Breast compression is the underdog of breast feeding techniques. WHEN to do them and WHY they can help are just as important as HOW to do them.
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In a previous post, I praised an amazing small town nurse who gave me so much information on breastfeeding. I promise that I will, eventually, get ALL of that knowledge out of my head and onto this website but I want to start with something that was a huge contributor to my breastfeeding success.
It sounds self explanatory, right? You just squeeze your breast, what’s so hard about that? I did breast compression with my first. And my second… I think? The fact that I can’t even remember doing them means that they weren’t important to me back then. After learning how to do them properly with my third one, and learning all the reasons why and when, I realized that I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had known about this the first time. And the second.
A lot of women who experience breast pain during pregnancy might have concerns about breastfeeding and engorgement. Learn more about breast pain during pregnancy in this article from Mom Loves Best.
Get your baby latched on properly.
After baby starts sucking you may FEEL your milk let down (not all women can feel it) and/or SEE your baby’s sucking start to become longer and slower.
Some women suffer from a condition known as D-MER (Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex) which causes disturbing feelings when their milk lets down.
[Related Reading: D-MER: When Breastfeeding Makes You Feel Sad]
Grasp your breast with whichever hand feels more comfortable.
Some might prefer to grasp with the hand closest to the breast, others might be more comfortable reaching across their body.
This will also depend on what position you are holding your baby in to nurse.
You can switch it up throughout the feeding.
Your thumb will be on top and the other four fingers will remain on the bottom of the breast.
Your hand will form a letter “C” (it helps to imagine you’re holding your breast like a cheeseburger).
Try to keep your hand close to your chest. You want to stay as far back from the nipple as possible so you don’t affect baby’s latch.
It’s not as effective to squeeze the breast from the sides or to use a “scissor” hold.
Now squeeze as hard as you can handle. It shouldn’t hurt, but you want to use firm pressure, especially if your breasts are engorged.
Do not move your fingers around or slide them towards the nipple.
Don’t rub or massage the breast as this can cause irritation on the skin.
If you have extremely full breasts, whether it’s the first morning feed or when your milk first comes in, you may feel “lumps” of milk – focus on those spots first (sometimes they can be as far back as your armpit).
Squeeze one spot for roughly 10 seconds (or as long as baby continues to suck) and then release.
You will notice baby take longer, bigger gulps, some milk might even leak out from the corners of their mouth.
That section of the breast will start to soften.
Baby may temporarily stop sucking after a few big gulps to rest.
Wait for baby to start sucking and compress the breast again.
You can try moving your fingers onto a different spot or switching hands to access the other side of the breast.
WHEN and WHY
DO NOT do them before your milk comes in. I mean, you can, but there’s no point.
Do them when your milk comes in. You will have a lot of it and your newborn baby will get tired of sucking before they get to that hind milk.
Do them when your breasts are really full. Usually in the morning or if you’ve been away from baby and haven’t fed or pumped in a while. It’s a great way to empty out full and sore breasts very quickly and make sure that baby is getting to the hind milk before they get too full.
The Turn Up The Heat breast pads by TheDandelionShoppeUS on Etsy are perfect for warm relief during engorgement and also cold relief to treat soreness. They have a removable machine washable cover and I love the hole in the middle to avoid irritating sore nipples!
Do them when your breasts are not full. Doing compression during feeds even when your breasts feel empty will help drain the milk glands completely which will increase your milk supply.
Do them when you have a clogged milk duct. This is when one of those “milk lumps” gets stuck and doesn’t want to empty. Put a warm wet washcloth on top of the breast first and then apply lots of pressure to that stuck lump while you nurse.
[Related Reading: How to Clear a Clogged Milk Duct and Prevent Mastitis from Mom Smart Not Hard]
Do them while pumping. Breast pumps are not as efficient at emptying a breast or getting enough hind milk. A good example of this is to compare a bottle of pumped milk while doing compression vs. without. You will see a higher fat content in the bottle pumped with compression.
Do them when you have incredibly sore nipples. Baby won’t have to suck as hard to get enough milk (giving your nipples a bit of relief) and it will also speed up the length of the feeding.
Do them when baby falls asleep at the breast and/or stops sucking. Breast compression will either make baby start drinking some more, or spit out the nipple if they are full. (I talk about breastfeeding at bedtime in my two part sleep training guide).
Do them when baby cluster feeds. The hind milk will help baby to feel fuller for longer and can reduce the amount of time you spend feeding.
[Related Reading: A Complete Guide to Cluster Feeding by Mom Smart Not Hard]
Do them during night time feedings or dream feeds. Babies are quite drowsy in the middle of the night and may not suck with the “power” that they use during the day. Doing breast compression can help baby get milk more efficiently so that everyone can go back to bed.
Do them if your baby has greenish-coloured poops. The greenish color could be because they’re not getting enough hind milk.
Do them if your baby gets a slight diaper rash. Not enough hind milk can change the consistency of baby’s poops and cause their bums to get red.
There are so many benefits to using breast compression!
The biggest WHY is to get baby the hind milk that has a higher fat content. It will help them to gain weight faster and stay full longer.
I know that breast compression is usually only suggested in the first couple months – during the time when breastfeeding is still trying to become well established. But I became SO obsessed with doing them because I was able to see the benefits in my baby right away that I continued to do them whenever I felt it was necessary.
Prior to starting this blog, I shared my tip about breast compression with anyone who seemed to be struggling with something it could fix. I had a hard time trying to find a resource that stressed the importance of them.
The best online information about breast compression is from Dr. Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC of Breastfeedinginc.ca. [I’ve noticed quite a few other blogs or websites share his exact article or excerpts from it and it’s great information but it’s very… medical.]
Another good site to check out for more visual aids is Breastfeeding.Support it’s run by IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) Philippa Pearson-Glaze and the site has a ton of breastfeeding articles, tips and advice with some great pictures.
Milkology is a 90 minute online breastfeeding class run by certified lactation specialist, Stacy Stewart.
For less than $20, you can get some amazing tips for breastfeeding success – with a money back guarantee!
A great breastfeeding resource is the Breastfeeding Handbook from Mom Smart Not Hard.
Download, print and put it into a binder to have access to everything you could possibly need to know about breastfeeding.
This awesome article from Positive Health Wellness has tons of information about breast changes during pregnancy.