The first time you hold your baby, you count their fingers and toes. You watch their little chest rise and fall with each breath they take. You kiss the top of their fuzzy head. It’s pure bliss.

That is, until you realize you’re the person solely responsible for keeping this tiny being alive. Yikes! It involves love, attention, and a whole lot of feeding in those first few months and beyond. You got this. That's not to say it's easy.

You may have heard to breastfeed your baby "on demand." It sounds simple enough, but in the early days, that may mean tanking up baby every couple hours, both day and night.

Whether you’re breastfeeding and looking to supplement or you’re planning to pump exclusively, mastering the process can feel overwhelming on top of the lack of sleep you’re likely experiencing.

We’ve got you covered, from when you should start pumping to how you actually use a breast pump to how many ounces you should stash away each day. Let's dive in!

Have a chat with your doctor or lactation consultant before you start pumping. You can discuss your goals for breastfeeding/pumping to find the method that might work best for your family.

You can begin pumping as soon as your baby is born if you'd like. You may choose to pump exclusively from the beginning. Or you may choose to breastfeed often and only pump once or a few times each day.

There may also be certain reasons you need to pump from birth, like:

  • your baby’s medical condition
  • your own medical condition
  • latch issues
  • a desire to share feeding responsibilities with a non-breastfeeding partner

The list goes on. Whatever you decide, don't let anyone make you feel shame for your decision. You know what's best for you and your baby.

Some considerations:

  • If you're pumping because you want milk for bottles or you want to increase your supply, you may consider pumping after regular nursing sessions a few times a day. It all depends on how much milk you want to gather.
  • On the other hand, if your little one is having issues latching or you desire to exclusively pump, you’ll need to pump in place of all nursing sessions. This means pumping throughout the day and night as often as your baby feeds.
  • If you're waiting to pump until you go back to work or school, be sure to start at least two weeks before you need the milk. This gives you time to create a stash, but — more importantly — lets you become more familiar with the pumping and milk storage process. Your baby will have time to get used to bottles, too.

If you're supplementing baby’s nursing sessions with occasional bottles, you may only need to pump a couple times a day. It may be easiest to pump in the morning when you’re the fullest. If you’re supplementing, try pumping after normal breastfeeding sessions.

Exclusively pumping? Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand — and newborns can be demanding! Pumping works under the same concept. If your baby eats 8–12 times a day, you may need to pump at least 8 times to keep your supply up with your baby’s demand.

There’s no set number or steadfast rule — it’s up to your baby and their nutritional needs. You may find it more helpful to think of pumping every two to three hours around the clock in the newborn period.

Pumping at night may seem like it defeats the purpose of having another caregiver provide a bottle for your baby — what about getting back some of those precious Zzz's? But you may need to pump at least twice during the nighttime hours to help establish good supply.

Your need to pump at night will largely depend on how your individual supply handles longer breaks. If you find your supply is dipping after skipping nighttime pumping sessions, consider adding them back in.

If you don’t feel like you’re producing enough, don’t fret. Your milk supply may be different in the morning than at night. Or you may make more milk one week and less the next. Your diet, stress level, and other factors may affect how much milk you make.

Some women can fill a whole bottle in a single pumping session while others may need to pump two or three times to fill the same bottle. It's not a competition, and there’s a wide range of normal. Speak with your doctor or a lactation consultant if your supply continues to be low or you notice it dipping more.

You can also try eating certain foods to help with your milk supply.

At work, you should try pumping every three to four hours for around 15 minutes a session. This may sound like a lot, but it goes back to that concept of supply and demand. Your baby takes in milk every few hours. Pumping that often will ensure that you're able to keep up with their needs.

You can try pumping both breasts at the same time — super efficient! — to reduce your overall time with the pump. And if you’re concerned about privacy, it’s important to know that workplaces that employ more than 50 people are required by law to provide not only the time, but also a space that’s private. (And, no. You won’t be stuck pumping in a bathroom stall!) Chat with your boss before returning to work to make arrangements.

Reverse cycling

If you're breastfeeding in addition to pumping for work, you may notice that your baby does what's called “reverse cycling.” This means that they'll consume less milk from bottles during the day and make up for it by drinking more from the breast at night.

How much milk your baby needs per feeding will change over time as they grow. It may even change by the day, especially if they're hitting growth spurts. So, how will you know if you’re pumping enough?

From ages 6 weeks to 6 months, babies tend to drink about an ounce per hour. This means that if you’re away from baby for 10 hours, you should aim to give your childcare provider 10 to 12 ounces of breast milk. Some babies may need more while others may need less. Over time, you'll find what works best for your child.

Try pumping around the time of your baby’s feeding session for the next bottle. If you find you’re having trouble keeping up, you can add another pumping session to increase the amount of milk your body makes.

If you’re only looking to occasionally replace nursing sessions with bottles, you can do a little math. If a baby needs around 24 ounces in 24 hours, divide that number by the number of feeding sessions they typically have.

For example, if your sweet babe feeds eight times a day, they’ll need around three ounces per feed. It’s always a good idea to provide a little more than that, maybe four ounces in a bottle, in case they're more hungry on any given day.

Again, how long you’ll pump is individual and may take some figuring out. You’ll want to try pumping long enough to empty the breast. This is different from woman to woman. A general rule is around 15 minutes on each breast. This is the standard even if your milk has stopped flowing.

It may come as a surprise that there are a few different ways to pump. Hand expression involves using your hand or fingers to milk your breast into a bottle or other storage or feeding device, like a spoon.

Breast pumps — manual ones and those that are powered by either electricity or battery — use suction to remove milk from the breasts. This may sound painful, but it shouldn't be.

When might you use these methods?

  • Hand expression is nice in the early days if you have already fed your baby but wish to provide additional milk via spoon. It may also help to increase supply. It's free, but takes more work — nothing is truly free, is it?
  • Manual pumps are handy if you’re not around electricity or don’t need a large supply of milk on hand. They're simple to use and usually inexpensive (under $50) to purchase.
  • Powered pumps are great if you need a large supply of milk for work or school, or if you're exclusively pumping for your baby. They may even be covered under your health insurance. But it’s a good idea to have a backup method in case your battery runs out or your find yourself without power.

Lear more with our guide to choosing, using, and maintaining a breast pump.

Here's how to pump:

  1. Before you start, wash your hands thoroughly and examine all pump parts to make sure it’s in working order.
  2. Then get in a comfortable position. Some women find that their milk flows more easily if they think about their baby. You may even want to have a photo or other personal item to help remind you of your little one.
  3. Apply your pump to your breast around your areola with your nipple in the center. The flange should be comfortable. You may consider getting another size if it isn’t.
  4. If using an electric pump, turn it on low at first. You can build speed as the session goes on.
  5. Pump each breast for between 15 and 20 minutes. Again, you may choose to pump both at once to save on time.
  6. Then store your milk and follow the manufacturer instructions to clean your pump for the next use.

For a more comprehensive guide, check out our detailed how-to for manual and electric breast pumps.

Drink plenty of fluids

Water, juice, and milk are all good choices to stay hydrated. On the other hand, caffeinated beverages, like coffee, may make your baby irritable — so you may need to explore options at Starbucks aside from your usual venti iced caramel macchiato.

Experts recommend getting at least 13 cups of water a day if you’re breastfeeding or pumping. If you lose count, try looking at your urine. It should be light yellow or clear. If it’s bright yellow, fill your glass again.

Eat a healthy diet

Lactation burns some serious calories! In fact, you’ll need an additional 450 to 500 calories a day. Increasing your intake of a balanced diet should do the trick.

Did you catch the "balanced diet" caveat? This means eating whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and dairy, as well as healthy fats. But we won't tell if you also sneak in a treat here and there.

If you're on a special diet, ask your healthcare provider if you need supplements. For example, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and multivitamins can help support your milk supply and overall health.

Sleep

It may seem impossible, but try to get rest whenever you can. We know, we know — the advice "sleep while baby is sleeping" can be a bit dated in our fast-paced culture where there's so much to get done.

But even if you can’t sleep while your little one is off in dreamland, you can conserve your energy by taking it easy however you can. This may mean asking for help from family, friends, and neighbors. And that’s OK. You need all the power you can to create milk and keep yourself going on those long nights ahead.

Avoid smoking

You may have heard that secondhand smoke increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Smoking may also reduce your milk supply and make your milk taste funny to your baby. Even worse, smoking may mess with your baby’s sleeping habits right when you want to establish good ones.

Speak with your doctor about quitting or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free help.

Other tricks

There are a number of other tried-and-true methods that may help increase your milk supply. Anecdotally, these include eating rolled oats, drinking dark beer, drinking mother’s milk tea, and consuming fenugreek.

But approach this advice with caution. For example, drinking a nice cold Guinness may appeal to you — especially after going nine months sans alcohol — but there are cautions when it comes to drinking alcohol and breastfeeding.

And you may find a lot of whacky advice online, so be sure to check in with your doctor before loading up on lots of unfamiliar supplements.

In the meantime, check out these 10 ways to increase breast milk supply when pumping.

If you're anything like us, the thought of using a dirty pump makes you cringe. So be sure to read your pump’s manual for any specific cleaning instructions. While it isn’t always necessary to sterilize your pump, you should clean it after each use with warm, soapy water.

  • Begin by taking your pump apart. You’ll want to inspect the flanges, valves, membranes, connectors, and collection bottles for any damage and replace if necessary.
  • Rinse all pump parts that make contact with your breast milk. Simply run them under water to remove the milk.
  • To clean by hand, place your pump in some type of basin (sinks can harbor lots of bacteria — yuck). Fill the basin with hot water and soap and then scrub everything with a clean brush. Rinse with fresh water and let everything air dry atop a clean dish towel or paper towel.
  • To clean in your dishwasher, place pump parts on the top rack of your machine in a mesh laundry bag or closed-top basket. Consider using your dishwasher’s hot or sanitize setting for the most germ-killing power. Then when the cycle is done, remove your pump and let it air dry atop a clean dish towel or paper towel.
  • You don't need to clean the tubing of your pump unless it comes in contact with breast milk. You may see condensation (tiny water droplets) in the tubing from time to time. To get rid of it, turn your pump on for a couple minutes until it’s dry.

If your little one is under 3 months of age, you may consider boiling pump parts to sanitize — their immune system is particularly immature. You only need to do this once a day. Place pump parts in a pot and cover with water. Bring water to a boil and let the parts boil for 5 minutes. Then remove pump parts with clean tongs.

This is a lot of information to take in, especially with all the other responsibilities you have right now. The good news? You don’t need to figure out all this stuff on your own.

Your doctor or a certified lactation consultant can help take the guesswork out of pumping for you, as well as provide you with additional tips and tricks along the way. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help. Before you know it, you’ll be a pumping pro!