When it comes to learning to feed our babies, the question “how long should I pump?” is right up there with the most frequently asked. Read on.
Almost every breastfeeding mother needs to pump at some point. And it can be daunting.
You may be sitting there wondering, how long should I pump each time?
And how often? Is pumping for 30 minutes too long?
And where does this little doohickey even fit?
And what even is a flange?
Don’t worry, mama. We’ve got you covered.
How long you should pump for each session depends on what you need the milk for.
It may also end up depending on when and how often you pump.
So get comfy, and let us take the guesswork out of it for you.
(And hopefully some of the stress too!)
In this article: 📝
- When should I start pumping?
- What time of day should I pump?
- How long should I pump each session?
- How often should I pump?
- Final tips for how long to pump
When should I start pumping?
Lactation consultants generally recommend that you only start pumping once breastfeeding is well established, at around four to six weeks.
But that’s not always possible.).
If your baby is premature or has special feeding needs, you may need to start pumping a little earlier.
Sometimes, you may also begin pumping sooner to help get your supply going.
In the early days, particularly before your milk comes in, hand expressing can be more helpful than pumping.
It’s gentler and can be a great way to express the vitally important colostrum — the highly nutritious first milk you produce — for a baby struggling or unable to latch.
Research also suggests that mothers who hand express in addition to pumping find consistent increases in milk production.
What time of day should I pump?
This really depends on your body and what works for you, but it makes sense to pump when your breasts are full.
For most mamas, that’s in the morning, rather than, for example, during the witching hour of around 6 pm when you (and your little one) may be a bit pooped from the day.
If you’re pumping just for the odd feed or to build a freezer stash (storage tips for you here, mama), pump whenever is convenient.
There doesn’t have to be a schedule, just whenever you have a chance, maybe after a nursing session or at least an hour before the next.
And don’t worry — this becomes easier as your baby gets older and their feeds stretch out.
Initially, they usually need to feed about every two to four hours, making it tricky to find a gap to pump extra.
How long should I pump each session?
Everyone responds to the breast pump differently.
So in answer to how long to pump each session, there’s no one-size-fits-all.
We’ll take you through the most frequently asked questions so you can see what will work best for you.
Is 15 minutes of pumping enough?
In general, around fifteen to twenty minutes will get you a good amount of milk.
Some mamas get all they need in ten minutes, and others need a little extra time.
Particularly when you first start out, it could take up to 30 minutes.
But don’t worry.
It’s probably just your body getting used to this new activity.
How long should I pump after nursing?
If your baby falls asleep after a good feed and your breasts still feel full, you can pump directly after a feed.
Take the lead from your body, and pump until your breasts feel well emptied.
You can massage them during the session to keep them comfortable and ensure you get every bit of liquid you need.
How many ounces should I be pumping every 2 hours?
We don’t know for sure how much milk you’ll be able to pump in a session — every body is so different.
But your first letdown — the reflex triggered by a suckling babe — will give you around 36% of the milk volume of the whole session.
A letdown releases prolactin (the milk-making hormone) and oxytocin (the so-called “love hormone”).
Oxytocin stimulates a rush of milk into the milk ducts, which then open to allow the milk to flow freely.
A letdown often looks (and feels) like a gush of milk into the pump or whatever receptacle you’re using to collect it.
Some folk feel a tingling followed by a rush of fullness to the breast.
Sometimes, milk will even drip from the other breast, which is when gadgets like the Haakaa can come in useful to catch that precious milk.
You may also have a couple more let-downs after that first one, so note what is usual for you.
If you do have more than one, continue pumping until they’ve all had their chance to shine.
And don’t worry if you haven’t experienced the “feeling” of a letdown.
As long as the milk is coming, it’s all working!
In general, experts usually recommend pumping for an extra two or three minutes after you see the last drop of milk pumped out — just to be sure you’ve got the most out of your session.
How often should I pump?
If you want to boost your supply, try pumping between breastfeeding sessions — usually an hour after the last feed and at least an hour before the next.
And since breastfeeding really is a supply-demand situation, power pumping can be super helpful too.
This technique mimics cluster feeding to increase your supply.
That means pumping whenever you’d usually feed them at home.
If you’re exclusively pumping, eight to twelve sessions in a 24-hour period will help to maintain supply.
And night-time pumping is especially useful.
This is because your prolactin levels are likely at their highest between 11 pm and 7 am.
If at the end of your session, you get less milk than you hoped for, you may worry that your baby is not getting enough.
But as long as they’re gaining weight, they’re doing just fine.
If you’re at all concerned, speak to your doctor.
They will be able to refer you to a lactation consultant if necessary.
Final tips for how long to pump
- Get organized with all you need to be comfortable, maybe a blanket, a glass of water, and a snack if you need one. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before beginning.
- For many mamas, looking at pictures of their baby or holding an item of their clothing to be able to smell them can help trigger their letdown reflex. You could even have your baby feed from one breast while you pump from the other. That extra closeness can be very helpful in getting the milk going.
- Make sure you’re relaxed and have a quiet private place to sit. You might like to take a few deep breaths before beginning or even do a quick five-minute meditation.
- Make sure there is a good seal on the flange — that’s the trumpet-shaped part of the pump that fits over your areola. And sometimes it helps to wet it slightly. Place the flange over the areola, and be sure to center the nipple.
- You may be tempted to go right in and engage the supersonic suction setting. But harder suction doesn’t automatically mean more milk and might actually cause you pain. Aim to have the suction on as high a level as possible while remaining comfortable.
- You can combine freshly pumped milk with previously refrigerated milk. Just cool the fresh milk and use the date the older milk was pumped as the guideline for when it “expires.” Any milk left in a bottle from a previous feed, though, should be discarded after two hours.
The rules of physics mean that your baby and your breasts may not always be able to be in the same room at the same time.
Whether it’s because you’re going back to work or heading out for a well-deserved evening with friends, pumping can feel like a lifesaver.
Come join the conversation at Peanut.
We’d love to have you.