We are told that any woman who wants to induce lactation when she has NOT just delivered a baby must do so by stimulating her breasts and specifically her nipples frequently by using one of 3 common methods.
- Pumping with a hospital grade breast pump
- Massaging the breasts using the Marmet technique
- Having your husband/partner suckle
Let’s add a 4th way: Using a TENS unit.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit generates a very small, high frequency current that stimulates nerve endings. These are mostly used to block pain signals in conditions such as low back pain.
The amperage of the current is what is critical in triggering heart arrhythmia. The TENS units have an extremely small micro amperage current and it would be very unlikely for one to trigger an arrhythmia. The TENS units generate a high frequency alternating waveform. It tends to be very non-penetrating, running superficially in the skin and it disperses in the tissues rapidly. It is quite effective in triggering nerve endings
With all that said, so can it really promote lactation? All the nerves in the breast, when stimulated, promote the release of Prolactin by the Pituitary. These include the sensory nerves of the nipple and areola; and the nerves to the ducts under the areola that sense the compression and suckling actions. The nerves throughout the breast, in the alveoli and skin will promote Prolactin release but not as intensely as the nipple and areola. This means that virtually any type of playing with the breast whether it be fondling, squeezing, rubbing, suckling etc. is stimulating to the breast. Almost all literature that you find reports that a variety of sensory stimulation to the breast can bring on spontaneous lactation. The general point is that stimulating the sensory nerves in the nipple by a TENS unit will most likely cause Prolactin release and induce lactation.
So why would you find this an attractive way to promote lactation? Many women who want to induce, work in public and find schedules impossible to have suckling, do pumping or marmet technique several times a day. The advantage of a TENS is that it can be worn at work all day by a cord around your neck or on the waist with the electrodes left in place and turned on and off at will. You can still work and no one will know what you are doing as it is totally discrete, no movement, sound or devices are apparent.
I recently purchased this unit. You can find it on Ebay for about $20. I found it comfortable to wear under my clothing. The unit has 4 buttons: Off, On, Mode, and S/P (which adjusts the speed and power). It also comes with a small tube of water soluble gel. I found that if I am using it every 2 hours as recommended, I used the gel rather quickly. Simple water soluble personal lubricant is working just as well.
There are many different models of TENS units. Dr.Jim from Land of Milk and Honey suggests the following unit as a small unit for discretion, but it is a bit more expensive and uses square pads instead of the cone shape of the previous unit. This currently lists for about $60 and you can get the cone shaped pads for breasts for an additional $40. Is one unit better than the other? I think that is a personal choice. For me? Mine is working rather well!
You really want to use it to begin the stimulation of the breasts to induce lactation. Once you start getting milk in your breasts you must add pumping to remove it because if you leave the milk in your breast you will essentially be turning off the urge to produce milk. You can continue to use it to supplement stimulation with pumping later when you only want to pump 2 or 3 times a day. You can also use it to stimulate during the night while sleeping to accelerate the changes.
So what is happening in your breast with the TENS stimulation? Prolactin is released from the pituitary gland in about 4 or 5 discrete pulses over 15 to 20 minutes with suckling. After this, more release does not occur for a while so stimulating the breast for more than 15 to 20 minutes does not cause more Prolactin release. For maximum benefit it is best to stimulate the nipples 15 minutes every 2 hours. The Prolactin turns the alveoli in the breasts on to produce milk for about 3 hours. What if your breasts are not ready yet? The Prolactin stimulates development of the changes necessary to do this.
After a few days or weeks (or months) you may begin to see your breasts and nipples swelling. They will feel larger and feel sore and under pressure. These are all normal indications that new acini (the milk-producing glandular tissues) are developing inside your breasts. That is necessary before you will be able to produce milk.
For more information, use a search engine to look up “TENS unit to stimulate lactation”.
I spent a great deal of time reading about this before making the leap. Also, I will admit, even after receiving my unit…it took me 3 days before I had the courage to try it out. I haven’t stopped since!!!!!!
Happy nursing everyone!