If you’re exclusively pumping, you might have heard about the 120 minute rule. What does this mean, and why 120 minutes? Here’s everything you need to know about how much you should pump when exclusively pumping.
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What is the 120 minute rule for exclusively pumping?
First of all, I want to say that it’s less of a “rule” than a guideline or best practice.
The 120 minute rule is that, generally speaking, when you are exclusively pumping, you want to spend at least 120 minutes (2 hours) per day pumping.
How many sessions you would spread that 120 minutes across depends on how old your baby is. With a newborn baby, you might want to do eight 15 minute sessions. With a baby older than 6 months, you might be able to do four 30 minute sessions.
You can see some sample pumping schedules for different ages here.
What happens if you don’t pump that much?
Possibly nothing – like I said, it’s a guideline. But what we’re trying to avoid with the 120 minute rule is a sudden or gradual drop in milk supply while you’re exclusively pumping.
A drop is always possible, but from what we’ve seen in the Facebook group, it appears to be less likely if you pump at least 120 minutes per day.
Where did the 120 minute rule come from?
The 120 minute rule isn’t backed with science or research. It’s more something that has been handed down from exclusive pumpers as a best practice since breast pumps developed to the point that exclusive pumping was possible.
This is one reason that I stress that this is a guideline. It seems to work for a lot of women, but it might not be the best thing for you, and that’s okay.
Is It 120 minutes per breast, or total?
The 120 minute rule assumes that you have a double pump, so each breast should be pumped for 120 minutes. If you have a double pump, it will take 2 hours; if you have a single pump, it will take 4 hours.
I’m pumping less than this now and my supply is fine. Do I need to start pumping more?
It depends. If you are early in your exclusive pumping journey (say, your baby is a newborn) or you are more than a few months away from your goal, you may want to consider it. The idea behind the 120 minute rule is to help you establish your milk supply before it regulates, and to help protect your supply long-term.
For example, say you are two months postpartum, and plan to pump for a year. Your baby takes 30oz per day and you make 35oz per day, pumping 60 minutes per day.
In this case, I would recommend that you increase your total pumping time in a day to protect your supply long-term.
On the other hand, say you are four months postpartum, and plan to pump for six months. Your baby takes 25oz per day and you make 35oz per day, pumping 90 minutes per day. You’re probably fine to stick with what you’re doing.
I’m pumping more than this now and feel like I need to in order to keep my supply up. Do I need to start pumping less?
No. Pumping more than 120 minutes a day is fine if you can manage it without burning out.
I’m pumping more than 120 minutes now and I would like to reduce the amount of time I’m spending pumping. How can I do that without tanking my supply?
To do this, I would start reducing the length of one pumping session at a time, and giving it a few days to see how your body responds. If your supply doesn’t go down, you can reduce the length of another one.
For example, let’s say that you’re currently pumping 180 minutes a day, or six 30 minute pumping sessions. You could reduce one session by 5 minutes, and see how it goes.
If everything seems okay, supply-wise, you could do the same with another session, until you are pumping the amount that you want. If you notice your supply starting to drop, I would stop reducing the amount of time that you pump.
You might find that some of these tips to pump faster help you get the same amount of milk in less time.
Do I need to pump for 120 minutes a day if I’m also nursing?
No. The 120 minute rule is for exclusive pumpers.
If you’re away from your baby, you might be able to adapt the rule to fit your situation. Say you’re away from your baby for 9 hours while you’re at work; you could calculate that you should pump at least 45 minutes total while you are away. (9/24 * 120 = 45)
Does this rule apply when I’m weaning?
No. When you’re weaning, you can pump less than 120 minutes per day because your goal is to NOT maintain your milk supply.
To wean, I recommend dropping one pumping session at a time, and NOT adding the time back on to your remaining sessions. More on weaning from the pump here.
When I drop to two sessions per day, do they really need to be 60 minutes long?
Your best bet at maintaining your milk supply is to pump for 120 minutes a day. At two pumps a day, that means 60 minute pumping sessions.
If you are concerned that that is too long, then I would suggest not dropping to two pumping sessions per day until you’re ready to wean.
Do you stick to the 120 minute rule? Tell us your experience in the comments!