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 a lactation consult with me, virtually or in person, 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.  If you baby nurses on both sides, then you nurse normally on breast #1, then latch baby breast #2 and attach the silicone pump to breast #1 to catch any leftover milk.  If you only nurse on one side per feeding simply attach the silicone pump to the second breast for the feeding.
the haakaa silicone pump is great for catching milk drips while breastfeeding

How do I add pumping into my schedule when I'm exclusively breastfeeding already?

For the first feeding of the day, when your milk supply is highest, nurse baby on just one breast.  Pump the other breast.  If you need to nurse baby on both breasts for this feeding just pump afterwards for 15-20 minutes and collect the leftovers.  

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.

Wait... how do I get my baby to take a bottle?

Don’t worry, I have a 3 part blog series that will hold your hand and guide you through picking a bottle and introducing a bottle to your breastfed baby.

Okay, phew. Back to pumping and milk stashes. How much milk do I really need in my freezer stash?

Most families only need about 2 full 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?

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.  And try serving it cold- most babies don’t have any problem drinking cold breastmilk and this saves you time!  

Remember, never microwave breastmilk.

How do I know how exactly much pumped milk I need to send to daycare or leave for my baby every day?

I’ve developed a PDF that does this for you!  Simply answer a few questions and you’ll know how much milk you’re aiming for each day, how many times you need to pump, and how much milk you’re aiming for at each pump session.

This gives you a great starting point and allows you to tweak the numbers as time goes on and your pumping needs change.  Please don’t copy or distribute in any way; this worksheet is for your use only.  Lactation professionals can contact me for bulk/licensing options.

Ugh Rachel, I'm still confused. Can I get more help?

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38 thoughts on “how to start pumping and build a milk stash while breastfeeding

  1. So I’m starting this to up my supply and am only walking away with .5-1oz off one side this first week. Should I be freezing this already for storage or should I wait for the amount to increase?

  2. Hi Rachel! I only want to pump once a day. I plan to pump in the mornings, should I pump both sides if baby only nurses on one or is it okay to just pump the one side she doesn’t feed on? Also if I can just pump the opposite side she doesn’t feed on, what side do I nurse her on for the next feeding? Finally, how do I know how much milk my baby needs per session? If I can’t produce 10oz in one scheduled session, can I combine milk from different days to give it to the baby as much as she needs in one session?
    Thank you!!

    1. Hi! These are all things I discuss during a back to work pump prep consult. The answers are different for everyone!

  3. Thank you for this informative piece Rachel! I appreciate the content is a little old but was just wondering.. what adjustments if any we would need to make to this if the baby is cluster feeding all day long? Many thanks!

    1. Hi Olina! It depends- if your baby is cluster feeding all day, every day, for many days in a row, I suggest seeing an IBCLC for a milk supply check-up and weight check before starting to pump to build a stash. It’s always important to make sure that any milk you pumped doesn’t need to be fed to baby- the point of a milk stash is that it should always be extra/bonus milk and babies cluster feed for lots of different reasons.

  4. This is such helpful information! I’m so glad I came across this post. Thank you! I just started regular pumping at 6 weeks following these guidelines. My baby feeds on one breast at each feeding and I alternate sides each feeding. She feeds 8 times on a regular day, so she is typically feeding on the same side for the first feed of the day, meaning I’m pumping the same breast each time. Is there any reason I should have her try to feed on the other side so I alternate what side is being pumped? Or is that recommendation more for folks who’s babies feed on both breasts each feeding?

      1. Hello – I know this is an old thread but this is exactly my question! Why do you recommend to pump both breasts if they only feed one side? Isn’t that essentially adding two additional feeds?

  5. Hi Rachel, thank you for this article! Can you please give your advice on my breastfeeding journey? My daughter is about to be 2 months old and I didn’t know I would have a problem with my supply due to a hypothyroid (I’ve been medicating for the hormone for almost ten years since I don’t have the organ). When she was born she was gain about 1oz of weight a week, but then bc of fears around her not regularly pooping I started to pump around 3 weeks to be sure of how much I was giving her. I noticed that she doesn’t empty my breasts and as the day fleas by I don’t produce much. I read that with a hypothyroid it can be difficult to empty the breasts. I want to keep latching her, but I feel like I’m slowly moving into having no choice but to exclusively pump and that’s not what I want to have to do. Please help with your suggestions

  6. Thank you for this information. If I need to nurse in both sides during the first morning feed, should I be double pumping after the nursing session is finished? Or just pumping the last side that baby nursed on? Also, is it too late to train my baby/breasts to feed only on one side? He currently spendd 15-20 minutes on each side and is 8 weeks old.

  7. Hi Rachel,
    I’m EBF and babe is 8 weeks. I feel like I have a low supply in the afternoon/evening so I wanted to boost my supply and I think I overdid it and had an oversupply for a couple days. We’re back on track now but I still feel like I’m not producing enough. Seems like I either don’t produce enough or produce too much ☹️ How many times a day should I really be pumping? After every feeding?

  8. Hello. I have been breastfeeding for 10 months. My baby now will not nurse at all. He will take a bottle of milk but I can only get 1-2oz a pumping session. How do I get more milk to be able to feed him still? I really do not want to give him formula. I am desperate and so devastated he won’t nurse anymore.
    One heartbroken mama

    1. I’m sorry Amanda! You need to meet with an IBCLC to figure out what’s happening and how to fix it.

  9. Hi! I breastfeed on one side each feed only. I started using a Haaka pump on the other side as soon as we came home from the hospital & have a decent freezer supply from it! My son is 7 weeks old now & my supply has leveled off. I don’t need to add to my freezer supply right now. Will I be able to start this process later on when my current freezer stash gets low? I nursed for 2 yrs with my first & plan to do the same with #2 (God willing). Will my body reject pumping down the road if I don’t start now?

    1. Hi! Typically bodies don’t reject pumping (it’s not like bottle refusal) so I don’t think you’ll have any problems.

  10. Hi Rachel, I have been breastfeeding a pumping since early on (pumping started when he was 2 days old). Straight away, I was pumping 2-4 oz per session.

    Since 7 weeks postpartum, I noticed a drastic decrease in pumping output. Output per session is about .75-1.75 oz. There have been no changes in my life and I believe my pumping tools are still intact. I am using a hospital grade pump and am going to request a new one just in case the issue is my pump.

    My baby seems to be satisfied after every breastfeeding session and he is gaining weight as well as adequate diaper changes. I have him at the breast often since he does not like the bottle at this time.

    My concern is what if I don’t make enough to satisfy him at the breast when the demand in ounces increases as he gets older/bigger. I am also concerned that I will not be able to create a stash for when I return to work with such minimal pump output.

    I appreciate your advice. Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi Jasmine-

      If you’re concerned about supply I’d love to do a virtual visit with you. I can’t give personalized advice here but it sounds like you are putting a TON of work into breastfeeding and pumping and should be proud of yourself!

  11. Hi I’m going to be a new momma in March! I am going to breastfeed her for the first 3 months of her life! Starting the day I have her! I want to pump for the first week or 2 daily to have enough milk in the fridge and freezer to last every feeding for the 3 months so after I first week or 2 I don’t have to worry about pumping anymore and ill be able to dry myself up so im not hurting how much oz a day for the first week or 2 if possible do I need to pump to freeze while feeding her daily on top of it so I don’t dry myself out! Please help

    1. Congratulations Destiny! I am really confused about what you’d like to do, but if I’m understanding it correctly you need to know that this won’t work. It’s physically impossible to do! Are you able to take a breastfeeding class before your baby is born to understand how milk production works? I think it would be super helpful to you.

      1. Hi Rachel! I only want to pump once a day. I plan to pump in the mornings, should I pump both sides if baby only nurses on one or is it okay to just pump the one side he doesn’t feed on? Also if I can just pump the opposite side he doesn’t feed on, what side do I nurse him on for the next feeding?
        Thank you!!

  12. This is so helpful! I have one quick question – I’m struggling to pump & feed at the same time – just not enough hands! Instead of buying a new hands free pump – Is there any disadvantage to feed and then pump the other side straight after rather than at the same time?

    (I’m only pumping to build up a stash for the freezer so my husband can help feed her in the evenings.)

    1. If your baby only eats on one side and is good until the next feeding it’s fine to pump the other breast right after nursing!

  13. My baby is 3 months old.. Her birth weight was 2 kg born in 35 weeks.. She z ebf but her current weight is 3.5 kg only.. How to make her put on more kg’s speedly.. How to increase her weight..

  14. Hello, I’m willing to be exclusively pumping because my baby was fed with formula since birth. From the day Iw as discharge I don’t ha e milk and having flat nipples. He doesn’t want to latch :(( Baby is now 8weeks old. Been trying to pump more but only drops were catch. This is my second day of doing every3hrs/8pumps a day and hopefully after a week it will be more.

  15. My baby eats from both breasts dying her first feeding. If I pump from one breast during that feeding, how will she get her full amount of food?

  16. My baby is 6 weeks and I have been exclusively nursing for the most part, but it’s hard for me to pump while baby is nursing. I’m trying to build up a freezer stash for when I start back working in a week, so how often should I pump and is it better to pump right after nursing or to wait 30-60 minutes before pumping after nursing. I notice sometimes after nursing I don’t pump much at all and then other times I pump a decent amount from the breast I did not nurse on and then sometimes a decent amount from both (2-4 oz total)

    1. Hi Ashley- I believe I covered the “when to pump” in the article and you want to pump as close to when baby finishes feeding as you can so your body thinks it’s all one session 🙂 Output is different every time so don’t stress over it.

  17. 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 ?

  18. 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.


  19. 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?

  20. 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!

  21. 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

  22. 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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