How Often Should I Pump?

Increasing Milk Supply With Scheduled Pumping

Breastfeeding and a career can coexist in harmony with a few tips and tricks. Learn how to build your stash of breast milk with intentional pumping sessions.

Love it or hate it—the breast pump is a monumental piece of equipment. It gives breastfeeding mothers the ability to continue providing breast milk when they can’t be physically present to nurse. We don’t have to choose a career over breast milk, or breast milk over a career. The pump makes both possible. But there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation when it comes to how often you should pump. Your pumping frequency depends on your baby, your supply and your schedule.

Pumping With a Newborn

If your baby is still a newborn, you may want to begin pumping immediately to build your breast milk stash. If you want to nurse and bottle-feed, it is best to hold off introducing a bottle until your baby is 3 to 4 weeks old. This will give him time to perfect his latch and provide time for you to establish your nursing routine. While you’re breastfeeding exclusively, you can add pumping sessions 30 to 60 minutes after your baby nurses. Avoid pumping right before an anticipated nursing session to ensure you have plenty of milk for your baby when he’s hungry. But remember—breast milk is a “supply and demand” situation—the more you nurse and pump; the more your body will supply.

For many reasons, sometimes, your baby is not able to nurse. He may have health issues, or he simply cannot master the latch. If your baby cannot nurse, but you still want to provide breast milk, pumping is your best bet. If you are exclusively pumping and bottle-feeding, you need to pump up to 10 times a day while establishing your supply. Thankfully, this type of frequency will not last forever. When your body begins to consistently produce enough milk, you can likely reduce the pumping sessions to four to five times a day.

Pumping to Increase Supply

To increase your supply and fill up the freezer with breast milk, a few simple strategies may work for you. Pump both breasts at the same time, either with two manual pumps or an electric double pump. If you can, consider pumping more frequently for a shorter amount of time. For example, you can pump three times for 20 minutes instead of two times for 30 minutes. Doing so stimulates your body to increase its milk production. If your baby is sleeping for longer stretches at night, squeeze in an extra pumping session while he rests. You can also talk to your doctor about supplements that may increase milk supply, such as fenugreek. Above all, make self-care a priority. Do what you can to get rest, hydrate, eat well, and reduce unnecessary stress and commitments.

Pumping at Work

If your workplace employs more than 50 people, federal law requires them to provide a clean, private area with an electrical outlet for pumping. Talk to your employer and try to maintain a pumping schedule that mirrors your nursing schedule. Some women find that looking at a picture or video of their baby helps with milk production while pumping. You also must find a safe place to store your breast milk at work. If you don’t have access to a fridge, bring a cooler with an ice pack. If you forget to store it, don’t panic—breast milk is safe at room temperature for six to eight hours.

Pumping Tips

Let’s face it: Many women do not enjoy pumping. It’s time-consuming, sometimes quite painful and cumbersome, and it’s not the same as feeding your baby. Thankfully, using a few tricks helps increase your comfort. Every breast pump contains a flange, which is the cone that fits over your nipple. Breastfeeding experts recommend purchasing larger flanges for pumps; the standard size can be too small for many women. A properly sized flange will increase both your comfort and breast milk production. You may also need to experiment with the type of pump and speed of pumping. Every woman is different, and it may take a bit of trial and error to find your best system. Massaging your breasts during and between pumping can also increase comfort and production.

Pumping is a labor of love. You are doing your best to feed and care for your baby, and that’s everything. Be patient and give it time. Creating a successful pumping routine does not happen in a day or even a week. Never hesitate to bring your questions and concerns to your doctor or a lactation consultant. They are there to support you. And, whether you pump for a month or a year, as long as you are feeding your baby, you are doing your job.

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