If you are here reading this article you are most likely one of the 6% of breastfeeding mothers who have chosen or are trying to decide if exclusively pumping is for you. It is not for the faint of heart, but really I would say breastfeeding isn’t always much easier. Many new moms want to feed their newborn’s nutrient dense breastmilk to help their babies have the best start to life, but life doesn’t always go as planned or isn’t how you thought it would be.
Whether you are here because you chose to or things didn’t work out I am proud of you for putting in all this hard work to feed your baby. This resource will help you navigate exclusively pumping and how to make the best exclusively pumping schedule for you!
Now these schedules may need some personal adaptations based on your particular needs, but we will help guide you through that process. Not all bodies are the same and production will vary between individuals. Use this as your starting point and adapt as needed. Remember you are not alone, although it may seem like it at times. I am here to help you navigate it all!
- Your body produces breastmilk based upon supply and demand.
- You should start pumping every 2-3 hours once your baby is born for at least 10 minutes.
- As your baby grows their needs will change.
- Your pumping schedule should meet your needs and your baby’s needs.
Table of Contents
Why Choose Exclusively Pumping?
The choice to exclusively pump is a personal one, and why you choose to exclusively pump is your business. You don’t need to give anyone a reason for it and it can be just because you want to. Some of the most common reasons that many moms choose to exclusively pump are:
- Reassurance: it allows you to know how much milk your baby is actually consuming, which can be very reassuring to new mothers who want to make sure their baby is getting enough milk.
- Flexibility: exclusive pumpers typically have more flexibility to leave their baby for short periods of time than mothers who are breastfeeding.
- Share Feeding: choosing to pump allows others to help you with feedings, including partners, babysitters, family members, or friends.
- Less Painful: many women find breastfeeding extremely painful and pumping is a great option to get your baby breast milk in a more comfortable way.
- Extended time away/Medical Issues: for mothers of NICU babies or congenital issues exclusive pumping can be a way to get their newborn breastmilk while still getting the medical care that they need.
How Does My Body Know How Much Milk to Make?
Breast milk production is based on demand. So when your baby suckles on the breast it releases hormones in your body that tells your brain to produce and release milk. The more your baby eats the more your body will produce. In the case of exclusively pumping your pump steps in to stimulate the baby “suckles.” So as you stimulate the breast and pump on a regular exclusively pumping schedule your body will consistently produce what your baby needs.
Since your baby is not actually stimulating your breast you may produce more or less than what they need. You can adjust your schedule as needed based on your production. You can also store any additional milk as needed to build up a freezer stash to have on hand if needed.
Exclusively pumping can come with its own challenges. It’s a great idea to find a support group of other exclusively pumping moms who can encourage you and help you along the way. If you are also facing the challenge of heading back to work you need to prepare for that change as well. Many women give up on their pumping journey or aren’t successful because of pressure at work. Take the time to understand your rights and how to prepare with your employer to increase your confidence and have a better experience.
How Do I Get Started Exclusively Pumping?
Start hand expression or pumping within the first hour of birth. Your milk will take a few days to come in, but you will see colostrum (a thick yellowish milk) in those first few days before you milk comes in. If you miss that first hour of birth that is okay, just start as soon as you can.
In order to establish a strong milk supply hand express or pump every 2-3 hours for 10-15 minutes at a time. It may be easier to hand express or use a manual pump until your milk comes in. Once you milk comes in switch to an electric breast pump to help establish a nice milk supply early on so you can reach your pumping goals.
What is the Best Pump for Exclusively Pumping?
There are a lot of different pumps on the market and what works for some won’t be the best choice for all. However, generally using a double electric pump is often the best choice to decrease the amount of time spent pumping and get the most milk in that time frame. You will spend a lot of time pumping, preparing bottles, feeding, and cleaning pumping parts. Finding the right pump for you that can effectively pump in less time is very valuable.
A hospital-grade pump is often the strongest most effective pump, but can be very expensive. Many women choose a hands free double electric pump and find that it is sufficient to meet their baby’s needs while also allowing them to continue to get things done. I recommend having a manual pump as a backup and a good quality double electric pump (Your insurance should cover this, so check to see if you can get a free one first) to use for most pumping sessions.
How Often Should You Pump?
It depends on several different factors:
- Your Baby’s age: for a newborn baby you need to pump every 2-3 hours until you can better understand their individual needs. This provides them small meals frequently while their digestive system is still growing and developing. As they grow older they will often need to eat less frequently but larger quantities of milk. Then when you start introducing solid foods, they rely less on breastmilk to be their sole nutrition source and will require less breastmilk throughout the day.
- Your supply: As we learned above how much milk your body produces depends on supply and demand. If you notice that your supply has dropped you may need to add in a new pumping session to get the right amount of milk for your baby. Or you may notice that you are making more than enough for your newborn. In that case you can cut out a pumping session or possibly donate that excess milk to other moms who can’t meet the needs of their babies.
- Breastfeeding Goals: How long do you plan on exclusively pumping? If you want to only do it for 6 months that is great. However, if you plan to feed your baby breastmilk for the first year of life you will need more milk and may want to build up more of a freezer stash to help you get there.
All these choices will affect how often you need to pump. You will frequently need to adjust your pumping sessions as they age and as your goals change. You may be able to drop 1-2 sessions as time goes on if you are meeting your goals and you don’t want to store any more extra milk.
How Long Should you Pump?
In the beginning your pumping time per session should be about 10 minutes at most. You are just trying to stimulate your breasts and help your body understand how often your baby needs to eat (demand). Pumping for 30 minutes at a time in the beginning is exhausting and will not be very fruitful. It is better to pump more frequently than pumping for longer time periods of time.
As your baby grows and your supply stabilizes you can often cut down the number of pump sessions as you increase your pumping time. It won’t be the same for every mom. Some exclusively pumping moms empty fast while for others it may take a little longer. I’ll give you some general guidelines in the sample pumping schedules below. The best advice is to empty your breasts to signal to your body to make more. If you leave milk in your breasts it tells your body your baby didn’t need all that it made and may make less in the future.
After your milk has come in and your supply seems to be sufficient you can switch to pumping on demand (pumping when your baby is hungry and bottle feeding) or at regular intervals. There are general recommendations for how often you should pump for the babies age, but it really depends on how much milk your baby seems to need. Babies, like adults don’t eat the same amount at every meal but generally they will eat about the same amount of food throughout the whole day.
How Long of a Break Should You Have Between Pumping Sessions?
If you don’t want to stay on a set schedule it may be hard to decide how long to go in-between pumping sessions. In the first 3 months you don’t want to go more than 2-3 hours in-between pumping sessions as you can become engorged and end up with a clogged duct or worse mastitis. At night you will likely be able to get away with 3-4 hours between sessions.
Then as your baby is between 3-6 months you can then often go longer stretches without pumping, but it really depends how often your baby is eating. If you want to continue to meet their needs you need to at least be pumping as many times as they are eating throughout the day.
How much Milk Should I Produce Per Session?
This is hard to say because some moms will be “super producers” and produce much more than others. If you find that you are on the high or low end of what is recommended it’s okay, and that may be what is normal for you. Don’t feel like you have to be pumping what other moms are pumping per session. If you are on the lower side you may need to add in 1-2 pumping sessions throughout the day to meet your baby’s needs.
Again the number of sessions may be more important than how long you pump. Most moms will produce anywhere from 0.5 ounces – 4 ounces per pumping session per 15-20 minutes to give you a general idea of what you can expect. If you want to increase your milk production check out this article here.
Exclusively Pumping Schedules:
You have some options when it comes to developing your own exclusively pumping schedule. There are three general types of pumping schedules:
- At set times everyday: With this schedule you stick to the same time everyday. This leaves not a lot of room for flexibility, but if you are someone who likes routine this may be for you. You can always skip a session if there is a conflict and make up that pumping session as soon as possible. Try to avoid this as much as possible as it could lead to engorgement and mastitis.
- Pump at hourly intervals: This would mean your schedule revolves around pumping in hourly intervals (ex. every 2-3 for newborns) depending on your baby’s age. This schedule will vary every day depending on when you actually pump. Your intervals should change as your baby grows.
- Pump on demand: This can be more demanding and will follow your baby’s cues. You will either pump when your baby is hungry (someone else can feed while you pump) or you can pump right after you feed your baby. This way you don’t have to pay attention to the clock, you can just follow your baby’s cues. This may be a better option for someone that doesn’t want to be attached to a schedule.
One recommended general rule in the exclusively pumping community is the 120 rule. Meaning you should pump each breast for about 120 minutes per 24-hour period to meet your baby’s needs. This is best, again if you have a double electric pump so you can pump each breast at the same time. That will total as 2 hours of pumping every day with a double electric pump or 4 hours if you are using a single pump.
Example Exclusively Pumping Schedule:
How Important is it to Stick to a Schedule?
Sticking to a general schedule is very important to first meet your baby’s needs but also for your own health and sanity. Missing a pumping session without making up that session could lead to a drop in your supply or could lead to a clogged duct or mastitis. As someone that has experienced mastitis more than once it is something you really want to stay away from.
But try not to get too stuck on a strict schedule as it can really affect your mental health. Do your best to stick to the schedule and adjust when necessary. If you miss a pumping session just make it up as soon as possible!
How Can You Adjust Your Schedule for Your Needs?
The schedules above are a general guidelines and a great starting point. Not everyone is going to be ready to adjust their pumping schedules at the same time. Remember milk supply is based on demand. Your adjustments will be made depending on the needs of your baby.
Before you drop a pumping session ask yourself these questions:
- Are my baby’s feeding needs currently being met?
- Do I have enough frozen breastmilk to supplement while my supply adjusts?
- Is it time to drop the feeding or do I just want to?
There are no right answers to these questions, but I do want you to be honest with yourself so you can reach the your feeding goals.
When dropping a pumping session try to avoid dropping your early morning feeding or your middle of the night feeding. You will want to continue to try to space out your feedings day and night so you don’t have a long extended period that you aren’t pumping. This could drastically affect your supply. If you drop one night feeding try to adjust the time you are pumping at night so that you aren’t going too long without pumping. Check out this mom’s adjustment to her pumping schedule for some guidance.
Although exclusively pumping can be hard, it is something you can do. You have the education and the tools to have success. Use these general guidelines and schedules to help you build your own perfect pumping schedule. If you find that you are still struggling reach out to lactation consultant near you to help you make the adjustments needed to achieve your goals. All new parents deserve to have someone in their corner supporting them through the changes of becoming new parents and feeding is definitely one of those. You can do this mama and I am here to support you!
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.