Are you brand new at exclusively pumping, and not sure what exactly you should be doing? Here are some common FAQs about exclusively pumping for a newborn baby, including how often to pump, how long your pumping sessions should be, when you should be pumping, and how to make exclusive pumping easier.
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When I started exclusively pumping, I had no idea what I was doing.
For example, I didn’t know that you were supposed to take the pump parts apart to wash them. I had no idea why my breasts dribbled milk sometimes and sprayed milk sometimes. And I wasn’t sure what speed I was supposed to set my pump to.
Here are the basics that I learned over time about how to exclusively pump with a newborn baby to build and maintain a milk supply, so you don’t have to bumble through it like I did!
How often should I pump when exclusively pumping for a newborn?
With a baby under three months of age, lactation consultants often recommend that you pump every two to three hours, or 8 to 12 times a day, because this mimics how often your baby would nurse if he or she were nursing.
My thoughts on the subject are a little different – to me, it really depends on when you are starting to pump exclusively. If you are starting it straight out of the hospital (maybe you decided on exclusive pumping before your baby was born), I would recommend at least 7 but no more than 10 pumping sessions per day.
If you start exclusively pumping a little later, and you’ve already established something of a supply – maybe too much, maybe too little, or maybe the right amount – I would adjust the 7 to 10 pumps per day guideline based on where you are at. If you have low milk supply and want to bring it up, it might be a good idea to start at 10. If you have oversupply, 7 might be enough.
As your baby gets older, you can drop pumping sessions and pump less frequently.
How long should I pump for?
If you are exclusively pumping, you should be pumping for a minimum of two hours or 120 minutes per day. (More info on this here.) To determine how long you should be pumping for during each pumping session, divide 120 by the number of times that you’re pumping and set that as your goal. So if you’re pumping 8 times per day, you should pump for 15 minutes at a time.
(If you want to pump more than that, that’s fine! Just don’t pump so much that you get burned out.)
You should pump for your full pumping time even if milk stops flowing, for two reasons. First, the nipple stimulation helps protect your milk supply long-term. Second, your milk might letdown (start spraying) again, allowing you to pump more milk. (Here is a full explanation of letdowns and how they work.)
Tip: If your pump doesn’t have a timer on it (like the Medela Freestyle), set a timer on your phone so that you can see how long you’ve been pumping and how much more time you have to go. It’s easy to overestimate how long you’ve been hooked up to the pump (at least, for me it is).
When should I pump?
When my son was a newborn, I pumped whenever he ate – my routine was to bottle feed him, change him, and then lay him down on my lap while I pumped. He would fall asleep, and I would transfer him to his bassinet once I unhooked. Other moms prefer to pump on a schedule, at certain times of the day regardless of when baby eats.
There are advantages to both methods. Pumping on a schedule means that you know when you’ll need to pump and can plan accordingly, while if you pump when baby eats, you might get stuck out of the house with no pump and need to re-adjust.
On the other hand, pumping when your baby eats is an easy way to ensure that you are pumping frequently enough as it mimics nursing. It also eliminates extra night wakings if your baby doesn’t wake up when you’re scheduled to pump.
Many experts recommend that one pumping session be between 1am and 4am, as most women tend to have a high output at this time. (This may be due to higher prolactin levels at night.) If you are concerned about supply and are not currently pumping during this time, it might be a good idea to try this.
How much much milk should I be producing?
This varies quite a bit (more info on this here). Ideally, at each pumping session, you would get enough (plus maybe a little more!) for baby’s next feeding. However, it often doesn’t work out that way. Some women will get 4oz for their newborns and others will get a few drops.
However much you get, you are doing great.
How much breast milk will my baby need?
On average, most newborns will drink 1.5-3oz per feeding, or 20-25 ounces per day. (I did a survey on this topic, and you can read more about the results here. The average for 0-1 month olds was 22.3oz; 1-2 month olds averaged 26.3oz.) My son was huge and was up to 30oz by one month of age, so this can also vary widely.
If you don’t make enough breast milk and find that you need to supplement with formula, here are some tips for doing so.
What vacuum strength should I set my pump to?
First, breast pumps have two modes – letdown mode (light and fast) and expression mode (higher suction and slower). Many breast pumps automatically switch from letdown mode to expression mode after two minutes.
When in expression mode, you should set your vacuum strength to the highest speed that is comfortable. Slowly move it up to a higher suction until you start to feel discomfort, and then dial it back one setting. That’s the perfect suction for you.
How can I make this easier?
I think there are three things that make exclusively pumping more manageable.
First, get into a routine. This applies for everything related to pumping – pumping, feeding, washing bottles and pump parts, freezing extra milk – figure out a schedule or system for managing so you don’t have to think about it.
I’m struggling with the emotional aspect of exclusive pumping and am grieving nursing. What can I do?
First, you are doing a great job. Read this for some encouragement and perspective.
Also – community! Subscribe to the Exclusive Pumping newsletter to get tips and support sent to you every week, or join our Facebook group. Being an exclusive pumper can feel lonely sometimes, but you’re not alone, so join us!