Breastfeeding and pumping is definitely something that no one teaches you in school. Most mothers don’t get an opportunity to learn anything about breastfeeding or pumping prior to having their own child. However, 85% of mothers who breastfeed will pump at some point. I know I felt overwhelmed with so many questions when facing the reality of returning to work and how I was going to continue to breastfeed my baby. This guide will go through all the details of establish a healthy breastfeeding and pumping schedule.
Table of Contents
When Should I Start Pumping?
If you have a healthy newborn that is gaining weight and breastfeeding well then you should exclusively breastfeed that baby for at least the first 4-6 weeks. This helps to establish a healthy milk supply without causing an oversupply which could lead to engorgement, clogged ducts, or mastitis.
If you are returning to work and plan to pump in order to maintain breastfeeding your baby, plan to start incorporating pumping into your breastfeeding and pumping schedule 2-3 weeks prior to your return. This will allow you to get comfortable with your pump and start to build up a supply of breastmilk to feeds your baby while you are away. It also gives your baby a chance to adjust to feeding with a bottle prior to your return to work.
If you are medically separated from your baby at birth, have medical concerns, or your baby is not gaining weight properly you may need to start pumping as soon as your child is born. That means you should either hand express or pump within the first 2 hours of delivery and pump every 2-3 hours. A lactation consultant can help you determine the best timing for your situation.
Tips for Establish a Healthy Milk Supply
- Exclusively breastfeed your baby the first few weeks unless you have a medical reason or are choosing to exclusively pump. Your baby is a much more effective pump than any pump you can purchase. Frequent feedings with a good latch will be your greatest help in establishing your milk supply.
- Feed your infant at least every 2-3 hours in the first few weeks or follow hunger cues. Newborns typically feed about 8-12 times per 24 hour period.
- Ensure you have a good latch (it shouldn’t be painful). If it is painful stop and reposition. Reach out to a lactation consultant to help you troubleshoot any issues you may have. Poor latch can lead to skin breakdown, cracking, and mastitis.
- Try to implement skin-to-skin as often as possible. This releases oxytocin which signals milk letdown and milk production.
- Alternate breasts when feeding. You don’t have to feed from both breasts with each feeding, but you should start with the opposite breast on your next feeding. This allows both breasts to empty and trigger your body to keep up production on each side. (I also ended up with lopsided breasts with my second because I was not very good at this).
- Try to keep them awake. Breastfeeding releases some hormones that can make your baby feel very relaxed and often fall asleep. You want to keep them awake so they can get in a good feeding. Your breasts should feel somewhat heavy prior to your feed and lighter at the end of a feed.
- Avoid supplementing or introducing bottles within the first 4-6 weeks as this can decrease your production and cause some nipple confusion with your newborn.
- Prioritize hydrating yourself and fueling your body so you can continue to produce good quality milk.
- Be kind to yourself. Some women will post on social media about the huge amounts of milk they are able to pump in a session or have freezers full of pumped milk before they go back to work. You don’t need to make that much milk, and everyone is very different.
How to Start Pumping
When establishing your breastfeeding and pumping schedule you will want to start by simply adding in one regularly scheduled pumping session at the same time of the day to make one extra feeding a day. If you start this at the recommended 2-3 weeks prior to your scheduled return to work, you should have a sufficient milk supply to support your return to work.
Your milk supply is typically highest in the morning so it is best to add in your one regularly scheduled pumping session at after your first morning feeding. Either feed your baby from one breast and pump from the other, or feed from both breasts and pump for 15-20 minutes after your feeding. This will gradually increase your milk supply without causing an. oversupply.
Going Back to Work
Once you start working you will need to schedule pumping around the times you would normally feed your infant at home. Check out these tips for pumping at work and read more about your rights to pump in the workplace.
What if you need a bottle prior to the recommended 4-6 weeks of exclusive breastfeeding.
- You can use a soft silicone pump or drip catcher on the breast you are not currently feed from. This will collect some milk to help establish a supply to use while you are at work. You can do this for every feeding from the start and build up your supply a little at a time. Make sure to follow proper breast milk storage guidelines.
- Pump if you need a bottle for a specific reason, if you missed a feeding, but don’t start pumping on a regular schedule this can lead to oversupply and can make your breastfeeding more painful and difficult for both of you.
How Much to Pump
First off, do not let pictures of massive freezer full of breastmilk overwhelm you. Most pumping parents get 3-4 oz of milk per pumping session. More than that is definitely the exception.
If you want to simply maintain your supply you will continue with your breastfeeding and pumping schedule of one added session a day in the morning and any feedings that you missed because you were away throughout the day. This will maintain a healthy supply based on the demand that you are giving your body. Even if your infant is feeding less frequently as they grow they are often eating more at each feeding so your body will adjust and have one additional feeding worked into your day. This is also easy to manage and reduce any additional stress added to your life.
If you need to increase your supply you can add one additional regularly scheduled pumping session into your breastfeeding and pumping schedule. Just like it took awhile for the first pumping session to become established so will this new pumping session. After a week or two you will see that your supply will catch up to the new demand. If you need some additional help in increasing your milk production you can find some lactation teas and supplements that can help increase your supply.
The safest and most comfortable way to wean from pumping is to do it gradually. As previously discussed your milk supply is based on supply and demand. A quick drop in demand can cause engorgement, clogged ducts, or mastitis. Start with dropping one pumping session a day. Give your body a few days to adjust to the new demand and then drop an additional pumping session. You can also start by slowly decreasing the length of your pumping session if dropping a whole session is too uncomfortable. Continue until you have dropped all pumping sessions.
Building a Freezer Stash
You really only need a few days worth of milk to support your baby when you return to work. You may want to have a few extra days worth of milk just to give you a little wiggle room if you are separated from your baby longer than expected (due to travel, illness, surgery, etc). Make sure you follow proper storage guidelines, milk is best used within 6 months in the freezer.
It is common for babies to drink more milk or faster when feeding from a bottle. The adjustment from breast to bottle can take some time. Try using a responsive bottle feeding or paced bottle feeding method when introducing a bottle to avoid your baby overeating and blowing through your pumped milk too quickly. Ensure that all caregivers are familiar with whatever method you choose.
Frequently Asked Questions
There is no one correct breastfeeding and pumping schedule. What works for you and your infant will probably be different from the next mother and newborn. Your breastfeeding and pumping schedule will also likely change as time progresses. Focus on establishing a healthy milk production and slowly add in pumping sessions as needed. To have a positive and healthy breastfeeding and pumping experience takes a lot of gradual adjustments. Don’t feel like you have to do it alone. Get your partner involved in cleaning pumping parts, reminding you of feedings, or feeding your little one so you can rest. I always recommend reaching out to a lactation consultant to help you make adjustments as needed throughout your breastfeeding and pumping experience.
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.