Mom smiling at her baby.

What is Breast Compression?

Breastfeeding is a beautiful experience that can help secure the bond between mother and baby. While it’s a natural occurrence, a majority of new mothers need help in one way or another. Working with a lactation consultant from the beginning of your breastfeeding journey can help you establish breastfeeding faster, but it’s not always necessary. Another great tip to help you address early issues is to utilize breast compression. To help you get the most out of this experience, here’s everything you need to know about breast compressions, including their benefits and how to perform them.


Understanding Breast Compressions

A breast compression is the act of applying physical pressure to the outside of your breast to help encourage a stronger milk flow. Its purpose is to provide you with a more continuous flow of breast milk during nursing, to help maximize the efficiency of feedings. This, in turn, can help improve a baby’s suckling and help reduce problems associated with weak latches or sucking reflexes. They’re especially useful if you notice that your newborn is having trouble actually drinking the milk. Listen for signs of swallowing to determine if your baby is sucking well enough to extract milk and swallow it.

Breast compressions are most commonly used during those first few weeks of breastfeeding when you and your newborn are getting used to the process. Once breastfeeding has been established, many moms no longer need to perform compressions to have successful nursing sessions.


Benefits of Breast Compressions

There are several benefits that come with integrating breast compression into your feedings. While not all mothers will need to use this technique, they can be helpful in certain situations. Some of the ways breast compressions can benefit your nursing sessions include:

Increase Milk Supply

Your breast milk works on a supply and demand model. The more your baby breastfeeds, the more milk your ducts will produce. However, it can be difficult to establish your supply in the first few months of nursing, especially if your baby is struggling to latch or facing other difficulties. Breast compression can help ensure that you’re completely emptying your breasts, which will send a signal to your body to produce more milk. Breast compressions also trigger the milk ejection reflex. This increases the amount of milk that’s expelled from your breast during a feed and the speed of the milk flow.

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Calm Fussy Babies

Breast compression can help calm a fussy or sleepy baby. During the first few months of a newborn’s life, they’re likely to fall asleep while nursing if the milk flow isn’t strong or fast enough. Compressions can help ensure that your baby goes through an entire feeding and only stops when they’re full. This, in turn, can reduce the likelihood that your baby gets fussy or experiences periods of colic. It can also contribute to a better night’s sleep, as they won’t need to wake up as often for smaller feedings.

Boost Weight Gain

When used properly, breast compressions can help your baby maintain healthy progress in weight gain. Compressions transfer more milk during feedings, thus helping your little one receive enough calories per feeding to support their physical development. This tactic also increases the chance that your newborn will consume more of your hindmilk, which is higher in calories and denser in nutrients than foremilk.

Reduce Blocked Ducts or Mastitis

Blocked ducts can occur for several different reasons, but they can result in a lot of discomfort and complications with extraction. When untreated, this can develop into mastitis, which is a painful infection of the breast. While it might seem like using breast compressions with a blocked duct or mastitis would be uncomfortable, it can actually help reinstate the flow of milk and alleviate pain. Just make sure that you’re compressing above the affected area to avoid putting excess stress on blockages. If you’re unable to find relief from mastitis, see your doctor for help.


How to Perform Breast Compressions

The process of performing a breast compression is fairly straightforward. You may have to experiment to find the best position, but some of the most popular options include the cross over hold, rugby hold, cradle hold, or the lying position. Try performing breast compressions in each and see which option you prefer.


  1. Get Comfortable

    The first step to performing successful breast compressions is to get comfortable. Try holding your baby in each of the various suggested positions above to find the best option. Always ensure that your baby’s spine and neck are properly supported with each of these positions.

    For a cross over (also called cross-cradle) hold, hold your baby in the crook of your arm that’s opposite from the breast you’ll be feeding from. For a rugby hold, position your baby along the same side as your feeding breast, under your arm, with their hips level to yours. A cradle hold is similar to the cross over, except you’ll hold your baby with the arm on the same side as your nursing breast. The lying position is another favorite for compressions. Here, you’ll lie on your side next to your baby and nurse.

    Make sure you have everything you’ll need during breastfeeding at close proximity, so you don’t have to interrupt the session for anything.


  2. Ensure a Good Latch

    Once you’re in a comfortable position and ready to begin, help your baby form a proper latch with your nipple. This will ensure that they’re able to consume the milk being expelled by your breast during compressions. Take the time to double check the latch before starting. If you’re struggling to form a good latch during nursing sessions, consider working with a lactation consultant.


  3. Compress Your Breast

    Once you begin breastfeeding, actively watch your baby. Their jaw should be dropping, and you should hear the gentle sound of them swallowing. This is an indication that they’re actually swallowing the milk being expressed.

    Next, use the hand that’s not supporting your baby to encircle your nursing breast and begin compressions. Your thumb should be on one side of the breast with fingers on the other side close to the chest. Place fingers against the chest wall, not near the nipple, so that pressure is applied to the base of your breast. Then, slowly begin to squeeze and maintain a consistent pressure. You should continue to maintain the pressure of a compression as long as your baby is actively sucking at your breast.


  4. Watch and Repeat

When your baby stops sucking, release the pressure from breast compressions. Your baby may just need a short break. If they begin nursing again, gently reapply compression using a different hand location. This can help to ensure an even distribution of milk flow from your ducts. Continue this process until your baby is no longer eating. You may want to leave your baby on your breast for a little bit longer, just in case, but you can also remove them to reduce the risk of unnecessary soreness. Either offer your other breast and repeat the process or switch breasts at your next nursing session.


More Information on Breast Compression

In addition to the steps above, there are a few things you can do to make compressions easier. First, be patient. It can take some time for your baby to latch, begin nursing, and finish eating. Breast compressions are about being observant of your baby’s habits and applying pressure to help them get what they need. Second, if you don’t need to use breast compressions, don’t. While they can help you express milk at a faster rate, some women have a naturally fast let down and compression can cause a flow that’s too fast for your baby. If you’re not sure how your nursing sessions are going, working with a lactation consultant can give you the peace of mind you need to feel confident about your breastfeeding experiences.


When to Seek Help

If you notice improvements when using breast compression, that’s great. Continue to use this technique until your baby nurses without any addition assistance. However, if you’re still struggling, consider working with a lactation consultant to improve the strength of your newborn’s latch and increase your milk supply. You can also use an insurance covered breast pump to supplement feedings throughout the day. Byram Healthcare offers a wide range of options to support your breastfeeding journey. Our team is here to help you find the perfect breast pump through your insurance coverage.