Breast pumping is all about routine so that your body has the best chance of producing a steady supply of breast milk. Establishing a routine is not so easy though with lifestyle variables, and your baby’s appetite & preferences likely to derail the best laid plans.
But you have to start somewhere! So, we have produced three breast pumping schedules for you to use as a template to get you started. From there you can adapt and modify to suit what works best for you and your baby.
The three scenarios we have considered are as follows:
- Exclusively pumping
- Combination of breastfeeding and pumping
- Pumping for the working Mom
We have also split the schedules into two sections where the volume of pumping required would shift enough for your routine to change. In reality, this will be gradual and not a hard cutover as the schedule would suggest.
Stages Of Nursing And Breast Pumping
Anyone can follow an instruction manual and get their breast pump operating.
The tricky part is figuring out how to pump in a way that is effective and efficient for your body. This will be different for every mom.
Our biggest piece of advice:
follow your baby’s cues…
Breast pumps work best when they mimic your baby’s sucking patterns and feeding times.
This will help you organize a schedule that will result in optimum milk output, draining your breasts completely and in a timely manner, which is important in order to keep your milk supply up.
1. When to Start Pumping Breastmilk
While you can start pumping immediately after birth if necessary, lactation consultants typically recommend waiting 4-6 weeks after birth to allow your breast milk supply to build naturally.
Some additional factors will determine the timing of when you need to start pumping: your baby’s health at birth and your breastfeeding availability.
If your baby is born on time (or late) and healthy, you are free to wait as long as you want before you start pumping. You will probably want to put her to the breast for the first few feedings.
On the other hand, if your baby is born premature, you will need to start pumping right away, as she will not be able to get to your breast immediately after birth.
When you are working or putting your baby in childcare, you have to decide what your “primary” means of feeding will be – breast or bottle.
If the bottle will be your baby’s primary source of food, whether you are exclusively pumping or not, you will want to start pumping within 6 hours of birth to start building your milk supply.
2. Building Your Breastmilk Supply
Your milk is produced based on supply and demand. This means that your body will want to produce and replace the milk that leaves.
So, the more you drain your breasts, the more breast milk will be produced.
Your hormones are at their highest levels in the morning hours, and being that hormones drive your milk production, you are likely to get the most milk in the morning.
When building your milk supply, you will want to take advantage of the time between 1 and 6 a.m., pumping at least twice to get your body’s milk supply going.
Your first few days of pumping will probably not produce much milk.
The body is only producing colostrum at this point, which is the thick, vitamin-rich substance that is produced before the real milk comes in.
Do not be discouraged by your low production numbers; you will start to see them increase beyond day 3 or so.
Try pumping at least 8-10 times in a 24-hour period, producing about 25-35 total ounces.
This will mimic your baby’s typical feeding patterns, which will also help to build your supply by getting your body used to the demand for milk.
Be sure to completely drain the breast at each session and monitor whether the milk produced is around the same for each breast.
This can be done through hand expression to get any drops that may be left behind. By emptying the breast, your body is able to determine that more milk is needed to replace what was lost.
You should also start by pumping both sides at once. This will jump-start your body, in a way, telling it that it needs to start producing milk, and that it should make it quickly.
Do not be afraid to nurse your baby at the breast after a pumping session either.
This will just continue to send signals to produce more.
3. Maintaining Your Breastmilk Supply
Once you produce 25-35 ounces of milk in a 24-hour period, it is now a matter of maintaining that supply.
You may be looking at some changes, such as the number of pumping sessions scheduled and the amount of time needed for each, and this can ultimately lead to you getting some more sleep.
At this point, your body will most likely be producing more milk at each pumping session, as it is used to the amount you need every day.
You may be able to drop some sessions or spend less time pumping – some mothers can pump one side completely in 10-15 minutes at this point.
You may even be able to sleep through the night without needing to pump, by pumping right before bed and right after you wake up in the morning.
You just need to make sure you do not feel too engorged or uncomfortable during the night.
The goal is to maintain those 25-35 ounces per day, regardless of how many sessions and how long you pump at each.
Check this by totaling up your daily output once a week. You will be able to tell immediately if there is a decrease in your milk production and if you need to make any changes.
Breast Pumping Tips
If you find yourself overwhelmed or struggling with the idea of breast pumping, here are some tips to help you:
- Relax: stress and worry can hinder your body’s hormone release, which can lead to a decrease in milk supply. So, relax! Make your pumping time your time. Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit where you will not be disturbed, take a snack and some water, and watch your favorite show or read a book.
- Avoid formula feedings: it may be tempting to sneak a formula bottle in if you are too tired or forget to pump, but this can actually decrease your milk supply. Formula is harder for your little one to digest. This means it will keep her full longer, decreasing her demand for milk, and no demand means no supply.
- Do not smoke or drink alcohol: not only are these harmful for your baby, if she were to inhale secondhand smoke or ingest alcohol through your breast milk, it can also decrease your milk supply.
- Feed yourself: proper nutrition helps your body produce milk. This means staying hydrated and eating healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Take care of your body: sleep when your baby sleeps; exhausted and stress lead to decreased milk supply. You should also be sure you practice good hygiene, being sure to wash your hands before any pumping or feeding session.
Sample Pumping And Feeding Schedules
Now that you have the fundamentals of what it takes to pump successfully, you need to put it into practice.
Here are three scenarios with pumping schedules that evolve with your baby’s age.
1. Exclusive Pumping Schedule
Taking the basics of what we learned, we know that you will ideally have 8-10 pumping sessions every 24 hours if you are exclusively pumping breastmilk in that first 3-6 months.
You will want to pump about 25-35 ounces per day for the first 6 months. After then it depends on how much your baby is relying on your breast milk. You will need your freezer stash to stay just ahead of your baby’s intake.
There are two sample pumping schedules above. This is set based on what you may expect on either side of that 6 month milestone.
It is always important to start your pumping sessions first thing in the morning. This is when you will usually get the most milk. From there pump about every 2-4 hours around the clock.
With this schedule, you will only get 3.5 to 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep. It is tough to get up in the middle of the night to pump and many moms would use this time to just breastfeed directly.
So if you can only be exclusively pumping then you will need to keep this up until you hit peak breast milk production. You may then be able to drop the night pumping session.
2. Schedule For Breastfeeding And Pumping
This is the most common scenario for breastfeeding moms in that first year, and also one of the hardest schedules to figure out.
The number of times you need to pump per day will all depend on how much time you spend away from your baby and your need for stocked milk.
Working will require more milk, and therefore more pumping. Whereas just having a freezer stash big enough for Dad to take over the nightly feedings, or grandparents on date night, will not require as much.
Rather than focusing on how much and how often, base your pumping schedule on your baby’s feeding habits.
It is best to pump about 30-60 minutes after your baby eats, which will give your body about an hour or so to recover before your baby is ready to feed again.
If you do this at each feeding, you should have a decent amount of milk by the end of the day.
3. Pumping at Work
Once you go back to work you will have to plan to pump a lot of breast milk.
This is by far the most inconvenient scenario, and it can be hard to get bosses and colleagues to understand what your needs are. But as a breastfeeding mom you have gotta do what you gotta do.
During an 8-hour workday, you will more than likely need to pump 2-3 times, depending on your current supply and your baby’s needs.
You can plan these sessions around breaks or lunchtime. Your other pumping times can follow your normal at-home sessions.
Give yourself at least 20 minutes for each session, to make sure the breast is drained completely and you have time to clean your pump.
Something which I found important while balancing all of this was still being able to connect with my baby before and after the workday to breastfeed directly. It kept me sane and allowed us to bond after difficult periods of separation.
It did mean also getting up a bit earlier so I wasn’t rushed in the mornings. But it was always worth it.
Ensure that your pumped milk is stored appropriately. This means either a refrigerator or cooler with ice packs.
Some breast pump bags also include cooler compartments. This little convenience can make your life just that little bit easier when pumping at work!
Reality Check for Breastfeeding Moms
The above examples are not intended to be an out of the box solution for you. Your baby is likely to dictate much of what your eventual pump schedule will be.
Once you get settled into a routine, it is likely to change soon after anyway.
Sleeping habits will change, as will appetite. So your schedule will need to evolve over time.
Breast pumping can seem intimidating at first, but with practice and time, it can be accomplished by just about any mother.
Listen to your body, be diligent and consistent, and follow your baby’s natural feeding patterns. You will be able to find a schedule that works for your, no matter what your daily life consists of.
As always, revert to your lactation consultant if you are not getting the results you want.