This is a series on how to master pumping breast milk. You can read the other articles of the series here:
- How To Master Pumping Breast Milk: A Midwife and Mama Of 4 Guide – Part 1
- How To Master Pumping Breast Milk: Weaning from the Breast Pump – Part 3
- How To Master Pumping Breast Milk: Breastmilk Storage Guidelines – Part 4
- How To Master Pumping Breast Milk: Cleaning Your Breast Pump Guidelines – Part 5
There is a plethora of information available to breastfeeding mothers. This article is primarily focused on mothers who mostly pump– whether by circumstance or by choice.
Some mothers travel regularly or work long schedules away from home. Other mothers are forced to pump for their NICU or medical special needs infants.
Maybe you are doing a mix of pumping and nursing. Finally, some mamas choose to pump because it works best for their family.
My first baby received a mix of formula and breast milk because I was a tired mama with a husband who was always traveling. I knew my baby needed a rested and happy mama, so I made that choice.
My second baby breastfed exclusively and only received a pumped bottle on the rare occasion I worked at my per diem nursing job. My third baby didn’t latch for the first eight weeks of her life.
After we finally established a breastfeeding relationship, I worked 24-hour shifts away from her and spent most of my time pumping.
Finally, my fourth baby was born prematurely. I pumped breast milk, and he received it through a nasogastric tube. Only now, around 12 weeks after birth, is he showing interest in latching. My breast pump has been my steady friend.
I tell you this because everyone’s breastfeeding journey looks different. There are so much pressure and guilt in being a mother that it can interfere with our ability to relax and enjoy our new babies.
Whatever amount of breast milk your baby did or didn’t get, if you are reading this article it’s because you are a fabulous mama who is trying to do what’s best for your family.
Give yourself grace, you grew a human that you are nourishing with your body!
If you’re breast pumping, chances are that you have questions about the process.
There is so much conflicting advice out there about when to pump– this article will tackle breast milk pumping schedules.
Exclusively Breast Pumping Schedule
There are a few important items to keep in mind to reach and maintain full milk production after birth.
- Consistently pump for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Based on supply and demand, the more you empty your breasts, the more milk you generate.
- Never skip a session. If you don’t empty your breasts, you will kill your supply. The more you drain your breasts, the more you will make milk.
- Pump within six hours after birth. The sooner you start, the better! If you are unable to immediately pump, place your baby on your chest in the skin to skin contact to increase your breast milk supply.
- Use a hospital grade double electric pump to initiate your milk supply. Pump BOTH breasts at the same time because it has been shown to increase your milk production at future feeds.
- Understand it’s healthy and normal to pump a few drops of colostrum for the first few days. Do not fret– your baby’s tiny stomach can only handle a small amount at a time.
- Pump 8 to 10 times every day (24 hour period) because this is how often a newborn would feed at the breast. I cannot stress this enough: the more you pump, the more milk you make. Early on, it’s okay to pump 10 to 15 minutes for a session. Remember, it is essential to pump more frequently.
- Once your milk comes in (day 3 or 4), hand express remaining milk AFTER pumping and removing the breast shields. Express the liquid goal into the “handy bowl” of the breast shields. (The more empty your breasts, the more milk!)
- Schedule two of your pumping sessions between midnight and 6 am, as prolactin (the milk-making hormone), is highest at that time.
For a crash course how to hand express your breasts:
After Your Milk Comes In
Are you feeling the electric tingle as your breasts fill with milk and your golden drops turn to a few ounces? It’s time to revamp your routine.
- Add to your pumping time, this time focusing on your milk as it falls. Keep pumping until two minutes after the last drop falls (or until your breasts feel soft).
- Focus on pumping AT LEAST 8 times per day, preferably ten pumps. Only allow ONE extended break from pumping during the first two weeks of baby’s life that lasts five hours or less.
If pumping on a set program ensures that you pump 8 to 10 times per day than by all means, we will provide a few sample schedules. However, focusing on hitting 8 to 10 pumps per day is more important than adhering to the plan.
Sample Pumping Schedules
These schedules are created to provide some sleep overnight. You will be able to sleep best if you have a partner or support person who can feed and change the baby during this time so you can wake up and go right back to sleep.
Eight Pumps per Day
12 AM, 5AM, 7AM, 10AM, 12PM, 3PM, 6PM, 9PM
*This will give you 4 and a half hours of sleep provided you fall asleep immediately following your midnight pump.
Ten Pumps per Day
1AM, 4AM, 6AM, 8AM, 10AM, 12PM, 2PM, 4 PM, 6PM, 8PM
*This will give you 4.5 hours of sleep between 8:30 PM to 1 AM. You will also snag another 2.5 hours from 1:30 AM to 4 AM.
Pro Tip: Plan Ahead
Early on, I remember the frustration of pumping eight times per day while my children needed snacks, cuddles, or attention.
Remind yourself that this is only for a short season. Set your children up with a little “breast corner.”
For example, my daughter had her bottle, dolly, bear, favorite books, and a diaper to “change, nurse, and bottle feed” her baby.
Some days she used my spare pumping bra to mimic breast pumping too. When my son was little, he had Eeyore and books. Sometimes Eeyore would get breastfed.
Before sitting down to pump, you should refresh other children’s snacks and drink cups. If you’re sitting to change the baby’s diaper, line up any other diaper age children or encourage toilet time, as well. If I didn’t, we would have a potty emergency or a crying hungry child.
Exclusively breastfed babies eat on average 25 ounces per day between one and six months. The range of milk intake is approximately 19 to 30 oz per day. When you’ve reached 25 to 35 oz per 24 hour period– now you’re into maintenance land!
- Keep an eye on what your daily “average” is, whether it’s 25 or 28 ounces, this is your goal each day. The ultimate plan is to do whatever is needed to continue producing that amount.
- Try to squeeze more sleep into your schedule. Tweak your overnight pumping routine to maintain your daily goal, but maximize your sleep. Some moms can pump at 11 pm and not pump again until 6 am. When doing this, you should ensure your milk production stays in your goal range and that your breasts aren’t engorged.
- Decrease the amount of time that you pump and see if this affects your output. For moms of other kiddos, fifteen minutes of pumping is more than enough time.
- Pick a day. (Mine is Mama’s Mondays!) On that day each week, add up the milk you’ve pumped from midnight to midnight. Either create a written milk diary, find an app that tracks breast milk (like Milk Stash or Pump log), or mentally log it. Compare your totals each week to see if your supply is diminishing.
Sample Pumping Schedules
It’s okay to drop pumps as baby gets older, as long as you’re not losing your supply. You should try to pump longer at each session if you are missing a pump (20 to 30 minutes). These schedules work between one to six months of age.
Six Pumps per Day
I was able to maintain my 28 oz supply on six pumps a day when my baby was three months old. Your mileage may vary, but customize this to your body and your baby.
This schedule worked well for me because I could pump before getting children to school, before leaving work, after getting home from work and getting children, and still sleep about 7 hours at night.
6 AM, 10 AM, 1 PM, 4PM, 7 PM, 10 PM
Five Pumps per Day
I started this after returning to work. Getting that sixth pump every day seemed impossible, but I maintained supply from four to six months with this schedule. I was able to take two breaks at work (around 10 and 4), and then I would pump on lunch- 1 PM.
6 AM, 10AM, 1 AM, 4pm, 10 PM
I recommend pumping at least five times per day until your little one starts solids. Cutting pumps over time will lead to eventual weaning (link to future weaning post).
Just remember to toe the line between maintaining supply and maintain your emotional and mental well-being.
Pumping and storing breast milk can seem like a twisted science experiment. As an educated Nurse-Midwife and mother, I was confused and frustrated by it all.
After my third baby, I learned that you could decrease the number of times you pump per day based on the baby’s age.
Losing a session was a lifesaver when I felt overwhelmed with the amount of time I spent chained to my breast flanges.
No matter what feeding looks like with your little one, it’s essential to make peace with your journey.
Don’t let doubt creep in. Know that you are the best possible mama for your baby and you are making the right choice for your family.