding the baby in this position. It is difficult to feed a newborn baby in this position since their neck muscles are not strong.
- Football or rugby hold: This position is good for the mother if she has undergone a cesarean section. The mother has to position the baby at her side, under the arms like a handbag. She can support the baby’s shoulder, neck and head with her arm. This position helps the mother to avoid putting the weight of the baby on her stomach while breastfeeding.
- Lying position: After a cesarean section delivery, some mothers may feel uncomfortable sitting for a long time. If this is the case, mothers can feed while lying on their side. But be sure that there are enough pillows to support her back, head and knees. In this position, a mother lays with the baby on her side and covers his back and bottom with her hand.
Dr Saha warns that if proper positions are not followed during breastfeeding, a new mum may face various kinds of pain while nursing. Some of the familiar physical challenges of breastfeeding include:
- Breast pain
- Neck strain
- Upper back and shoulder pain
- Hunched posture of shoulders
- Hand and wrist pain
- Lower back pain and tail bone pain
Whether you try one position or all four, remember to make your body comfortable. Choose a comfortable chair with an armrest.
You can also use a back support pillow and a nursing pillow under the baby, underneath the feeding pillow. Adding one more regular pillow should make your position comfortable.
What to bear in mind while trying breast compression?
Also remember that during lactation, breasts become bigger. So it's important to support your breast while feeding the baby. Here's what Dr Saha recommends you do:
- Position yourself and your baby correctly (in any of the positions discussed above) to avoid back and neck pain.
- Hold the baby softly and make him feel comfortable while feeding. If the posture is not comfortable for the baby, he may not drink the milk.
- Feed the baby with alternate breasts and in alternative positions. Otherwise, you may suffer from sore nipple problems and musculoskeletal pain.
- Use a bra that fits properly. Milk flow can be restricted by a poorly fitted bra.
Now, as far as breast compression is concerned, you can try any of these positions except for the lying position. The other three positions are easier to perform breast compression in since you are sitting comfortably.
In this picture you can see that the mother is holding her baby in a rugby position with her right hand. From her left hand, she can easily compress and squeeze her breast to increase her milk flow.
As you can see in this image, the mother is holding the baby in a cradle position. She can use her other free hand to gently compress the breast.
However, there is no set rule about compression and positions. A breastfeeding mum can experiment with the way she holds her baby and compress based on her comfort.
But how much pressure is 'gentle pressure?' You may wonder if there is an exact pressure you need to apply.
How do I find the right pressure?
The trick to identify the right pressure is practice. With just a few days of practicing breast compression, you'll know how much pressure to apply to get the amount of milk you want released.
Just remember that as long as the force doesn't hurt your breasts and your baby is drinking, breast compression is working.
The key is not to constantly compress the breast. Instead, you should try the 'squeeze and release at intervals' technique.
Breast compression is an effective technique when you want your milk supply to go up, or if you want to encourage your baby to stay on the breast. But as mentioned, there are many more benefits as well.
However, it should not be used until you face a problem with breastfeeding. As your baby gets used to nursing, you may not even need to practice this technique at all.