How often should you breast pump?

how often to breast pump

The breast pump will go down in history as a very monumental invention. Women often love or hate it in equal measure, but it can’t be disputed that breast pumps allow breastfeeding mothers all over the world to continue giving breast milk rather than formula to their little angels even without being physically present. Plus, the freedom that comes with breast pumps has allowed many women to focus on both their babies and their careers, and this is something that cannot be ignored. 

How often should you breast pump? It depends on your situation. Since every baby is different, your pumping schedule will largely depend on them. It will also depend on your supply and your time and schedule. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding and working, for example, you’d need to pump more often.

However, today, not every mum can afford to be with their baby 24/7, or to feed them on demand. This is why using a breast pump is such a great alternative, because it allows your little one to still enjoy natural breast milk while allowing you to maintain a good milk supply.

When to start pumping breast milk

This largely depends on your baby. If you have a full-term baby, and they are completely healthy and able to breastfeed well, consider waiting a few weeks before you can start pumping and storing your breast milk. However, if you have a preterm baby, or your baby is unable to breastfeed for some reason, you can start pumping as soon as you can after birth, within one to six hours or so after delivery.

Some women also choose to exclusively pump. If you decide to do this, consult your physician first. However, generally, healthcare providers advise starting to pump within one to six hours of delivery if you have chosen to pump exclusively.

Can you pump and breastfeed at the same time?

Pumping and breastfeeding at the same time is something that some women frown upon, but it is perfectly alright to do it this way. It is often necessary for some women for a variety of reasons. For example, some babies will pick a side and feed on that one side exclusively while the other breast is left full, which can cause a lot of discomfort. 

If you want to pump and breastfeed at the same time, consider getting one of those manual milk collector breast pumps. A New Zealand company called Haakaa is the world’s leading manufacturer of these types of pumps. Haakaa pumps are food-grade silicon pumps that you attach to one breast while the baby is feeding on the other. It catches all the let down from that side while using suction to help with engorgement. So it is completely hands-free. It will revolutionize your pumping.

Can I pump every hour?

Doctors recommend pumping 8 to 10 times a day, or about 12 times a day if you have a low milk supply and want to bring it up. But what about pumping every hour?

Baby Bottle feeding

Well, if you have a very low milk supply, pumping more frequently is a sure way of increasing your supply. Although it may not always be possible to do it this way, pumping every hour can dramatically increase your milk supply. The way it works is simple: it increases demand on your body for milk, mimicking a cluster feeding baby. Your body in turn responds by increasing the supply of milk. If you are an exclusively pumping mom, then pumping every hour is one of the methods you can consider using to increase your supply.

You should keep in mind that the results of pumping every hour are not instant. You may not see any increase in your supply for a few days. It may even take up to a week of diligently pumping every hour before you can see it translate to an increase in the amount of milk you produce each session.

A good strategy to use when pumping in every hour is to pick a specific part of the day to pump and to stagger your pumping sessions within that period. For example, you can opt to pump once an hour every hour from 5am to around 9 am. Then give your body some time to replace all that milk, before pumping again in the evening, from, say, 5 pm to 9 pm. This brings your total to 10 sessions.

Therefore, while many women mistakenly think that they need to pump every hour for the entire day, it is ultimately not realistic when you have a baby to take care of. Plus, pumping every hour throughout the night will only prove counterproductive in the long run. Therefore, choose a realistic pumping period of a day, then add a few sessions in between.

You should also keep in mind that pumping too much and too often, while it will fill the freezer, can potentially cause problems for you and the baby. Some women pump so much that in the end, if they skip a session, their breasts become overfilled. When your breasts are left full for too long too often, not only is it uncomfortable, but it can also lead to plugged ducts and mastitis. Plugged ducts lead to significantly reduced milk supply, and mastitis usually requires medical intervention. So neither of them is good news for breastfeeding mums.

When you notice your baby pulling away, choking, or coughing as they breastfeed, it may be an indication that you are producing too much milk. Too much milk can cause gas and tummy troubles that make babies fussy. Your baby may also end up refusing the breast if you are breastfeeding. And the worst part is that a lot of times, these symptoms are misdiagnosed, which could cause you to subject the baby to unnecessary treatments or early weaning.

How long does it take to breast pump?

The amount of time you should spend breast pumping varies based on many factors. However, generally, a pumping session takes about 10 to 20 minutes. A good rule of thumb is to pump until your breasts soften and you no longer feel full. You can also wait about two or three minutes after you see the last drop of milk and this will be a good enough indicator that you are dry.

During the first few weeks, it is a good idea to combine pumping with hand expressing. Pump for at least 10 to 20 minutes then hand express any remaining milk. Hand expression has been proven to help drain the breasts much better than regular pumping.

A few weeks or months after birth when you find that you regularly achieve a full day’s production of about 25 to 35 oz, or 750 to 1035 ml every day, you can spend a shorter time on each breast pumping session. You can reduce each session to about 10 to 15 minutes, or until you no longer feel full. Plus, by then you will be quite the expert at this and you should have no problems keeping your baby fully fed all day.

How long should a breastfeeding session last?

Newborns feed for about 20 to 45 minutes per breastfeeding session, preferably alternating for 10-15 minutes on each breast. However, since every baby is different, and newborns are often very sleepy, you should feed yours until they stop suckling. You will notice that their hands are no longer clenched into fists and they appear relaxed and sleepy. This is them letting you know that they are starting to feel satisfied.

How many times a day should I pump while breastfeeding?

If you are primarily breastfeeding, wait a few weeks before you start pumping. Then pump first thing in the morning, as this is the time most women get the most milk. Also, pump between breastfeeding sessions, about 30 to 60 minutes after nursing or around an hour before breastfeeding. Since many women fill up again within 45 or so minutes, this should leave enough milk for your baby’s next feeding.

It is also important to point out that if you are pumping while breastfeeding, your pumping schedule will depend on the feeding schedule you have established with your little one.  Sometimes, it can also be rather difficult to stick to a specific pumping schedule. So although this is the recommended frequency, if the baby wants to breastfeed immediately after you have pumped, let them! They will probably have to feed longer to get the milk they need, but that’s OK.

Video – How often should I pump breast milk?

How often should I pump to increase milk supply?

Maintaining full milk production every day is fundamentally important. So whether you are pumping while breastfeeding or pumping exclusively, there are several things you can do to increase your milk supply.

As a rule of thumb, the more often you pump and drain your breasts, the more milk they will produce. This is because pumping often and draining your breasts signals your body to leap into action and produce more milk.

If you are just starting immediately after delivery and within the first week of birth, here is what you need to do:

  • Start pumping within six hours after birth if you intend to pump exclusively
  • You will probably pump just a little colostrum at first. This is perfectly normal. Your milk will increase from a few drops to several ounces by around the fourth or fifth day.
  • Start pumping 8 to 10 times every 24 hours. This is the normal feeding frequency of a breastfed baby, so you should emulate it. The more times you pump the more milk you will produce.
  • Pump both breasts at the same time to boost production quickly.
  • When you pump, do it for 10 to 20 minutes then switch to hand expression.
  • Pump at least twice every day in the early morning hours of 1 am to 6 am. This is when your milk production is at its highest.

How much milk should I be pumping?

The amount of milk you pump depends on a variety of factors. Top of the list is the baby’s age, the amount of time since the last feeding, the time of day, your pumping schedule, the type of pump you are using, your level of experience pumping, and your state of mind as you pump, that is, whether you are stressed or relaxed.

However, on average, women who primarily breastfeed produce more milk during morning hours, with the overall volumes decreasing gradually as the day progresses. Late evenings are when production is at its lowest. I should also mention that for many women, each breast produces different volumes of milk, and this still depends on many variables.

Ideally, if you are exclusively pumping, you should aim to hit a full day’s milk production limit. This is about 25 to 35 oz or 750 to 1035 ml every 24 hours. However, it may take some time for some women to achieve this target, so if you do not hit it on day one, that’s perfectly alright.

If you notice a drop in production, or if you simply want to boost your milk production a little, here are a few things you can do:

  • Pump more often. You can pump up to 12 times every 24 hours. This has been proven to boost milk production for most moms.
  • Increase the amount of time you spend pumping. Do it until your breasts soften up and no longer feel full.
  • Massage your breasts before and during pumping. You can also rub them with a warm cloth to make the milk flow more freely.
  • Hand express after pumping.
  • Remember to take a lot of water and eat foods that increase your milk supply.
  • If none of this works, ask your lactation consultant for advice on increasing milk supply

How much milk should I be pumping at 1 week?

For women who are exclusively breastfeeding, the first month is often characterized by a significantly lower yield than other months. For example, some women produce only one ounce or about 30ml on the first day. By around day 40, this amount will have peaked to about 35 ounces a day.

If you are dealing with low production levels especially during those first weeks, draining your breasts often will naturally boost your milk production. Therefore, although it varies from one woman to the next, you should generally expect to produce less milk on that first week. Pump 8 to 10 times a day and pump until your breasts feel empty and soft and your body will naturally start to produce more milk as time goes by.

After the first week

  • Increase the amount of time you spend pumping. Pump until your breasts are soft and no longer feel full. In most cases, you can tell by waiting about two or three minutes after collecting the last drop of milk.
  • In the first few weeks, work towards 8 to 10 total pumping sessions every 24 hours as opposed to pumping every 2 to 3 hours. Make sure no more than 5 hours pass without pumping, especially during the first two to three weeks.

Once you hit the pumping goal of 25 to 35 oz every 24 hours, you can now change things up a bit. By this time, your body will be able to maintain production even when you pump fewer times daily. Your focus should now be on hitting your daily limit. Here is what you need to do:

  • Work towards establishing a regular schedule that allows you to produce 25 to 35 oz every 24 hours.
  • Try and sleep more. Pump right before bed and first thing in the morning. If you find that doing this affects your overall production, add another session between 1 am to 6 am.
  • You can now reduce the time you spend pumping. Pump for 10 to 15 minutes each session.
  • Keep records of your production levels. Once a week, add up the amount of milk you have been pumping every 24 hours. Add it up and compare your weekly totals to know when your production drops.

How often should I pump if exclusively pumping?

The American Department of Health recommends exclusively breastfeeding if you’re able to for the first 6 months, so if you are exclusively pumping, plan to pump at least 8 to 10 times every 24 hours. Try to find a schedule that allows you to achieve full milk production every day. Once you do, try to maintain it even when you reach full milk production earlier than planned.

How often should I pump at work?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Several factors will affect how often you need to pump. For example, if your maternity leave has been longer, you will have a more stable supply of milk. Your baby’s age also plays a significant role; as younger babies need to be fed more often. The length of your work day and your work schedule also have a role to play.

Generally, though, if you are at work, try to schedule 2 to 3 pumping sessions in an 8-hour work day. If you are just starting, it is quite normal to get low yields when pumping, and for your sessions to take a much longer time. With experience and confidence, though, pumping can take as little as 10 to 15 minutes. So set aside around 30 minutes for set up, pumping, and cleaning up.

Breastfeeding and pumping schedule

If you are breastfeeding and nursing, you should consider pumping soon after your baby has fed and is satisfied. This way, your body will learn to produce more milk than the baby consumes.

If you are a working mom, here is a simple breastfeeding and pumping schedule that you can follow without reducing your supply:

6 am: Breastfeed

9.30am: 1st pump

12.30pm: 2nd pump

3 pm: 3rd pump

5.30pm: Breastfeed

Use this schedule as a guide and make it your own. For example, you can add pumping sessions immediately you wake up and in the evening when you get home. The most important thing is to make sure the baby gets a full day’s meal, leaving you happy and comfortable.

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