Guest writer: Tricia Meier ⬅️CLICK TO CONTACT
I began my induction journey when we realized our adoption dreams were on the horizon. I wanted to nurse our future little bub and decided to induce knowing it was going to be a long road. I wish I had more support. My mother-in-law thought it was crazy for me to take on this task so not having that initial support was hard. If you can, find a FB group or have a partner/friend that will support you on this. I started my research and learned the most popular method was to get your flanges sized, pump on a schedule, and consider taking a prescription medication. Unfortunately, the typical protocols weren’t an option for me. I live in Canada where Domperidone is legal, however, I was afraid of the side effects because heart arrhythmia runs in my family and it is known to cause heart issues among women. I was also working 10hr days, sometimes six days a week, so frequent pumping was also not ideal for my schedule.
I was fortunate enough to have a friend in my yoga class, who was also a nurse. She urged me to consider using a tens unit to induce lactation. I thought the whole idea was wacko and images of Frankenstein with lightning bolts came to mind, not to mention a childish fear of electricity. I did some research on the subject and found that a lot of the available info on a tens unit for lactation was mainly geared at women doing it for sexual reasons, and worse, misleading or perhaps unsafe for someone with arrhythmia concerns. I came across a blog that Crystal with Save The Milk wrote briefly coving the tens unit for lactation and I could tell she had a passion for bringing to light subjects that others didn’t. I reached out to her after I was well into my lactation journey as I felt she could help share my results with everyone. After all, I would like to offer hope to other women like me.
I successfully induced lactation with a tens unit
While my mother in law may not have been on board initially, I am grateful to my nurse/friend who mentioned the idea and have that ongoing support. I started applying the tens unit into my breasts/milk ducts and after a month, it started to work like magic. I started bone dry to getting drops. The tens was a lifesaver because we brought our new little one home about 2 months after I started inducing. The tens unit method also corrected my rather small/flat nipples, to solve my latch-ability concerns.
The pulsing of the tens current became a powerful trigger for spiking prolactin/oxytocin and sometimes compelling letdown responses for me. I was experiencing pleasurable sensations around the nerves of my nipples, milk ducts, and ejection cells and this is exactly what you want. To be more specific, the tens current signals the thoracic /intercostal nerves in the T3 – T5 and the current continues to the Pituitary Gland to secrete Prolactin in the blood through the body into the milk cells in your breast. Everything that works in our bodies operates by electrical currents so this is where the tens unit is helpful. The tens unit compliments a pumping regimen in a natural way that is likely to yield milk. At work, I tried to follow a schedule of about 5 to 10 minutes every 1 to 2 hours. This was alongside the many distractions that came with my job so you can do 20-30 minute sessions every 1-2 hours. You should be aware, this process of inducing lactation takes 3-6 weeks depending on your goals. If, on the other hand, the tens unit is not beginning to produce a triggering response after a few weeks, then it’s less likely to work.
In the early days, I purchased a tiny Kedsum 16 mode unit. It was descrete, I was able to place the pads on my nipples, cover up with my bra, and control the unit on my waistband with everything hidden from fellow workers. Looking back, my first tens unit was underpowered and didn’t offer as much triggering modes. However, it did the job and likely was just the right amount of power I needed because in a month, without medication or pumping, I was able to start lactating. Most importantly, it had two independent channels that I could place each of the pair of electrodes very close to each other. My in my effort to induce lactation, I made a safety rule that the pairs of electrode pads should be very close to each other (1/2 inch away at the most) so that current could never flow near my heart. When it comes to any induction method, safety and effectiveness were my biggest concern.
I recently replaced my old tens with a new one I bought from Amazon. I absolutely love it! It is amazing at triggering prolactin/nice oxytocin spikes and letdown sensations. I can’t guarantee this is the best tens for inducing but it’s the most triggering I’ve found so far. There are so many tens units on the market. I would absolutely love to hear about the performance of other units. I have to say, I did not like the tens sensations in the beginning. I was very tense and apprehensive and it seemed like too much sensations at first. I just about gave it up on it, but, with some help from my friend, I was slowly able to discover ways to make the current feel way more pleasurable (oxytocin response). That was very important if I wanted to feel hormonal triggering.
The first image shows the pair of pads on opposite sides of the nipple. I believe it’s important that pair of pads never be much further apart than this. This placement is nice if having the current go directly into the nipple tip (image 2 & 3) feels too sensitive for you. It’s also handy if the current is causing you to leak milk and you want to express/collect the milk. However, in my experiences the side placement is not nearly as effective at triggering oxytocin/ letdown sensations as current directly into the milk ducts. I used this to start catching drops and I started saving my milk in syringes.
The second image, a pad is applied directly onto the milk ducts/breast. One pad is off to the side. In this case the nipple pad has been cut down with a pair of scissors in order to better focus the current onto the nipple tip. The only reason I did this was because the original tens unit was severely underpowered and this offered more rich sensations. It should be noted that a generous amount of electrode gel must be applied to the nipple and be firmly on place.
The third image you can see the nipple pad is being held firmly in place with a strip of Micropore tape. The gel that comes with the pads is poor and loses the stickiness quickly. The placement shown with Micropore tape works nice for placing everything in your bra before you run off to work. I found I would have to run to the restroom and re-apply gel once every 2 or 3 hours.
I am not an LC or a medical professional, but I absolutely love sharing my tens experience and helping other mothers. In my humble opinion, success with the tens unit is more of a nuanced response-dependent than mainstream methods like prescription medication and frequent pumping. Although it worked like a miracle for me, that doesn’t mean it would be the same for everyone else. I hope this helps you on your journey!
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Not all methods or opinions shared here are those of Save The Milk.
Save The Milk welcomes different expiriences of mothers to be shared with the breast pumping community.
You are responsible for your own health and oversight by a medical professional.
What settings did you use
She used settings that felt comfortable. There is no perfect settings so you would use settings that are most comfortable for you.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m not currently wanting to produce milk or get pregnant immediately but was wondering if I could still use the tens on my breast to increase the size of my nipple without lactation? Also during ovulation my nipples invert and cause alot if pain. I was also hoping it would help with pain since it helps with nerves. Is the key to use it lest frequently or less intensity so I don’t induce lactation? I appreciate a knowledge you may have on this.
Yes you can use a tens to increase your breast size. I have not looked into using a tens unit to help with breast pain but your theory makes a lot of sense. You should talk to your dr about the pain you are having and see if there is nothing else going on. I would suspect that using it less frequently would not produce lactation.
“triggering response after a few weeks” what should this feel like / be?
I’ve started this journey 13 days ago and every 2 hours around the clock. So far I’ve seen sensitive nipples / growth, itchy nipples, breast feeling fluffy/softer than normal, achy pain near armpits, breasts warmer than rest of body. What should this release of oxytocin/Prolactin feel like that you speak of?
It sounds like you are responding to the stimulation. The “letdown” or oxytocin release is different for everyone. Many have the feeling of tingling nipples right before milk starts to eject.