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.
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.
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 if for your use only. Lactation professionals can contact me for bulk/licensing options.
Ugh Rachel, I'm still confused. Can I get more help?
It’s okay! This all can get complicated fast. Book a virtual consult with me and I’ll hold your hand and guide you through a plan made exactly for YOU and YOUR baby!
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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