How Often Should I Pump While Breastfeeding?

Parents who pump their milk often have questions—usually quite a lot of questions. One of the most common ones is: How often should I pump? Breastfeeding and chestfeeding parents might want to know if they need to pump on the same schedule that their babies nurse, and they may want to know how often to pump if their baby doesn't nurse directly at all.

But the questions don't stop there. Parents may also wonder when to start pumping, and whether this varies based on their circumstances and the type of separation they'll be experiencing with their little one. You can rest assured that having a long list of questions about pumping frequency and other related topics is totally normal. Thankfully, all of these questions have answers—and we connected with some lactation specialists to get you the most up-to-date evidence-based info possible.

When to Start Pumping Your Breast Milk

For parents who choose to breastfeed or chestfeed, pumping will likely be part of the picture as well—either here or there, or on a regular basis. Of course, some parents will decide to exclusively pump and bottle-feed their baby. No matter what you choose, some reasons you may be considering pumping your milk could include:

Having a medically vulnerable or premature baby who isn't able to latch Having a baby who is having trouble latching or refusing the breast Deciding that exclusive pumping is right for you Brief, infrequent separations from your baby, such as "date night" or other one-time events Ongoing, frequent separations from a baby, such as for work or school

In a nutshell, when to pump your milk will depend on your reason for pumping, says Nicole Peluso, IBCLC, lactation consultant and manager of lactation services and education at Aeroflow Breastpumps.

For example, if you are pumping for a baby who is separated from you right after birth (usually because they need to go to the NICU), you should start pumping as soon as possible, usually an hour or so within their birth, Peluso advises. The same goes for a baby who is having trouble latching—in this case, you should pump as soon as possible to build up a good supply, and make sure you connect with a lactation professional right away to get assistance, Peluso suggests.

If you've been exclusively breastfeeding and are returning to work or school eventually, you can wait about 2-3 weeks before this happens to start pumping. "Try pumping in the early morning about an hour after you have fed your baby at the breast," Peluso advises. "For most parents, that early morning session is often the most milk you will pump in a 24-hour period."

And what about someone who only needs to pump occasionally? No need to overthink this one, says Peluso. "Pump any time you are away from your baby and you miss a feeding, or anytime your baby is getting a bottle," she advises.

Breast Milk Pumping Frequency

In addition to the question of when to start pumping, many parents wonder how frequently they'll need to pump for their little ones. This also depends somewhat on the circumstances of why you are pumping, says Jenelle Ferry, M.D., neonatologist and director of feeding, nutrition, and infant development at Pediatrix Medical Group in Tampa, Florida.

"If you are pumping exclusively, you should essentially be pumping as frequently as your infant eats," Dr. Ferry says. "This means every two to three hours in the newborn period, and after the first month every three to four hours." You'll also need to pump as long as your baby requires nighttime feeds, which will usually be through the first four to six months, she adds.

If you're pumping to provide milk while you're away from your baby (such as work or school), you'll need to pump on a schedule similar to your baby's feeding schedule, especially in the first six to 12 weeks, says Peluso.

"After your milk supply regulates, you can try to space your pumps out further, potentially dropping a pump session," she recommends. "The only way to know if you are able to maintain a healthy supply with fewer sessions is to try to and monitor your output." If your supply drops as you space out your pumps, that is a sign you need to pump more often, she advises.

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