The purpose of breast compression is to maintain a continuous flow of breast milk as the baby sucks. This is a technique that helps to ensure more efficient suckling and continued suckling for babies who are small, premature, sleepy or have a weak sucking.
Breast compression is useful in some circumstances. These include:-
It helps the baby get the more creamy milk that comes after the initial watery “fore” milk is taken. This is called the “hind” milk and contains more calories than fore milk.
Breast compression is useful and important while feeding a sleepy or fussy baby. In the first couple of months of life (3 to 6 weeks) most babies tend to fall asleep at the breast when the flow of milk is slow despite not having enough to be full. This leads to frequent awakenings due to hunger. Beyond this age babies pull away from the breast if the flow of milk slows down. This means they do not get the more fatty and creamy hind milk.
It is useful in mothers with sore nipples, blocked ducts or mastitis.
Breast compression is advised if the baby is gaining weight poorly. This means there is low intake of calories in the baby.
Breast compression can help feeding a colicky infant who is breastfed.
Breast compression is also important during growth spurts of the baby. It is also important during the initial few days after childbirth when the mother produces thick and yellow milk called colostrum. Colostrum is hugely beneficial for the baby and since breastfeeding has not been mastered during the initial days by both the mother and the baby, breast compression helps to get more colostrum into the baby’s mouth.
When there are frequent of prolonged feedings, breast compression helps to give more milk.
When is breast compressing necessary?
Breast compression is not necessary once breastfeeding has been established and there are no problems with feeding. The mother should ensure that the baby has finished emptying a breast or has finished drinking as much as he or she needs.
Usually babies that are latched well at the breast get more milk easily than those who are not. Thus, breast compression may be needed if the latch is poor and the suck is poor.
Technique of breast compression
The first step is to hold the breast with one hand with the thumb on one side and four fingers on the other side of the breast. A major portion of the breast should be within the hand. The other arm should support the baby from head to rump cradling the baby in the crook of the elbow. A pillow or support may be used to be comfortable.
Next the thumb and the fingers are brought together firmly compressing the breast. It should not hurt.
Once the breast is compressed the baby may start to actively drink again. The pressure on the breast should be maintained as long as the baby is actively sucking. The pressure is relieved once the baby stops sucking actively. Once the pressure is released milk from other areas of the breast may start to flow.
Babies may stop drinking when the compression is stopped. After around 10 seconds compression may be started again. A different area of the breast may be compressed next to ensure complete emptying of the breast.
Along with breast compression the mother should practice a good latch if that is not achieved yet. A good latch on ensures maximum flow of the milk into the baby’s mouth while sucking.