Dr Danielle Prime , Breastfeeding Research Associate, Medela:
An expert in the hormone oxytocin – essential for the release of breast milk – Danielle’s research has contributed to the understanding of how lactation works. As part of the Medical Research Department, she conducts international clinical research that helps inform and shape evidence-based products.
Did you know double pumping is more efficient than single pumping? This means if you’re expressing regularly – perhaps because your newborn is unable to feed directly from your breast, you’re going back to work, or you need to increase your milk supply – double pumping could be the best way to ensure your baby can continue to have your breast milk.
Why double pumping is so effective
While it may be obvious that double pumping saves time, our research team knew there were also studies that suggested this method helped mums express more milk.1,2 We were keen to figure out why, so assessed a group of mums during a double pumping session and then again during a session when they pumped each breast in turn.
It prompts an extra let down
What we found was fascinating: the double-pumping sessions did indeed yield significantly more milk – 18% on average.3 We also discovered why: the double stimulation was more efficient at getting the milk-releasing hormone oxytocin flowing, so the mums had an additional let down.
Of course, babies are the experts when it comes to getting mother’s milk. But double pumping gets closer to what they can do. One theory is that even though a baby drinks from just one breast at a time, he normally has lots of close contact with his mum while doing it, which is great for releasing oxytocin. Perhaps because double pumping involves double the contact and stimulation, it works in a similar way, prompting additional oxytocin release and consequently more milk.
It’s important to note that although double pumping improves expressing’s effectiveness, it doesn’t mean that mums using this technique are on the path to creating an over-production of milk. Also, our study doesn’t suggest double pumping is better than a baby – it’s more that single, sequential pumping is not as good as a baby, and double pumping gets closer to that gold standard.
It yields milk with a higher fat content
Another amazing discovery was that the milk mums expressed during double pumping had higher fat content than when they were single pumping each breast in turn. Why? Breast drainage is the key.
During feeding or pumping, the fat content of the milk increases steadily. Because double pumping results in an extra let down and 18% more milk, the breasts are drained more completely. So the higher fat content is simply a sign that the breasts are well emptied during double pumping, more so than single pumping. For babies who are born early and can only take small volumes of milk per day, this higher calorie content can be especially helpful.
Double pumping’s effectiveness is also important because a well-drained breast tells your system to produce more milk, whereas milk that’s left behind after ineffective pumping signals that more milk is not required.4 That’s why frequent and effective milk removal is so crucial for your milk supply.
Choosing the right double breast pump for you
We’ve established that double pumping makes sense if you need to pump regularly – but which breast pump should you choose? Medela makes a variety of double breast pumps that you can use at home, work, or on the go, as well as Symphony, the hospital-grade double electric breast pump that you’ll find in many birth facilities, or you can rent one for personal use. For help deciding which one is right for you, read How to choose a breast pump.
Hands-free pumping: Perfect for busy mums
For ultimate convenience, you can use your double breast pump with a specially designed pumping bra, such as Medela’s Easy Expression Bustier, which holds the breast shields in position and keeps your hands free while you express. As well as making it easier to operate the breast pump controls, it’s ideal if you want to do other things while you express, such as playing with your baby, eating, reading, or using your phone or computer.