Breast Pumping

When your baby cannot breastfeed, using a breast pump is the next best way to establish and maintain a good milk supply so you can provide breast milk for your baby. Whether you are pumping because your baby is preterm or too sick to breastfeed yet, or because you have chosen to breast pump only instead of breastfeeding, a quality, electric breast pump is essential since you will be pumping around the clock. Start pumping as soon as you can after birth to help your milk come in sooner (ideally within one hour, but no later than six hours) and give yourself the best opportunity to make enough breast milk for your baby. Pump at least 8x a day and by the time your baby is 2 weeks old, you should be making 25-35 ounces (750-1,050 ml) per day.

Breast Pumping From Birth to Day 4

From Birth to Day 4

  • If you can, start pumping within the first six hours after birth.
  • As soon as possible, pump at least 8-10 times every 24 hours. This is how many times each day your baby would be breastfeeding. In most cases, the more times each day you pump, the more milk you make. The reverse is true, too. The fewer pumpings per day, the less milk you make.
  • If your baby is not breastfeeding, use a hospital-grade, multi-user pump to initiate and maintain milk supply.
  • Plan to double pump (both breasts at once). This saves time and may boost production faster.
  • Until your milk comes in on Day 3 or 4, pump at least 10-15 minutes per breast. Then remove and place the breast flange under your breast to collect the milk you hand express which helps to better drain your breasts. (Drained breasts make milk faster.)
  • Pump at least once during the night. Don’t go longer than about 5 hours between pumpings. (Full breasts make milk slower.)
  • Expect to pump just a little colostrum (the first milk) at first. But even a few drops are important to your baby.
  • Pumping often now “puts in your order” for later. It sends your body the signal to make more milk.

From Day 4 to Full Production

When your milk increases from drops to ounces on about Day 4, make these changes:

  • Pump longer—two minutes after the last drop of milk or 20-30 minutes, whichever comes first. (Drained breasts make milk faster.)
  • Focus on the total number of pumpings each day (8-10 times per 24 hours), not the time between pumpings (that is, every 2 or 3 hours)

Many moms find it simpler to focus on their daily total. And it is this daily total that seems to be most important to your milk production. Rather than trying to pump at the same set times each day, instead think: “How can I fit in my 10 or so pumpings?” If you find you can’t pump during one part of the day, pump every hour when you can.

Remember – do not allow more than one 5-hour period to pass without pumping during your baby’s first two weeks of life, when you are establishing your milk supply.

Maintaining Full Milk Production

When you reach 25-35 ounces (750-1,050 ml) per baby per day, you’ve met your goal. Most mothers can then pump fewer times each day and keep up their production. What then?

  • Try cutting back to 5-7 pumpings each day. If your production goes down, see the section, Increasing Your Milk Production.
  • Try sleeping all night. Once a mother has developed a full production, many pumping mothers pump right before bed and then first thing in the morning. If you can do this without too much breast fullness, go ahead, unless your milk production starts to decrease
  • Pump for a shorter time. For most mothers, 10-15 minutes of pumping is long enough.
  • Once a week, add up the milk you pump in a 24-hour period. Write it down and compare your totals each week. You’ll know right away if your production drops.

Increasing Milk Production

If you need to boost your production, the sooner you work on it, the faster you’ll see results. Here are some ideas to try: 

  • Pump more: 8-12 pumpings per day boosts milk production for most mothers.
  • Express milk longer: Pump until 2 minutes after the last drop of milk or 20-30 minutes, whichever comes first and/or hand express after pumping. (Drained breasts make milk faster.)
  • Check your breast flange fit by reading the section Good Breast Flange Fit. Your breast flange fit can change with time.
  • Use breast massage before or during pumping. This can yield more milk.
  • Hand express after pumping. This can yield more milk.
  • Look into prescription and herbal medicines that can boost supply. Ask your lactation consultant or health-care provider for more information.

Making the Move to Breastfeeding

Pumping for a non-breastfeeding baby brings many rewards. It feels great to see your baby grow and thrive on your milk. But it is not easy. Mother’s milk is recommended by most health organizations for at least a baby’s first year. Even so, because of the extra time involved, many mothers who pump around the clock find it hard to make pumping work long-term.

But there are other options. Even if you’ve been pumping for weeks or months, you can still make the move to breastfeeding. But don’t expect to do it alone. Most mothers need help to make this change. Getting help is well worth it for both you and your baby.

For many mothers, the best person to turn to for help is a board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). She can help you and your baby learn to breastfeed. To find one near you, go to

Weaning From the Pump

If you decide not to move to breastfeeding and wean from the pump instead, there are still things to know. First, the safest and most comfortable weaning is almost always a gradual one. Here are some ways to make this happen.

  • Drop one daily pumping. Give your body two to three days to adjust. Then drop another daily pumping. Leave your first and last daily pumpings until the end. Repeat until you’re fully weaned from the pump.
  • Keep the number of pumpings the same but pump for a shorter time at each pumping. If you were getting 4 ounces (120 ml) at each pumping, stop after 3 ounces (90 ml). Give your body two to three days to adjust and then do it again. Repeat until you no longer feel the need to pump.

Note: While weaning, if your breasts ever feel full, pump just long enough to make yourself comfortable. Don’t pump fully. Letting your breasts stay too full puts you at risk for pain and infection.

This is general information and does not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. If you have a problem you cannot solve quickly, seek help right away. Every baby is different. If in doubt, contact your physician or healthcare provider.

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