This article was written in partnership with our International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Wendy Wright, who loves working side by side with moms and babies to find that secret sauce! She’s also a mother of two and the Mom Experience Lead at Willow Pump.
Hey mama, did you know that 6% of moms in the US exclusively breast pump? That’s a lot of moms when you sit and think about it. Something that wasn’t even considered a generation ago is now completely available to whomever chooses to do so. And that’s where we want to pause for a moment—this is your choice! How you decide to feed your baby is entirely up to you— we’re here to support you along the way.
So, you’ve decided to be an Exclusively Pumping (EP) mom! One of the first things we hear is that setting up (or even thinking about) a schedule is overwhelming. Afterall, you’ve already got a lot going on! Wondering how to start? Keep reading for our LC’s best tips and tricks and what you need to know before starting your own.
7 Reasons You Might Decide Exclusive Pumping is Right For You
Breastfeeding simply isn’t for everyone, but there are options for you, mama. Exclusive pumping is one of many ways parents might decide to feed their baby and there are a million reasons why they decide this is the right path. Here are some of the reasons you might choose to exclusively pump:
Your baby is preterm, low-birthweight or hospitalized and pumping is the best way to get them breast milk immediately.
You and baby are having issues with the latch (this is so common!)
You had twins or multiples!
You’ve had previous breastfeeding challenges
You have a career that requires being away from your baby for extended periods of time during the day.
You find breastfeeding painful, stressful, or difficult
You want to include your partner more regularly.
You’ve Decided to Exclusively Pump—Now What?
So, you decided to exclusively pump —maybe it was one of the 7 reasons listed above or maybe it’s something different altogether. We are here to support you. The next thing that’s probably on your mind is: How do I even know how to start?
The most common thing we hear from our EP moms is that it’s just so damn demanding, it’s non-stop and you’re constantly feeding or pumping. Setting up a well-structured exclusive pumping schedule will not only help you feel organized from day one, but it will eliminate some of the decision fatigue you’re already facing as a new mom.
What Type of Pumping Schedule Should You Have?
The type of pumping schedule you choose depends on your personal let-down periods, how much milk you store in advance, your daily schedule, and how much milk you are able to pump at each session. Not every woman pumps the same amount of milk per pumping session, so it’s important to get to know your own patterns when it comes to producing milk. Because of this, pumping in ounce measurements while keeping an eye on the time (15-20 minutes max!) will ensure that you are getting the most out of the session.
The average amount of milk pumped per session is around 2 ounces and around 25 ounces per day. You may be able to produce more based on how quickly your body produces milk along with how often you pump. A healthy and effective pumping schedule will ideally have frequent sessions every 2-3 hours throughout the day, depending on where you are in the lactation process. This of course is also completely dependent on your baby's age and development. Here's a quick guide on pumping times and sessions for children:
Sample Pumping Schedules
Making an exclusive pumping schedule isn’t always easy when you are a busy mama! That’s why we took the time to create some great pumping schedule templates for you to work around. Remember that pumping schedules will differ depending on how old your baby is because your baby’s nutritional needs change over time.
An average milk supply is one ounce per hour or 24 - 26 ounces per day until 6 months. Once solids are introduced you can begin to cut back on your pumping sessions if desired. It can be a slippery slope and if you detect a decrease in supply faster than you desire, add sessions back in, especially night sessions so you are not leaving milk in your breasts for longer than 4 - 5 hours.
Milk that is not expressed for longer periods of time signals to your body to slow production and clogged ducts. Some women are more responsive to these signals than others so some can sleep longer and some will need to empty throughout the night to produce the volume they require.
Keep in mind that every mom’s schedule is different, these are just a few examples that you can change to fit your needs!
How often should you pump when you are exclusively pumping?
How often you pump depends on how old your baby is. In the very early stages of lactation you’ll be building your milk supply so you will likely need to pump more throughout the day. Since a newborn eats every 2-3 hours, you will need to pump 8-10 times per day within the first 1-6 weeks. As your baby gets older, the components of your milk (not your volume) will change, allowing babies to go longer in between each feeding.
How long should you pump?
During each session, you should be pumping for about 15 minutes on each side, or 15 minutes total with double pumping. Once you have completed both sides, give yourself a rest and then pump for 5 more minutes. Since breast milk is produced based on nipple stimulation, the extra 5 minutes will ensure that you are fully emptying the breast during your pumping session. Fully emptying your milk supply during each session will help to increase your milk supply in the future. But be careful! Going over 20 minutes can actually make the process less effective than if you were to pump for shorter periods. It is often more effective to play with suction levels vs time to get the greatest volume from the breast.
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How long can you exclusively pump?
The length that you choose to exclusively pump can vary, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants should exclusively drink breast milk for the first six months, while slowly being introduced to solids after. You will still need to continue pumping while weaning your baby, but your sessions can be more infrequent. The length of time you choose to pump will also depend on how vigorous your exclusive pump schedule is, which ultimately depends on what pace your body can produce milk at. Some women have more time to pump than others throughout the day, which can allow for a more intensive exclusive pump schedule.
The length of time that you pump also depends on how old your baby is. Because of this, the first six months are usually the most intensive for exclusively pumping. The average stages for pumping can be broken down by months:
Newborns (first 1-6 weeks): pump 8-10 times per day
First 3 months: pump 5-6 times per day
6 months: pump 4-5 times per day
12 months: pump 1-2 times per day, the baby is ready to begin weaning from breast milk
How long should you break between pumping sessions?
Keep in mind that the longer you wait between pumping sessions, the less milk you may produce. During the early stages of exclusively pumping, avoid going more than 5-6 hours between sessions. While it can get exhausting, pumping 1-2 times per night will ensure that you have a sufficient milk supply for your baby.
If you’re a working mom, aim to pump every 3-4 hours per 8 hour work period. Staying on your routine pumping schedule will help ensure that your body will keep up with your baby’s nutritional needs. Before you start pumping at work, be sure to have a conversation with your boss about a comfortable and private location for you to pump during the day. For moms who are able to stay at home, especially during the first 12 weeks, aim to create a solidified and regular schedule throughout the day where you do not go too long without pumping.
How important is it to stick to a pumping schedule?
Sticking to a pumping schedule is highly recommended both for sustaining your milk supply and overall well being. Your body will produce the most milk when the demand is high and regular. If your schedule becomes infrequent and randomized your body will have trouble recognizing when it needs to supply milk for your baby. Creating a pumping schedule will signal to your body when it is time to have milk ready, and it will make pumping sessions more effective.
If you choose to exclusively pump, remember however you choose to feed your baby is the right decision. We're here to support you every step of the way.