Breast Compressions: How to Keep Your Baby Drinking at the Breast

In this post I mention sucking vs drinking. If you don’t know what this means in regards to your baby, have a read of my previous post here: Is my baby getting milk?

By knowing when your baby is not getting milk at the breast, we can also know when to take measures to make the feeding more effective. If you would like to make your feedings more efficient for you and your baby, read on!

First Thing’s First: The Latch

Achieving an effective asymmetric latch can sometimes be all that is needed to get a baby drinking well at the breast. If improving the latch hasn’t helped, the next step in boosting the flow of milk is breast compressions.

Breast Compressions

Adding a breast compression can momentarily boost the flow during a feeding, get the baby more milk, and often settle the unhappy behaviours they may have been displaying. If your baby falls asleep at the breast before they are full, or starts to bite, hit, and pull at the breast once the letdown is over, then this technique may be for you.

A breast compression is when you use your hand to gently squeeze the breast, increasing the pressure on the ducts and moving the milk out.

We add breast compressions as a response to the baby asking for milk. They do this by sucking at the breast. Compressions should not be used when the baby is taking a break to breathe, or when they are already drinking, because it is important to allow them to decide the pace of the feeding. Adding and holding breast compressions is like a dance between you and your baby, and they take the lead while we follow their cues.

How to do a Breast Compression

Take hold of your breast near the chest wall and apply pressure with your four fingers on one side and thumb on the other. Your thumb may be on top of your breast with your fingers underneath (in a “C” shape), or your fingers may be on the inside of your breast with your thumb on the outside (in an upside-down “U” shape). It should feel firm but not at all painful. It is important to start your hand near your chest wall instead of the nipple, to ensure that you don’t break or modify the latch in the process. As you hold this pressure, you should see that your baby’s shorter sucks become longer chin pauses as they begin to drink. (Don’t know how to tell when your baby is drinking? Check out this post here!) Hold this same firm pressure until your baby stops both drinking and sucking. When they take a break you should release the pressure of your breast compression to allow the ducts to fill with milk again.  Then you’ll wait for your baby to ask for more. When adding the compression, ensure that you hold the pressure in place and avoid sliding your fingers down in a milking motion- this can alter or break the latch.

Three ways to do breast compressions

Note that the fingers are back away from the areola so that the compression won’t change the latch. These compressions can also be done with the opposite hand if the baby is latched in cradle instead.

Then the cycle can continue:

  1. Your baby sucks at the breast without drinking – Asking for some food!
    • You squeeze and hold your breast to boost the flow, causing your baby to drink
  2. Your baby stops drinking at the breast, and also doesn’t suck – Taking a break!
    • You release the pressure of your compression but keep your hand in the same position to get ready for your baby to start sucking again

When adding a compression no longer causes the baby to drink, and they just keep sucking instead, it is time to switch sides to the other breast.

Follow Your Baby’s Cues

Breast compressions may not always be needed. If you are fuller during the early morning feeds, you may find that your baby comes off the breast satisfied without any compressions. As the day goes on, that pattern may change. Especially into the evening hours, you may find that feeding on multiple sides while using compressions right from the beginning can help to settle and satisfy your baby. Or perhaps compressions are useful at the start of the feed to get the flow going, but are not needed again until the end of the feed. Breast compressions are a tool you can use to help boost your flow during a breastfeed. Play around with them and see what works best for you!


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