Most parents who set out to breastfeed imagine themselves doing so directly at the breast — cuddling their little one in their arms and feeding.
But that’s not how breastfeeding looks for all parents all the time. Many end up pumping either full time, part time, or for a short period of time.
It can be certainly challenging to know exactly how to fit pumping into your busy life, and how to survive (and sleep!) while doing so. We’ve got you covered with some suggestions for different pumping schedules, depending on your particular needs.
If pumping is something you expect to do regularly, it’s understandable that you’d want to be able to create some kind of routine. This way you can structure your day and make sure you’re pumping the amount of milk you need to feed or store for your baby.
Breastfeeding parents pump their breast milk for many reasons, and your pumping schedule will actually depend on your reason for pumping. For example:
- If you’re pumping for a premature baby who can’t come to the breast, you’ll likely be pumping exclusively. This will mean pumping around the clock, including in the middle of the night.
- You may want to build up your supply up for a return to work, so you’ll be pumping in between nursing sessions with your baby.
- If you’re interested in pumping to increase your supply or to pump for an occasional date night, you may not need an exact schedule, but may want to follow some guidance for best times to pump.
Different needs require different schedules, and it’s important to keep your own personal pumping goals in mind as you build a schedule that works for you.
All breastfeeding parents are different and produce breast milk at different rates. It all boils down to your breast milk storage capacity, and that can vary.
Some people can pump many ounces at once and go several hours between pumping sessions. Other people don’t get as much milk each time, and need to pump more frequently.
Still, most will be working toward the same goal – to produce the amount their baby needs to eat in a 24-hour period, which is about 25 to 30 ounces total for a baby 1 to 6 months old.
Try not to compare yourself to other people and try to meet yourself where you are at. Your main goal for creating a schedule is to pump the milk that your baby needs in a 24-hour period — and to meet your own pumping goals.
Some breastfeeding parents don’t expect to provide a full supply of milk while they are away from their baby or are unable to breastfeed for whatever reason. They may choose to supplement with donor breast milk or formula, and therefore their pumping goals may be different from an exclusive pumper.
When should you start pumping?
Your particular pumping situation and goals will determine when you begin pumping for your baby.
- If your baby is unable to breastfeed at birth, you’ll need to start pumping immediately to establish and maintain your supply.
- If you’re pumping in anticipation of returning to work, you can usually start pumping 3 to 4 weeks before your return, to start building up your freezer stash.
- If you’re only occasionally pumping — to relieve engorgement, mastitis, increase your supply, or go on an occasional outing — you don’t really have to plan your pump schedule in advance.
When we talk about pumping schedules and offer examples, it’s super important to note that these are only possible schedules.
Again, every person is different and some people will need to pump more or less frequently to get the amount of milk needed. Not only that, but your pumping schedule will likely change as time goes on, and as your body and your baby adjust.
So use these schedules as a guide, but also tweak them according to your own needs.
Exclusive pumping schedules
When you have a newborn, you’ll need to pump about 8 to 12 times in 24 hours including in the middle of the night. You should aim for about 15 to 20 minutes for each pumping session.
Exclusive pumping for a newborn schedule
- 7 a.m.
- 9 a.m.
- 11 a.m.
- 1 p.m.
- 3 p.m.
- 5 p.m.
- 7 p.m.
- 10 p.m.
- 3 a.m.
As your baby grows, and especially as they transition to solid foods, you probably won’t have to pump quite as frequently, and you may even be able to stop pumping in the middle of the night.
Still, you want to space your pumping sessions out evenly, and make sure to pump in the morning, as your supply is generally highest then. You may be able to decrease the number of minutes you pump each time, if you’re still able to produce as much milk.
Exclusive pumping for an older baby schedule
- 7 a.m.
- 9 a.m.
- 2 p.m.
- 5 p.m.
- 8 p.m.
- 11 p.m.
- 5 a.m.
Pumping to build a freezer stash
Pumping to build a stash usually means pumping between breastfeeding sessions with your baby. You may be at home, enjoying the last few weeks of maternity leave, and it can feel stressful to fit in those pumping sessions. But usually it only takes a few sessions per day to build up that stash.
Most breastfeeding parents take advantage of pumping in the mornings, when their breasts are especially full. You may be concerned about being able to pump enough to store and meet your baby’s current needs. Try pumping about 30 to 60 minutes after nursing. After about 3 days of regularly pumping, your body will increase its supply.
Schedule for building freezer stash
- 7 a.m. (nurse)
- 8 a.m. (pump)
- 10 a.m. (nurse)
- 11 a.m. (pump)
- 1 p.m. (nurse)
- 4 p.m. (nurse)
- 7 p.m. (nurse)
- 10 p.m. (nurse)
- 2 a.m. (nurse)
- 5 a.m. (nurse)
Pumping at work schedule
Your pumping at work schedule will likely resemble your normal breastfeeding schedule, although breastfeeding parents often find that they can pump a little less frequently at work than they do at home, as long as they pump a sufficient amount of time each time they pump (about 15 minutes a time).
Getting in as much nursing before and after work can help decrease the number of times you need to pump at work.
Schedule for pumping at work
- 7 a.m. (nurse baby)
- 10 a.m. (pump at work)
- 2 p.m. (pump at work)
- 5:30 p.m. (nurse)
- 8 p.m. (nurse)
- 11 p.m. (nurse)
- 2 a.m. (nurse)
- 5 a.m. (nurse)
Power pumping schedule
Power pumping is a technique used for people who are looking to increase their supply. It mimics the cluster feeding babies often do during growth spurts to increase a parent’s supply.
As such, it involves picking a chunk of time when you pump your breasts for short, frequent bursts — sometimes even several times an hour. Most pump users will pick an hour or two a day to power pump and do so over a week or so.
Schedule for power pumping
- 20 minutes pumping
- 10 minutes rest
- 10 minutes pumping
- 10 minutes rest
- 15 minutes pumping
- 10 minutes rest
Continue the cycle for an hour or two, depending on your needs and time.
We won’t sugarcoat it: Pumping can be a challenge. After all, once you’ve mastered latching, nursing at the breast is often easier than pumping.
Snuggling a baby in close releases feel-good hormones, including those that help you produce milk and let down. But there are ways to make pumping work well for you too.
Tips for successful pumping:
- Use a double electric pump. Being able to pump from both breasts simultaneously is great for supply.
- Consider renting a hospital grade pump if you’re pumping for a preemie or pumping exclusively for maximum output and comfort.
- Make sure your pumping flange fits correctly. Too loose a fit can make it harder to pump sufficient amounts of milk. Too tight a fit can cause pain and nipple damage.
- Adjust the pump speed and duration to meet your needs. Generally, you start out with a higher speed to elicit your let down, then switch to a slower speed as you see your milk let down. This mimics the suckling patterns of a baby at the breast.
- Wash your pump parts with soap and water between feedings to keep things clean and in good working order. If you have a preemie or a medically fragile child, you’ll want to follow strict sterilization techniques.
- Pump one side while nursing your baby on the other side if you’re home while pumping and have a baby who breastfeeds. Breastfeeding parents often find they produce more milk this way, as their baby helps elicit the letdown reflex.
- If you are ready to wean from pumping, do so gradually, dropping one session every few days. This decreases your chances of getting engorged or developing a plugged duct or mastitis.
- Eat regular meals while pumping and stay hydrated — pumping, like breastfeeding, can make you extra hungry and thirsty. Keep healthy snacks (cut fruit and vegetables, hummus and crackers) and a water bottle on hand.
Pumping for your baby can be challenging, but it definitely doesn’t have to suck (pun intended!).
It’s common for pumping parents to have times of frustration. Consider joining a breastfeeding support group to find out how other breastfeeding parents have handled these challenges. You can also find online support groups for pumping parents.
Sometimes pumping might require a little expert support as well. If you run into any pumping issue along the way, consider contacting a breastfeeding support specialist such as a volunteer breastfeeding counselor or lactation consultant.
If your pump or any of its parts seem to be malfunctioning, you can always call your pump manufacturer — they generally have customer service reps available to troubleshoot with you and make pumping a smoother experience.