Breast Pumping Guide: When and How Long to Pump

When You Should Pump

We recommend breastfeeding as much as possible. It is the best way to feed your baby. However we understand that not every mom can feed on demand and be with their baby 24 hours a day. If you want to continue to provide your baby with breastmilk , a breast pump is an effective way to establish and maintain a good milk supply. There are many reasons to pump breast milk.

  • You may want to store milk for when you’re away from your baby. Maybe you’re going back to work, leaving your baby with family, friends, or a babysitter, or running errands.
  • Your baby is unable to latch or feed directly from the breast.
  • You want to give your baby breastmilk but don’t want to feed directly from the breast.
  • You’re interested in donating milk to a milk bank or milk exchange program.
  • You’re trying to increase your milk supply, are weaning and need to alleviate pressure, or are suffering from mastitis or need to drain your breast to help healing
  • Many other reasons!

Things You Need to Know before Breast Pumping

Once you’re ready to start breast pumping, there are a few things you need to know. If you have a full-term, healthy, breastfeeding baby, you can wait a few weeks to start pumping and storing breast milk. If your baby is preterm or ill and cannot breastfeed yet, or if you have chosen to exclusively pump, pump as soon as you can after birth, preferably within one to six hours of delivery. 

If you’re primarily breastfeeding:

  • Pump in the morning. Many moms get the most milk first thing in the morning.
  • Pump between breastfeeding, either 30-60 minutes after nursing or at least one hour before breastfeeding. This should leave plenty of milk for your baby at your next feeding.
  • If your baby wants to breastfeed right after breast pumping, let them! Some babies are patient and will just feed longer to get the milk they need.

If you’re exclusively breast pumping:

  • Plan to pump 8-10 times in a 24 hour period. Full milk production is typically 25-35 oz. (750-1,035 mL) per 24 hours.
  • Once you have reached full milk production, maintain a schedule that continues producing about 25-35oz of breastmilk in a 24 hour period.
  • Each mom and baby are different, plan your pumping sessions around what works best for the two of you.  

Remember, a quality, electric breast pump is essential to breast pumping success.

Learning to Pump

Learning to pump can be a daunting process. These steps will set you and your baby up for success.

  1. Do a little homework. Read up on the basics of breast pumping, and be sure to review your breast pump instructions.
  2. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit.
  3. Bring a drink and a snack.
  4. Plug in your pump or make sure it has working batteries.
  5. Wash your hands with soap and water. 
  6. Assemble the pump kit.
  7. Center the flanges over your breast(s) and center the nipple in the flange opening, making an air seal. Flange fit is important!
  8. If you’re double pumping, cup each flange to the breast with fingers below the flange and thumb on the top.  When adjusting  your dials, switch to using one arm across both breasts, keeping an airtight seal.
  9. Turn your pump on.
  10. Similar to a baby nursing at the breast, start out with high speed and low suction until you see milk flow (let-down), then adjust speed to medium and increase suction based on comfort level.
  11. Once milk flow decreases, increase speed to high until the next let-down, then decrease to medium speed.  

Keep going! You’ll find pumping gets quicker and easier with practice.

How Much to Pump

How much milk you should expect to pump will vary depending on factors such as your baby’s age, time since last feeding or pumping, time of day, pump type, how much practice you’ve had with your pump, and whether you’re relaxed or stressed.

If you’re primarily breastfeeding, on average, you can expect:

  • More milk production in the morning hours .
  • Volumes gradually decreasing during the day into the evening.
  • Breast milk volumes are dependent on many variables and each breast may produce different volumes.

If you’re exclusively pumping, on average, you should try maintain full milk production of about 25-35 oz. (750-1,035 mL) per 24 hours.  It may take some time to achieve this target, do not worry about hitting this on day one!

Babies may take more milk from the bottle than when breastfeeding. The faster, steadier flow of the bottle causes some babies to take more than they need. A slow-flow bottle may help prevent overfeeding.  

How to Reach and Maintain Full Milk Production

If you’re pumping because your baby is preterm or too sick to breastfeed, or because you have chosen to exclusively pump, follow these tips to reach and maintain full milk production. Pumping often to drain the breast completely sends a signal to the body to produce more milk. The more often you drain your breasts the more milk they will make.

From Birth to Day 4

  • If you can, start pumping within six hours after birth.
  • Use a multi-user pump to initiate and maintain milk supply.
  • Expect to pump just a little colostrum (the first milk) at first.
  • As soon as possible, pump 8-10 times every 24 hours. This is how many times each day your baby would typically feed from the breast.  In most cases, the more times each day you pump, the more milk you make. The reverse is true, too. Pumping  fewer times will produce less milk.
  • Double pump (pump both breasts at once); this saves time and may boost production more quickly.
  • Pump at least 10-20 minutes, until your milk comes in on Day 3 or 4. Then, hand express any remaining milk. Remove and place the breast flange under your breast to collect the milk you hand express. (The hand expression helps to better drain your breast, and drained breasts make milk faster.)
  • To help establish milk supply, pump at least twice between 1 to 6am. In early morning hours milk- making hormone levels increase and taking advantage of this will increase your milk production.

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 until your breasts are softened/no longer feel full.
  • Focus on the total number of pumpings each day (8-10 times per 24 hours) rather than the time between pumpings (every 2-3 hours).
  • Don’t allow more than one five-hour period to pass without pumping during your baby’s first two weeks of life.

Many moms find it easier to focus on their daily total rather than pumping at a set time each day. This daily total also seems to be most important to your milk production.

Maintaining Full Milk Production

When you reach 25-35 oz. (750-1,050 mL) per baby per 24 hour period, you’ve met your goal. Most moms can then pump fewer times each day and maintain production. At this stage:

  • Maintain a schedule that continues producing approximately 25-35oz of breastmilk in a 24 hour period.
  • While maintaining your optimal production of milk, you can try and sleep more. Once full production is developed, many moms pump right before bed and first thing in the morning. See if you can do this without too much breast fullness or a decrease in milk production.
  • Pump for a shorter period of time. For many moms, 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 milk production, the sooner you work on it, the faster you’ll see results. Some ideas to try are:

  • Pump more. 8-12 pumpings per a 24 hour period boosts milk production for most moms.
  • Pump longer, two minutes after the last drop of milk or until your breasts are softened/no longer feel full
  • Check your breast flange fit; it can change with time.
  • Use breast massage before or during pumping.
  • Hand express after pumping.
  • Ask your lactation consultant or healthcare provider for additional information on increasing milk supply.

Weaning From the Pump

When you decide to wean from the pump, remember the safest and most comfortable weaning is almost always a gradual one. There are a couple of ways to wean from the pump:

  • 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 period of time. For example, if you were getting 4 oz. (120 mL) at each pumping, stop after 3 oz. (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.

While weaning, if your breasts ever feel full, pump just long enough to make yourself comfortable. Letting your breasts stay too full puts you at risk for pain and infection.

To learn more about breast pumping and breastfeeding, check out these articles:

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.

Pumping Breast Milk: The Basics

When you can’t be there, your breast milk still can be if you use a breast pump. A good breast pump is essential to maintaining your milk supply when you are separated from your baby or if your baby is too premature or sick to breastfeed.

Reasons to Pump Breast Milk

There are many reasons to pump breast milk.

Being Apart from Your Baby

  • Pump if your baby is too premature or sick to breastfeed, but you want to provide your breast milk for her feedings. Breast milk is nutritious and healthy and may help your baby develop so you can go home from the hospital sooner.
  • Pump if you will be apart from your baby for some of her feedings due to work, school, or other reasons.

Pumping when you are apart from your baby helps your baby receive the benefits of breast milk, helps you avoid the expense of formula, and gives you flexibility to be apart from your baby.

Breast Issues

  • Sometimes a mother’s breast becomes too full for her baby to latch on easily. Pumping for a few minutes may soften your breast, areola, and nipple enough so the baby can latch on more easily.
  • If you have flat or inverted nipples, it may be more difficult for your baby to latch on. Using a breast pump for a few minutes may help pull out your nipples, which may make it easier for your baby to take the breast.

Milk Supply Issues

  • If you’re having trouble making enough milk, using a breast pump may provide additional breast stimulation that will help you increase your milk production. Pumping to drain your breasts of milk more completely more times each day helps you make milk faster. To learn more about how breasts make milk, click here.

Choosing a Breast Pump

There are a variety of breast pumps on the market today. But before you choose a pump, it’s helpful to know what features to look for.

Your SituationMulti-User Single-User Personal PumpManual Pump
Milk supply is established; breastfeeding well and occasionally pumping (e.g., going out for short periods of time)XXX
Milk supply is established; breastfeeding well and pumping daily (e.g., going to work or school)XX
Milk supply is established; pumping regularly and baby is not breastfeeding (e.g., preterm, latch issues, milk supply issues, exclusively pumping)X
Establishing milk supply, baby is not breastfeeding (e.g., preterm, latch issues, milk supply issues, exclusively pumping)X

Multi-User Breast Pumps

Ameda multi-user pumps are a great choice for any mom! They are specifically recommended when a baby is not yet breastfeeding, because they are clinically proven to help establish full milk production (link to clinical pages on each pump) . These pumps are used when babies are born preterm, sick, or are not breastfeeding for other reasons. Multi-user pumps can be shared. Each mother attaches her own milk collection kit to the pump, which keeps her milk separate from other milk. Ameda multi-user pumps allow for both single and double pumping. Additionally, a pump with two separate controls (suction and speed) is ideal. More setting choices helps you find what works best for you.

Ameda has two multi-user pumps.  Click to learn more about their specific features and benefits.

Personal Electric Breast Pumps

Ameda’s personal electric breast pumps are designed to be used by one mother. They are the best choice for mothers who have full milk production and are absent at feedings due to work, school, or other activities outside the home. Ameda personal pumps also allow for both single and double pumping. Likewise, Ameda personal pumps have separate controls to give you more customizable speed and suction options. (start here)

Single-user pumps vary widely in quality. Additional features to look for are:

  • Durability. Most pumps designed for daily use offer a one-year warranty on the motor.
  • Flange Fit Options. With pumping, nipple size and elasticity can change. For greater comfort over time, a range of sizes will allow you to change flanges as your body changes.
  • Adjustable Suction and Speed. The more adjustable your pump, the easier it is to follow your milk flow and find your own best settings (within safe and effective suction and speed ranges). Pumps with one control are less adjustable than those with two separate controls.
  • Power options. More power options means you can pump in more places. Look for a pump that can be run by batteries, a car adapter, and an AC adapter.
  • Pump Care. Easy care is important. Count how many parts need to be washed and whether the narrow, hard-to-clean tubing ever needs to be cleaned.

Ameda has a number of single-user, personal electric breast pumps with a variety of accessories. Click to learn more about their specific features and benefits.

Manual Breast Pump

Most manual pumps are powered by squeezing a handle. A manual pump is a good choice if you plan to miss breastfeedings no more than once a day. They require practice to find the rhythm that most quickly triggers milk flow. A manual pump may also be a good back-up option in case of power issues.

Ameda has manual breast pump offerings. Click to learn more about specific features and benefits.

Using a Breast Pump

Get ready to pump in just a few easy steps.

Choose the Correct Flange Size for You

The flange is the piece held to your breast during pumping.  Every mother needs a good breast flange fit for greater comfort and better milk flow.  What determines a breast flange’s size – and your fit – is the width of its opening.

To check your breast flange fit, watch your nipple during pumping. Use the pictures below as a guide.


Good Fit: During pumping, your nipple moves freely in the breast flange tunnel. You see space around the nipple. Not much areola is drawn into the tunnel with the nipple.


Too Small: During pumping, some or your entire nipple rubs against the sides of the breast flange tunnel.


Too Large: During pumping, more areola is drawn into the breast flange with your nipple. Your areola may rub against the side of the breast flange tunnel.

Breast flange fit can change with birth, breastfeeding, and pumping.  The breast flange that fits you well when you started pumping may need to change with time.  Recheck your breast flange fit from time to time.

Prepare to Pump

Learning to pump can be a daunting process. It will get easier with time and practice.

  • Read your breast pump instructions.
  • Always wash hands well with soap and water before handling the product.
  • Assemble the kit.
  • Attach the kit to the pump.
  • Center the breast flanges over your nipples. Press them lightly against your breasts to make an air seal.
  • If you’re double pumping, position your arm to hold both flanges against your breasts, maintaining an air seal. If you want to single pump, close off an adapter port per the instructions for use.

Turn the Pump On

  • Ameda Purely Yours®/LactalineTM: Turn the suction dial to the right to turn on the pump.
  • Ameda EliteTM: Turn the vacuum dial to the right to turn on the pump.
  • Ameda Platinum®: Push the power button on.

Set the Dials for Comfort and Milk Flow

  • Set suction/vacuum for comfort. Set SUCTION/VACUUM to the highest setting that feels comfortable and no higher. The strongest pump suction does not always pump more milk. You can increase the suction as your milk starts to flow and you become used to the pump, but remember, pumping should never hurt. Your body doesn’t release milk well when you are in pain.
  • Set speed/cycles for comfort and milk flow. Set SPEED/CYCLES to the fastest setting when you start pumping. This will stimulate your breasts to release oxytocin, which causes a milk ejection reflex (let-down). This release causes milk to be squeezed out of the alveoli, into the ducts and out of your nipple into the flange.
  • Once the milk is flowing, slow down the SPEED/CYCLES to keep the milk flowing. When the milk flow slows to a trickle or drip, return to the fastest setting until you trigger another milk ejection reflex, then slow the SPEED/CYCLES down again. This fast/slow pattern can be repeated several times to help drain your breasts. (This simulates how a baby sucks when she is breastfeeding: fast to get the milk flowing, then slow to draw the milk out and drain the breast.)

Stimulate the Milk Ejection Reflex (MER) When Pumping

The Milk Ejection Reflex (MER) is the process in which the hormone oxytocin triggers glandular tissue or alveoli in the breast that stores milk to squeeze, thereby causing the stored milk to lower into the ducts that transport milk, and out of your nipples.

Some mothers feel tingling during milk ejection reflex, others feel nothing and just see the milk flow start. While breastfeeding, most mothers have three or four MERs without even knowing it. Try to stimulate more than one MER when you are pumping; it will help you drain your breasts.

A MER can happen with a touch at the breast, hearing a baby cry, or even by thinking about your baby. Pain or feelings of stress, anger, and upset can block the milk ejection reflex. So, try to relax and use your mind and senses to stimulate a MER:

  • Mind: Close your eyes, relax, and imagine your baby breastfeeding.
  • Sight: Look at your baby or your baby’s photo.
  • Hearing: Listen to a recording of your baby cooing or crying. If you’re apart, call and check on your baby.
  • Smell: Smell your baby’s blanket or clothing.
  • Touch: Apply a warm cloth or gently massage your breasts.
  • Taste: Sip a favorite warm drink to relax you.

One or two senses may work better than the others, so test them all to find out which work best for you.

If you’re pumping with a manual pump like the Ameda One-Hand Breast Pump, you can do the same by using both fast and slow squeezes. Again, watch your milk flow and use it as your guide. Instead of double pumping, you will be single pumping (one side at a time). Change which breast you are pumping every 5-7 minutes for a total of 20 to 30 minutes.

To learn more about breast pumping and breastfeeding, check out these articles:

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.