Are you supposed to just know when to start pumping? Nah. You’re good. We all learn as we go. And if you want some guidance, we’ve got you.
Does this baby come with an instruction manual?
Was there an email that you missed?
When can you start pumping?
Don’t worry, mama.
Nobody is born with built-in pumping intel.
You’re by no means the first person to ponder these questions.
So let’s find out together when to start pumping.
In this article: 📝
- What is breast pumping?
- When should you start breast pumping?
- How long should you wait to start pumping when breastfeeding?
- Can you start pumping too early?
- When should I pump to build supply?
- How do you start pumping while breastfeeding?
- Is it OK to just pump and not breastfeed?
- Tips on how to pump for the first time
What is breast pumping?
As it turns out, the breast pump as we know it today has only been in circulation for about 20 years.
It’s awesome, yes, because it allows mamas some degree of agency.
Going back to work, sharing feeding duties with your partner or a family member, having a night out, not having to feed straight from the breast every time ‒ the breast pump opens up a world where all of this is possible.
But, like everything to do with being a mama, it’s complex.
“The quiet revolution” is the term used to describe the explosion of the breast pump onto the feeding scene.
And it’s not hard to see why.
Over 85% of new mamas are incorporating milk expression into their feeding schedule in some capacity ‒ and the pump is a massive part of that trend.
It really is changing the way we feed our babies.
It’s the “quiet” part of the “quiet revolution” that’s worth a second glance.
We just don’t have the data we need to know exactly what the risks and challenges of breast pumping are.
So, let’s normalize the conversation, shall we?
Bring the pump out into the light.
That way, we can make this whole thing a lot easier and safer for everyone.
There’s simply no reason that the revolution should be quiet.
When should you start breast pumping?
There’s no definite time to start pumping for every mama.
Some prefer to try hand-expressing then pumping once baby is born ‒ usually for parents who prefer exclusive pumping.
And some may not start pumping well into their breastfeeding journey ‒ often when baby is about 6 weeks old, once breastfeeding has been established as a schedule.
But you can start hand expressing from about 36 weeks pregnant, then ‘graduating’ to pumping when you’re more comfortable.
How long should you wait to start pumping when breastfeeding?
When to start pumping breast milk is a difficult one because no two situations are alike.
As a very rough guideline, it’s a good idea to wait until your baby is about 6 weeks old before you start pumping.
There are a few reasons to wait:
- You and your baby will have a chance to get into your feeding groove. Like figuring out anything new with a partner, you and your baby are just learning how to do this thing.
- Breastfeeding improves milk production. Kangaroo care (essentially skin-on-skin contact whenever possible) briefs your body to make milk for your baby. That mama-baby bond is strong. Babies perform a very specific sucking action when breastfeeding that stimulates the breastfeeding hormone prolactin ‒ and this increases your milk supply.
BUT (and it’s a big one):
All situations are different and yours may mean that you need to pump sooner. Here are some situations where this might be the case:
- Your baby was born prematurely and/or is sick. If your baby needs to go into the NICU, breast pumping early on may be a good idea.
- Your baby has a low birth weight. If you need to supplement breastfeeding to get your baby’s weight up, the pump is incredibly handy.
- You need to go back to work. If you need to go back to work, you may need to pump sooner. It’s a good idea to start pumping about three weeks before going back so that you have enough supply built up when the time comes.
- You’re separated from your baby for whatever reason. Life happens. And when it does, pumping can be a godsend.
Can you start pumping too early?
Yes, it is possible to start pumping too early.
If you don’t feel ready to start pumping, it’s too early.
Start whenever you’re ready, mama.
It’s also possible to start overproducing milk from pumping too soon, which can lead to engorged breasts, which can cause mastitis and discomfort.
If you do want to start pumping, at whatever stage in your pregnancy or breastfeeding journey, it’s worth checking with your doctor or a lactation consultant, who can give you some more personalized advice.
When should I pump to build supply?
Breast milk works on something of a supply-and-demand basis.
If you let those ducts know that there’s demand, supply typically follows.
A general rule of thumb is to pump as often as you would feed.
This helps send the right signals to your body about how much milk is needed.
Very roughly, this works out in the region of about every three hours.
When you do this is ultimately up to you and your schedule ‒ the whole point is making this thing work for you.
Hot tip? Morning pumps can be quite productive.
That’s because that prolactin hormone (the breastfeeding one) is stimulated overnight.
So, in the morning, your body is ready for the day ahead.
How do you start pumping while breastfeeding?
So then there’s the how ‒ and, no, it’s not abnormal that you don’t know how to attach a juice-sucking contraption to your breast.
The good news is, you can start slow.
Before you even get to the pump, try to get your milk out by hand (called hand expressing).
From there, you can gradually start replacing one of your daily feeds with a pump and introducing the bottle to your baby so that they get used to the whole idea.
Some mamas also find it useful to use the pump straight after breastfeeding.
The reasons for this are twofold ‒ it can help prevent milk build-up that can lead to mastitis, and it can stimulate milk supply.
From there you can ramp up to regular pumping.
If you’re going back to work, it’s a good idea to start your pumping journey about two or three weeks beforehand.
This will help you build up your supply and alleviate at least some of the stress that comes with the transition.
There are various pumps on the market ‒ loosely divided into manual, battery-operated, and electric.
Some electric versions are double pumps, allowing you to do two breasts at a time.
If you start pumping before your baby is six weeks old, go for a manual over an electric pump so your body doesn’t go into oversupply mode.
Oversupply can be quite uncomfortable.
(You might have heard the word “engorgement”? Yeah, that’s it.)
Your breast can get leaky and infected and leave you feeling more than a little over it all.
Is it OK to just pump and not breastfeed?
Of course, it’s absolutely fine to exclusively pump and not to breastfeed.
Whether it’s a personal preference or baby’s just not keen on the boob, do whatever works for you and your family, mama.
Tips on how to pump for the first time
New to pumping?
Here are our top tips ‒ hey, we all start somewhere, mama:
- Wash your hands. Get your supplies. Have a clean bottle at the ready. (Go here for tips on how to sterilize your bottles.)
- Place the opening of the flange (that’s the lips of the pump) around your nipple.
- Hold the pump in place. One method is to keep your thumb on top and the rest of your fingers below the nipple.
- Then, it’s up to the pump type. The instructions should take you through the various settings and options for your pump. Pump for about 15 minutes on each side.
- Keep the bottle cold and covered to avoid contamination.
- Clean your pump.
Important PSA: Pumping shouldn’t be painful. If it is, it may be because the pump is not the right size or on the right setting.
If you’re feeling at all uncertain during your breastfeeding journey, reach out to your healthcare practitioner.
Lactation specialists exist for this exact reason and can help you find a path through this that works for you and your baby.
The breast pump journey can be a lonely one.
Having a community of other mamas around you as you navigate all of this is awesome.
They’re there for you on Peanut.
You got this.