How Often Should I Pump While Breastfeeding

Pumping breast milk for your baby may be a necessity or a convenience for you.  Some moms have to spend time away from their babies for medical reasons or to return to work.  Others want the flexibility of having someone else feed their baby and participate in the nourishment process.  Either way, many moms ask: how often should I pump while breastfeeding.  The answer differs for each mom and is based on your goals.

Whether you’re trying to increase milk supply or simply have more milk to store, here are a few pumping guidelines:

how often should I pump while breastfeedingYou can begin pumping as soon as you want after giving birth but avoid giving your baby a bottle until at least two weeks of age, if possible.  This will help establish breastfeeding as your baby’s primary source of feeding.  Your baby will stimulate your breast better than a pump.  Plus you want your baby to be most familiar with sucking from your nipple rather than a bottle.

Milk supply is strongest in the morning and then slows towards the late afternoon and evening.  Therefore, pumping in the morning is an ideal time to collect the most milk.  If you are only pumping to have more milk to store, you’re probably fine doing it once per day in the morning.  Pumping sessions should last between 10 and 15 minutes if you’re pumping both breasts at once.

On the other hand, if you are trying to increase milk supply, pump about half an hour after a feeding or one hour before a feeding several times a day.  You may not get very much but you are still stimulating your breasts and training them to produce more at certain times.  Be consistent with your pumping schedule to allow your body to adjust to milk demands accordingly.

Other ways to pump to increase milk supply include pumping the opposite breast while your baby is feeding to take advantage of the let down from your baby’s stimulation.  Or try pumping one breast when your baby is nursing on her second side.  Another way to increase milk production is to pump for 5 or 10 minutes beyond the last drops you produce.  Take a break and then start pumping again.

If you are pumping to relieve your breasts of excessive milk, do so whenever you feel it is necessary but only for short periods of time. Pump until you have alleviated the discomfort however pumping too long will make your body continue to produce more milk at that time.  When your breasts are too full you are at risk of getting clogged ducts and eventually mastitis so you should express a little bit to keep the milk flowing.  This is usually a problem towards the beginning of breastfeeding when you are establishing your routine milk supply.  After a few weeks your body should adjust to what your baby needs.

Some moms choose to exclusively pump and offer breast milk only through bottles.  While there are advantages derived from the very act of breastfeeding, providing breast milk – whether straight from the breast or through a bottle – is still the best nourishment for your baby.  Mothers who exclusively pump may do so because their babies have trouble latching, they have to be away from their babies for extended periods of time or they feel more secure knowing the exact volume their babies are drinking.

To answer the question “how often should I pump while breastfeeding” you should consider your own goals.  Some moms never pump, some pump one to four times daily, while others pump for every feeding.  To figure out your ideal pumping situation, examine your goals, your milk supply and always take the lead from your baby.