When you’re an exclusive pumper, it’s important to make and stick to a pumping schedule in order to maximize supply and minimize issues like clogged ducts.
Figuring out a pumping schedule when you are exclusive pumping is a balance between your need to pump enough milk and the rest of your life. Think about how many pumping sessions you need in a given day, and then think about the best time to fit them in based on your life – whether you work, whether you are home with your baby, whether you desperately need more sleep or are doing okay.
Sample Pumping Schedules with a Newborn
With a newborn, most things that you read say that you should be pumping 8-12 times per day, because that’s how often newborns eat. I’m not a doctor or a lactation consultant, but I think 8 or 9 is a good goal to shoot for, with 7 as the lower limit and 10 as the upper limit. (I’ve written more about about how often and how long to pump for a newborn here.) With many more than that, you probably won’t be getting enough rest or time with your baby.
Below is a sample pumping schedule with eight pumps in 24 hours. A schedule like this will give you three and a half straight hours of sleep (from about 12:30am-4am, once you’ve finished pumping) – assuming your baby lets you sleep! These times can obviously be adjusted however you like.
7am, 10am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, 12am, 4am
Below is a sample pumping schedule with ten pumps in 24 hours. This schedule will give you four and a half straight hours of sleep (from 7:30pm-12am), with the added benefit that if you have a partner he or she can care for the baby during this time before going to bed themselves.
7am, 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm, 7pm, 12am, 3am, 5am
Sample Pumping Schedules with an Older Baby
Below are some sample pumping schedules for older babies. These aren’t rocket science, and you can adjust them to a schedule that fits your needs; I’m just including them as an example of worked for me as my baby got older. (Note: As you drop pumping sessions, you should increase the amount of time that you pump in each session.)
Six pumps in 24 hours (I used this from 10-12 weeks, until I went back to work and found the 6pm pumping session too difficult to manage):
6am, 10am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 10pm
With this schedule you have eight hours of sleep in a row! Unless you are really working to build up your supply, I would recommend getting some sleep and dropping the middle of the night pump once your baby is three months old.
Five pumps in 24 hours (I used this from 3-6 months):
6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 10pm
Four pumps in 24 hours (I used this from 6-11 months):
6am, 10am, 2pm, 10pm
Three pumps in 24 hours (I used this from 11-12 months):
6am, 12pm, 10pm
Two pumps in 24 hours (I used this from 12-14 months):
A one pump per day schedule is a supply killer for many women (including myself), so attempt it with caution if you decide to go this route. Between dropping to one pump per day (at 7pm) and getting pregnant again, my supply crashed to nothing at 14 months.
How Important is Sticking to a Pumping Schedule?
When you have a newborn, sticking to a defined pumping schedule can be a challenge – you are likely sleep deprived and busy, so it’s easy to forget to pump. Skipping a pumping session every now and then is not a big deal, especially if you are able to make up the time during a later pumping session that day or squeeze in a power pumping session.
If you’re finding that you’re missing pumping sessions regularly, there are a couple of tools that you can use to remind yourself. I got an Itzbeen as a gift when I had my first baby, and you can set an alarm with it (either a silent flashing light or beeping) to let yourself know it’s time to pump. Alternatively, the iOS Milk Maid app has a reminder function that allows you to enter your pumping schedule, and it will notify you every day at your defined pumping times.
With older babies (after 3-4 months), sticking to a schedule is less important. As long as you get your total number of pumping sessions (and pumping minutes) done in a given day, you should be fine.