Many new moms struggle to fit breast pumping into an already busy life with a new baby. Between prepping, pumping, storing, and cleaning, there is so much to do, and so much to know to get it right.

Whether your goal is to pump occasionally, part time, or full time, knowing when and how to get started — and how to keep the momentum going — is sometimes the most difficult part.

We asked three International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) to share their tips and tricks for getting started, how and when to pump, cleaning tips, storage, and so much more.

If this is your first go-around with pumping, you might be wondering when you should start.

“If the baby is healthy and gaining weight well, and there is no anticipated need for separation, it is recommended to wait to use a pump until around 6 weeks old, instead using hand expression to remove any excess milk,” says, Jaimie Zaki, IBCLC, MCD, MCPD.

By waiting, you can establish a breastfeeding routine before using a pump.

When it comes to pumping right after birth, Emily Silver, MS, NP-C, IBCLC, co-founder of Boston NAPS, says there are many reasons women choose to start this early.

“Typically, these involve scenarios where a nurse or lactation consultant guides you for specific reasons such as low birth weight, a baby having low blood sugar at birth, or high bilirubin levels leading to jaundice,” she says.

Additionally, if you are separated from your baby for medical reasons, you may decide to pump and store the milk for when you are reunited. In these instances, Silver says a lactation consultant will teach you how to pump to get your milk supply going as well as to supplement the baby for feedings.

Women who need to return to work will often start pumping 3 to 4 weeks before their return date to become familiar with how the pump works and build a freezer stash of expressed milk.

What’s not recommended, says Silver, is pumping during pregnancy. “We do not recommend women pump during pregnancy, as it is known to stimulate your body to produce hormones that can put you into labor.”

Although the best time of day to pump is the time that works for you, first thing in the morning is when you’ll express the most milk. “Overnight, we synthesize the hormone prolactin, which stimulates milk production, and our bodies rest and reset to make our milk for the day,” says Silver.

If you want to store extra milk, Silver recommends that you get up, breastfeed your baby, then pump both breasts at the same time for about 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure to label and store the milk in the fridge or freezer. “You can do this daily if you’d like or every few days — whatever works for you,” says Silver.

Some lactating parents will pump immediately after a nursing session or between sessions to encourage milk production. For example, if your little one is nursing every 4 hours, you can add a pumping session at the 2-hour mark. Pumping between feeds is often recommended if you’re trying to boost your milk supply.

That said, if low milk supply is a concern, it’s best to work with a certified lactation consultant to develop a pumping plan that works for your situation.

In many cases, you’ll pump with an electric breast pump that works both breasts at the same time. If you’re pumping after a nursing session, 10 to 15 minutes with an electric breast pump should suffice.

But if you’re pumping to replace a nursing session, you’ll want to extend the time to 15 to 20 minutes or until the milk stops actively dripping. That said, some people require up to 30 minutes to fully empty their breasts.

Some people actually get better pumping results with a manual hand pump or even hand expression. Everyone is different. If you don’t have an electric pump or prefer not to use one, don’t worry — you can still express the milk you need.

If you’re separated from your child due to medical issues, Zaki says to pump as frequently as the baby would be feeding (typically every 2 to 4 hours) until the milk stops flowing, or about 15 to 20 minutes.

This also applies to pumping at work. You’ll want to follow the same schedule at work that you do at home.

For example, if you work an 8-hour day, you can:

  1. Breastfeed your baby in the morning before work.
  2. Do one pumping session mid-morning.
  3. Do another session 2 to 3 hours later.
  4. If needed, do one more session before going home.

Then plan to feed your baby as soon as you get home — they’ll no doubt be excited to see you!

It’s no secret that germs are everywhere, including your breast pump. To avoid spreading germs to your little one, make sure to clean your pump and all of its parts after each session. This includes bottles, valves, breast shields (flanges), and anything else that comes into contact with breast milk.

Before washing any parts, check the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning instructions. Some parts can go in the dishwasher on the top rack. Otherwise, follow these instructions:

  1. Rinse each part that comes into contact with milk in cold water.
  2. Wash each pump part separately in warm water with liquid dishwashing soap. Use a clean bowl to wash parts.
  3. Rinse each part with hot water for 10 to 15 seconds and air dry before putting parts back on your pump.
  4. Avoid touching the inside of pump parts when assembling.
  5. If you get milk in your tubes, wash them and hang to dry.

Ideally, you should store breast milk in the fridge or freezer as soon as possible, but at least within 4 hours of pumping, especially if the room is warmer than 77ºF (25°C). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it is safe to sit out at room temperature for up to 4 hours.

When storing breast milk in the fridge, place it in the back, not the door, and make sure the temperature is 40ºF (4°C). Under these conditions, you can store breast milk in the fridge for 4 to 5 days.

For extended storage, place breast milk in the back of the freezer for 6 to 12 months. Once thawed, previously frozen milk can sit out at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Thawed milk is safe in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Don’t ever refreeze previously frozen breast milk.

Whether you’re exclusively pumping to feed your baby or trying to keep up with your supply after you return to work, there are many benefits to using a breast pump.

  • Provides extra milk for storage. Not everyone needs to pump; however, Silver says it gives you the flexibility to produce extra milk to store. This gives partners or family members a chance to help with feeds, as well as the ability to tag-team overnight, so someone can take over a feed while you sleep. The ability to store milk gives you freedom and flexibility.
  • Helps baby learn to take a bottle. Once breastfeeding is going well and baby is at least 4 weeks old, Silver says babies should get a bottle three times a week, so they understand how to breastfeed and take a bottle. “This is very important for women who will be returning to work since their baby will need to know how to drink from a bottle.”
  • Allows you to provide breast milk for supplemental feedings. If your baby needs supplemental feedings or is separated from you or unable to nurse effectively, Zaki says pumping allows you to supplement with your own breast milk, which is associated with overall optimal health outcomes.

Wish you had more hours in the day to get everything done? You’re not alone. Caring for a newborn, healing from pregnancy and childbirth, and managing all of the other day-to-day tasks is enough to fill every minute of the day. And now, you need to squeeze in a few pumping sessions.

The good news? There are a few tips and tricks you can try to maximize the milk you get out of the pump.

Get ready for pumping

Make sure you’re comfortable and relaxed before pumping. Zaki says some mothers find that looking at pictures of their baby can help stimulate oxytocin, which is responsible for the milk ejection reflex.

Use the right size flanges

A successful pumping routine starts with using the right size flanges. “Flanges are meant to be sized for your nipple size, not your breast, which is a common mistake when you first learn about your pump,” says Silver.

Having the wrong size flange can impact your supply and output when pumping, and cause nipple pain. If you are having trouble getting the right fit, Silver recommends working with a lactation consultant.

Keep diet and hydration in mind

We know you may be eager to shed the baby weight. But cutting calories too much may cause a dip in milk production. The CDC recommends that breastfeeding women eat a healthy, balanced diet that allows you to take in an additional 450 to 500 calories per day.

And don’t forget to hydrate! Keep a water bottle close and sip throughout your breastfeeding session.

Encourage your milk to letdown

Massage your breasts and/or use a warm compress on your breasts before a pumping session to encourage the letdown reflex.

Mimic your baby’s suckling patterns

Electric pumps allow you to adjust the speed as you pump. To mimic your baby’s suckling patterns, start out with a faster speed for a minute or so, then switch to a lower speed.

Pump and nurse at the same time

To encourage milk production, consider nursing your baby on one side as you pump the other.

Ask for help if it is painful

It may take some time to acclimate to the pump, but using a breast pump should not be painful. If you’re experiencing prolonged discomfort or pain, ask for help from a lactation consultant.

Don’t assume the amount you pump is indicative of how much the baby gets at a feeding

Your baby can almost always get more milk out of your breasts than a pump can! In the early weeks, you may only pump a small amount of milk.

In fact, Deedee Franke RN, BSN, IBCLC, at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, says that the more you practice pumping, the better you’ll get with removing your milk comfortably and efficiently. If you have questions about your milk supply, ask for help from a lactation consultant.

Whether you’re pumping exclusively or trying to build a stash for when you return to work, getting started on the right foot is critical for pumping success. Learning the ins and outs of your pump and practicing helpful pumping strategies can help you get the most milk out of your sessions.

If you run into any problems, consider contacting a lactation consultant (search for an IBCLC near you here). They can help you troubleshoot issues with your pump and milk output. In time, you’ll have a milk stash available that will help you continue the breastfeeding journey without being tied to the pump.