Your baby is a breast milk-feeding machine. And while that's great news, if you're having any issues with milk production, it can be incredibly stressful keeping up with baby's feeding demands. If you're facing this struggle currently, you might be wondering: Will breastfeeding and pumping at the same time increase milk supply?
Turns out, this seemingly crazy feat of arm gymnastics has been dubbed "parallel pumping" by Dr. Kathleen McCue, thanks to her research on effective breastfeeding, and it might just be worth trying.
"Parallel pumping can be a very useful way to increase a parent’s milk supply," registered nurse Krystal Nicole Duhaney tells Romper.
"Your milk output is based largely on supply and demand," she says, adding, "the more frequently and effectively you remove milk from your breasts, the more milk you’ll make." Makes sense, right? Unfortunately, some mothers have difficulty with producing milk through pumping because it's those warm and fuzzy feelings you get while nursing your baby that trigger oxytocin, the hormone responsible for your letdown reflex.
"Without a letdown reflex, your pump output could be low and milk may not be effectively removed from your breasts," Duhaney explains. "This is where parallel pumping comes in! When you pump while your baby nurses, it’s much easier to achieve a letdown because your baby is helping to trigger the release of oxytocin." With "the double stimulation," she continues, it's almost like you're "tricking your body into thinking that you are tandem nursing twins."
Of course, pumping and nursing at the same time can take some practice.
"I recommend using a pumping bra to hold the pump in place," lactation consultant Luna Feehan tells Romper, "then latching baby to the other breast in the football hold, which can prevent baby from kicking the pump parts/bottle, which is particularly helpful with an older, more active baby." In addition to increased milk supply through parallel pumping, Feehan notes that this method also reduces the need for triple feeding (nursing, then double pumping, then supplementing with pumped milk).
"You may find the parallel pumping technique much more manageable," she says. "Instead of triple feeding, you would parallel pump at every feeding and then supplement with your pumped milk, if necessary."
In response to many parents who ask how parallel pumping can be achieved if baby typically feeds from both breasts, Feehan says, "One option is to have baby nurse from your breast, and when he switches to the other breast, pump the first breast. Then, either finish off the feed by single pumping or hand expressing the second breast or at the next feed, ensure you use your pump on the breast that wasn't pumped at the previous feed. Expect little milk output because baby had his fill at your breasts, so anything you pump afterwards is a bonus."
If you're considering parallel pumping, know that it may not go perfectly the first time, and that's OK. Give yourself a break, mamas. Reach out to a lactation support group or specialist if you have questions, and know that you are doing the best for your baby.
Krystal Nicole Duhaney, Registered Nurse, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and founder of Milky Mama
Luna Feehan, certified breastfeeding specialist, founder of Legendairy Milk
McCue K, Stulberger M. (2019) Maternal Satisfaction With Parallel Pumping Technique. Clinical Lactation, https://connect.springerpub.com/content/sgrcl/10/2/68.
Editor's note: This article has been updated.