Breastfeeding Tips

how to start pumping and build a milk stash while breastfeeding

Every single day (not an exaggeration) parents ask me about pumping.  They want to know how to start pumping, how to schedule pumping for the best results, if they should be pumping every day once baby gets home from the hospital… the works.

In the United States over 85% of breastfeeders have pumped their milk by the time their baby is 2 months old

I actually don’t like getting into the nitty gritty of how to start pumping when I’m working with a fresh-out newborn (unless the family is having an in-home lactation consult with me due to breastfeeding problems that require pumping, or they’re exclusively pumping) but I’m happy to provide information on the best way to safely, gradually build up a milk stash without creating an oversupply- carefully timed regular pumping.

What is “regular” pumping?

Regular pumping is pumping every day, at the same time of day, to train your body to make about one extra feeding worth of milk per day.  This allows you to freeze the milk each day and build a modest freezer stash without putting your body into extreme oversupply mode or worrying about how to sneak in a pump session between nursing sessions.

When should I start regular pumping?

  • If you are not going back to work (or another activity where you’ll be pumping away from baby) wait until 6 weeks after birth to start pumping on a regular schedule
  • If you are going back to work, start pumping at 2-3 weeks before you start working (if you can, don’t start regular pumping until baby is 4-6 weeks old)

Why should I wait so long to start regular pumping?

Your milk supply increases from birth until around six weeks- and then stays at that level from six weeks to six months.  As I like to say, we want your baby driving the milk supply bus! 

Breast milk production is all about supply and demand, and using a pump regularly before 4-6 weeks can cause your body to go into oversupply mode.  This sounds like a good problem to have but it is NOT a good problem to have.  Oversupply can be painful for both you & baby.

But I need to have pumped milk before then!  How and when should I pump before 4-6 weeks?

  • Pump if baby gets a bottle or misses a feeding, or if you’re going to need a bottle for a specific reason. Just don’t pump on a regular schedule, and don’t pump unless you need to.
  • You can use a soft silicone Haakaa (or knock-off) “manual pump” as a drip catcher while nursing. Latch baby on one breast, then attach the silicone “pump” with suction to your other breast and collect all the drops. (I know of people who collect 2+ oz at every feeding with these gadgets!)

How do I add regular pumping into my schedule?

For the first feeding of the day, when your milk supply is highest, nurse baby on just one breast.  Pump the other breast.  Store the milk you’ve pumped; repeat daily and switch which breast you nurse on and which breast you pump.  This will gradually increase your milk supply in the morning, allowing you to get a whole bottle worth of milk in one pump per day while continuing to breastfeed. 

And in case you’re wondering: the vast majority of pumping parents get 3-4 oz of milk per pump session

Don't let milk stashes on the internet stress you out!
Don't ever compare your milk stash to anyone else's. That way lies madness.

How much milk do I really need in my freezer stash?

Most families only need about 2 days worth of a milk stash (around 50 oz/1,500 ml).  This gives you some wiggle room once you go back to work or to handle unforeseen separation from baby.  There is no reason to save more milk than this, unless you:

  • Travel away from baby (in which case, have ~25 oz/750 ml per day for each day you’ll be gone and pump while you’re separated to protect your milk supply)
  • Are expecting to be unable to breastfeed for a set amount of time (surgery, for example… you’ll need ~25 oz/750 ml per day for each day and pump while you’re separated to protect your milk supply)
  • Are exclusively pumping (and then you’ll need… you guessed it… ~25 oz/750 ml per day!)

How do I store milk in the freezer?

Most of my clients use breast milk storage bags.  Label each bag with the date and quantity, then lay the bag flat in your freezer.  Once frozen, store milk bags standing up in a rectangular container in your freezer; always add new milk to the BACK of the container. This allows you to rotate out milk by using the oldest milk first.  If you are storing milk in your refrigerator freezer, store it as far as possible from the freezer door (to keep it as deeply frozen as possible).

How long can my milk be stored in the freezer?

6-12 months according to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

How do I defrost my milk?

Let it thaw in the fridge overnight, place the frozen bag in a glass of warm water, or run the frozen bag under warm water until it thaws.  Most babies don’t have any problem drinking cold breastmilk.  Never microwave breastmilk.

What else do I need to know?

You’re totally rockin’ it at this parenting thing!  Keep that chin held high!

Please note: This blog post includes Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase items through Amazon after following my links above, I earn 4% of the purchase price.
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11 thoughts on “how to start pumping and build a milk stash while breastfeeding

  1. I’ve been breastfeeding for six month and would like to build a stash in my freezer what should my pumping schedule be to do this ?

  2. Great info! Once you have enough milk stored in the freezer (2 days worth) is it okay to stop the regular pumping schedule? I am pumping one breast, once per day, (alternating breasts each day) while breastfeeding.


  3. Hi Rachel! This was such a helpful blog and easy to comprehend. Thank you! I do have one question…my son will be 6 months next week and I’d like to start ‘regular pumping’ (as I’ve only done occasional pumping / bottles because I’ve been home with him and just always nurse him) However, I’m starting to plan on going back to work at 7 or 8 months and I’d like to build a freezer stash. Is it too late to start the regular pumping for me?

  4. Hello! Great post and very informative, thank you! I do have a couple questions. You mentioned using the suction/manual pump to catch the drip or leaking milk while nursing. How often should this pump be used, during every feeding? Will it suck all of the milk out or will there be enough to use the pump while baby is nursing on one side and then switch baby to the side the pump was just on? Once baby switches to nurse on the other side should I use the pump on the side baby just came off of or will there be nothing left?

    Thank you so much! Looking forward to your reply!

  5. Hello,
    I was reading your post and wondering how 25Oz of milk would be enough for the day. My 6 weeks old daughter eats 4oz pet every 2 hours. If you do the calculation it would be 48oz per day if I am not mistaken

  6. I’m a nurse that works 12 hours on night shift, 3 nights a week. My baby is 7 weeks old and I have to go back to work the week she will be 12 weeks old. I’m trying to figure out when to start pumping for work. You mentioned pumping opposite side that she is eating from in the morning. Is that still the same case for me since I’ll be working night shift. Also, when should I pump when I am at work. During the day my daughter eats approximately every 3 hours (sometimes every 2 hours), and during the night she sleeps one 4-5 hour session, wakes in the night to get changed and eat, then sleeps about 2-3 hours more before eating again. I’m also trying to plan a good “schedule” to try to stay on since my husband will be home with her during the night and I’d like to feed her in the mornings when I get off work at 7:30am. Any tips or information helps.
    Thank you so much,

    1. Hi Crystal! I can’t give you specific advice about your situation since you’re not my client, but in general people working overnights you need to be making the milk baby eats while you’re away from them. That may be the overnight AND time for the adult to sleep during the day.

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