How often should I pump? And for how long? It seems like nobody tells you these things! Don’t worry, mama. We’ve got the expert advice right here.
It should be a simple question, but it all seems so complicated.
Is pumping every two hours too much?
Is 10 minutes of pumping enough?
Should I pump until empty?
Why does everyone else just seem to know how to do this?!
Don’t worry, mama.
You’re not alone as you think.
So much of mamahood is figuring it out as we go along.
Here is our guide to your personal pumping schedule with an expert seal of approval.
In this article: 📝
- How often should I pump and for how long?
- What is a good pumping schedule?
- Should you pump a clogged milk duct?
- When to start pumping breast milk?
- How long should I pump each breast?
- How often should I pump at work?
- How often should you pump to keep up milk supply?
- How do I know what breast pump to buy?
How often should I pump and for how long?
The first thing to know is that every body is different, every lifestyle is different, and every work situation is different.
You may need a hybrid feed-pump schedule or an exclusive pumping schedule.
No one way is right or wrong.
As long as you find a flow that fits your specific set of variables.
Having said that, we can help with the basics.
Let’s kick off with some context:
There are two hormones that are directly involved with breastfeeding: oxytocin (the so-called love hormone) and prolactin
When milk is expressed, these hormones get to work, signaling to your body that it can make and release milk to feed your baby.
So basically, pumping and feeding are not just about getting the milk out — they’re also about telling your body how much milk to make.
Pumping will help you:
- Increase milk supply. Essentially the more your body expels milk, the more it wants to make. You demand and your body will supply.
- Stave off milk build-up that can lead to painful complications like mastitis. (It might work for you to pump after you feed to make sure it’s all out.)
- Store milk for times when you are not with your baby.
- Navigate latch issues. (If you’re struggling, mama, reach out to your healthcare provider or other moms. Check out this support group on Peanut. You don’t have to navigate the breastfeeding journey alone.)
- Do things on your own terms. Quite simply, the pump works for any situation when you need to feed your baby from the bottle rather than the breast. For whatever reason.
What is a good pumping schedule?
The number of times a day you should pump depends on your purpose.
Let’s look at each scenario in closer detail under the expert eye of general pediatrician Joana Martins.
How often should I pump if exclusively pumping?
If you’re providing breast milk exclusively to your baby, a pumping session could look like about 8 to 10 times a day.
“We’re talking about a situation when you are providing all the milk that baby requires for each feeding without them feeding directly from your breast”, explains Joana.
This would be an uncommon situation.
If you are combo feeding, aim for 8 to 10 total sessions of pumping and/or breastfeeding.
How often should I pump to increase milk supply?
If you’re looking to increase your milk production, Joana recommends performing a power pump ideally twice a day.
Power pumping is when you try to copy cluster feeding.
“Babies usually get upset late in the afternoon and often behave in a very specific manner: they get fussy and the only way they will calm down is through suction.
So they stay breastfeeding for longer periods of time, making small pauses while taking naps on your lap.
This behavior is called cluster feeding and it really promotes prolactin production.”
So if you’re looking to increase milk production, mimicking this behavior using your pump machine is a solid move.
What does this look like?
Joana recommends dedicating around an hour for each pumping session, where you extract for 5 to 10 min and stop for 5.
How often should I pump to create a breastmilk bank?
Looking to extract some milk to allow you to transiently separate from your baby?
The best advice for creating a breastmilk bank is to extract once a day.
Joana recommends early morning, as your prolactin is usually higher during the night and you have a bigger milk reserve.
Once you’ve fed you baby first thing, you should pump as much as you can until you feel that your breast is finally empty.
That way you will not compromise the next feeding (you still have high prolactin levels) and you can contribute to your milk stock.
Should you pump a clogged milk duct?
A clogged milk duct is as uncomfortable as it sounds and can happen for all manner of reasons, including skipping feeding or switching up your baby’s schedule.
The most noticeable sign?
A hard lump in your breast where the milk duct has become blocked and general discomfort that won’t quit until after a feed or a pump.
So if you’re feeling that breastmilk is no longer flowing as it should be to your nipple, pumping is the answer.
There are some experienced mamas out there who extract quite successfully using a mechanical pump.
But in the early days of mamahood, it is far easier to do manual extraction.
This way you can massage your breast in a radial way to push milk from the outer parts of your breast to your nipple.
Joana’s expert advice?
“Never express the nipple as it is painful and useless.
Instead, you should try to press the nipple and areola against your rib cage, while applying some pressure at the nipple, this way is less painful and far more effective.”
Another tip: try to apply some warm before manually extracting, and some cold afterward.
“I don’t usually recommend getting in the shower, as the excessive dampness will increase skin edema and make the painful nipples impossible to heal.”
When to start pumping breast milk?
It’s a good idea to wait until your baby is about six weeks old before you start pumping.
That gives you some time to kick off the breastfeeding journey in those early days.
If you’re thinking about freezing your milk, wait until your baby is 8 weeks old, in order to have what is considered a mature milk.
Having said that, there are many reasons why starting earlier might be beneficial to you.
If your baby has a low birthweight, is having trouble getting milk from your breast, is jaundiced, or you’ve had to be separated for whatever reason, you might want/need to start pumping earlier.
Again, no two feeding journeys are alike.
There’s no one way to do this.
How long should I pump each breast?
As a rough ballpark, think about pumping for 15 minutes on each side per session.
If possible, try to fully empty the breasts as this helps prevent milk build-up and increase supply.
Above all, be patient with yourself.
Yes, even with that Inbox pinging and that To-Do list piling up.
You’re allowed to just sit with this until it’s done.
Another fun trick: the double pump.
That’s when you pump on both sides at once (if you have the option to do this).
How often should I pump at work?
Think every three to four hours for 15-minute sessions.
And know that you have a right to do so in a comfortable, private space.
Need more confidence?
Check out our expert guide to breastfeeding in public.
How often should you pump to keep up milk supply?
If you’re trying to increase milk production, you should breastfeed as much as the baby wants to.
But do opt for the power pump method instead of aiming for a strict 8 to 10 sessions a day.
Trying to balance this many sessions with feeding the baby is exhausting and mama, you need to rest too.
How do I know what breast pump to buy?
Different pumps have different flange sizes so the most important factor when buying a breast pump is ensuring it’s the proper fit.
Most women have chosen their flanges while still pregnant, but their breasts have doubled their size since then.
It’s something to definitely keep in mind.
As Joana points out “a proper fit is absolutely vital for optimizing the extraction process as well as keeping the experience pain-free.”
But one of the top breast pumps, according to our Peanut mamas, is the Smart Electric Breast Pump by Lola&Lykke.
If you need an extra hand (or to free them), we’ve got the lowdown on all you need to know about the hands-free breast pump.
Remember, conversations with the Peanut community are only a tap way.
You might say they’re flowing. 😉