Pump your breastmilk, they said. It’ll be fun, they said—but while pumping may be a real game-changer for baby feeding, it’s quite a lot to get your head around.
When, how much, how long—and how do I do it effectively? Plus (big deal), what are my rights? Can I pump at work? If so, when and where?
While this may be something that needs to be quickly ticked-off from your To-Do list, pumping is an activity that demands that you engage in a tiny bit of self-care.
The lowdown on breast pumping
How do you properly pump?
Surprise! Knowing how to pump breast milk was not in any school syllabus. So here’s your 101:
- What breast pumps do: In short, they pretend to be a suckling baby. By creating the same motion your baby makes, your breast pump will get your milk flowing.
- How breast pumps work: You pop a flange (a kind of suction funnel) on your nipple. It forms a vacuum seal and funnels your milk where it needs to go. Your milk is then stored in a container for you to use when you need to use it.
- Types of breast pumps: Depending on your need and budget, these are your options:
- Manual pumps (Good for early on and cost-effective)
- Battery-operated (Great for on-the-go pumping)
- Electric (Efficiency to the max)
How often should I pump?
That depends on where you’re at with your feeding routine. Are you exclusively pumping? Are you offering the breastfed-bottle combo deal?
Rule of thumb? Think about getting breast milk out of you somewhere between 8 and 10 times a day. Why so often? Because breast milk works on a supply and demand basis. If you demand, your body will (generally) supply.
Of course, there’s all sorts of fine print here:
- If you have been exclusively breastfeeding and are preparing to return to work, start pumping about twice a day to get into the groove of things. (Hot tip: pump after feeds rather than before so that you don’t have any supply issues when you need to feed—at least an hour before feeds should do the trick.)
- If you have returned to work or need to be away from your baby for periods of time, pump about every three hours while you’re out. This keeps your rhythm going.
- If you are pumping to relieve engorgement, pump after you breastfeed. Engorgement? Sounds dramatic. And yes, it can be. It’s when our breasts get overfilled with milk. It can be really uncomfortable and, in some cases, lead to an infection called mastitis. You might be vulnerable to this once you start weaning your baby off a mama’s milk-only diet. At this particular juncture, the breast pump is a serious ally.
If you’re having any trouble with breastfeeding, you don’t have to struggle through it alone. If your baby is having trouble latching and/or you are in any pain or discomfort while breastfeeding, reach out to your healthcare provider.
Also, if pumping is hurting you, there may be a simple fix. Try changing the flange size, your position, or the settings. It may require a little trial and error.
It’s seriously not uncommon to struggle. Finding a community of mamas going through the same thing can also really help you feel less isolated in this journey.
Next on the agenda: how long should I pump for?
How many minutes should I pump per session?
Some mamas need more, some mamas need less—but as a ballpark, think between 15 and 20 minutes per breast per session.
Pumping in the morning can be pretty productive for many mamas.
And here’s how to increase milk supply when pumping:
- The double pump. Both breasts at the same time. Not only is this super-efficient but it also stimulates milk flow. Oxytocin (AKA the love hormone) loves the old double pump and breast milk loves oxytocin.
- The pump and feed. Basically, pump on one breast, feed on the other. That’s how it goes. (If this feels too much to handle, don’t worry, mama. It’s by no means mandatory.)
How much breastmilk should I pump a day?
That all depends on how much your baby needs. They tend to drive the whole operation. But as a rough guide, think about producing about 25 to 35 oz of breastmilk every 24 hours. (You may not be pumping all of that so figure out what works for you.)
Also, important: you rev up to this kind of supply. The early weeks will likely be less productive than this.
And then, when to start pumping
Again, totally up to your specific situation but here are some rough guides:
- If your baby is healthy, start pumping when they’re about six weeks old.
- If your baby is premature or sick or you have to be separated from them for some reason, you may need to pump earlier so that they can get the feed they need. Chat to your doctor about this.
- If you are going back to work, start slow. Think about getting pumping a few weeks before your return so that you can get into the swing of things first.
Read our complete guide on when to start pumping.
And because what goes up must come down:
How to stop pumping
Yes, pumping has a time limit. You don’t have to do it forever. When your baby starts on solids, your schedule changes, or you simply don’t want to pump anymore, it may be time to bring this journey to a close.
Only real rule here is to do it gradually. Going cold turkey may lead to engorgement, clogged ducts, mastitis, or just general discomfort.
So, it’s best to slowly decrease the number of pumps you do a day, or lessen the amount you pump per session—or try a combo of both.
Figure out what works best for you. Your journey with the pump is totally your own.
Can I pump at work?
So, bottom line:
Pumping is your right.
Pumping can be hard to get your head around at first.
When you do, it can be a lifesaver.
Okay, mama. Happy pumping! You got this.