Establishing a regular pumping schedule is the single best thing you can do to maintain and stimulate milk production.
But if you’ve never pumped before, the process can be relatively daunting. There are so many questions: How do you do it? How often should you pump? How long should I pump for?
That’s why we wrote this handy guide to breast pumping. Read on to find out all you need to know.
What are the advantages of using a breast pump?
The purpose of using a breast pump is to encourage your body to produce more milk. It’s the single best way to get your body to start producing more breast milk, whether you’ve already got a ready supply or you’re worried that you’ve got a low milk supply.
You can also use a breast pump to express milk for storage. This is great if you’re going to be away from baby for a little while, for example running errands, babysitting, or going back to work.
Breast pumps are also perfect for moms who love the idea of feeding their baby breast milk but might have trouble with breastfeeding.
Lastly, some moms donate their milk to a milk bank or a milk exchange program, and it obviously has to be bottled for that.
When should you start pumping?
If your baby doesn’t start nursing immediately post-partum, or you’re using formula as well as breastfeeding, then you should start pumping within 6 hours of birth.
The earlier you start, the better it is for your body and your milk production.
How much milk should I be pumping?
Within a week, you should be pumping around 25oz (750ml) per day if you’ve got a singleton. If you’re lucky enough to have twins, you should aim for 30oz (900ml) per day.
Pumping is the best indicator of how your milk production is going. At around the two-week mark, you should be close to the above indicators. If you’ve got a borderline supply, 15oz (500ml) or you’re actually low, <11oz (350ml) you should consider speaking to your doctor about using galactagogues (medication to increase milk supply.)
Your milk production at two weeks is a great marker to long term breastfeeding success, so make sure you start early and stay regular. If you’re worried about having low milk supply, or you need information on how you can increase your milk production at home, on top of pumping, you should read our guide on the subject.
How often should you pump?
You should be pumping at least 8 times per day. 10 times per day is ideal, especially if you have twins.
It doesn’t matter when these sessions are placed throughout the day, as long as you leave a few minutes between sessions. You should try and avoid leaving more than 5 or 6 hours between pumping sessions and make sure that you pump at least once during the night.
When you pump at night, it tends to be better if you wake up naturally, rather than setting an alarm. It’s most likely because your body is naturally ready to express when you wake up naturally, either because your breasts are full and ready, or your body has woken up normally.
Pumping sessions don’t have to be long. Even a short session can help stimulate milk production, and it’s better to have multiple short sessions rather than one or two long ones.
How long should I pump for to increase milk supply?
The length of time you should spend pumping depends on whether you’re nursing.
If your baby is not nursing, then start by hand expressing for the first 10 minutes, at least for the week after birth.
Then pump for at least 30 minutes, or for 5 minutes after the last drop of milk has been expressed.
If your baby is nursing, double pump for around 10 minutes after nursing.
The best rule of thumb is always to keep pumping for a few minutes after the last few drops of milk have been expressed. You can help by massaging the breasts before pumping, then compressing whilst pumping to help massage the last drops of milk from the breast.
Remember, the intent is to express all milk from the breast in each session, to encourage your body to produce more and increase long term milk production.
Can you pump for too long?
Yes, you can, but probably not in the way that you think.
The whole point of breast pumping is to get your body used to producing increased amounts of milk.
This is a good thing. As long as you keep to the same level and schedule of pumping.
The only time it’s a bad thing, and the only time you’re going to pump too long, is if you get your body used to producing increased amounts of milk, then you have to drop the schedule for an extended period of time.
This will leave your breasts swollen with milk and might cause soreness, plugged ducts and possibly even mastitis.
It can also result in producing too much milk for the baby. Normally this isn’t an issue, as baby will take what they’re comfortable with, but be aware of any indications that your baby might be struggling, for example pulling away, coughing or stomach upsets.
Hints and tips
- For best results, pump around 8 times per day, for a few minutes after the last drops of milk
- Pumping in the morning tends to result in higher yield
- You should express at least once a night, and try to wake up naturally
Learning to use a breast pump doesn’t have to be difficult. Once you’ve got the rhythm, you’ll fall into it completely naturally, and you won’t have to ask questions like ‘How long should I pump for?’ any longer.
If you’ve got any more questions, or you’ve got any tips for new moms around here, be sure to leave them in the comments. We love hearing from, and helping, all of our readers, so get in touch!