When you have a new baby and you sit down to pump, you might wonder – how long should I pump for? How long should a pumping session be? In many cases, the answer depends on why you’re pumping. Here’s what you need to know.
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How long you should pump depends on why you’re pumping
The ideal length of a pumping session is different depending on why you’re doing it because breastfeeding is a system of supply and demand. The amount of milk that you remove (the “demand”) when pumping affects your overall milk supply.
Your goal is to pump enough to have the milk that you need, but not so much that you have an oversupply that causes issues.
Below I’ll go through how long you should pump in each of the following scenarios – exclusively pumping, pumping to build a freezer stash, pumping to increase milk supply, and pumping at work.
How long to pump if you’re exclusively pumping
When you’re exclusively pumping, you want to aim to pump for a total of 120 minutes per day (as a minimum guideline).
Therefore, how long each session should be depends on how many sessions you have in a 24 hour period.
It’s important to pump more frequently when your baby is younger to establish your milk supply. So when you have a newborn baby, you might be pumping eight times per day, in which case you’d want each session to be at least 15 minutes. (120 minutes / 8 sessions = 15 minutes per session)
Once your baby is older, you may pump less often. So, if you pump six times per day, each session should be 20 minutes. If you pump four times per day, each session should be 30 minutes, and so on.
If you’re pumping to build a freezer stash
If you’re primarily nursing but are pumping to build a freezer stash for going back to work or for a night away, you will want to pump for about 15-20 minutes at a time.
Your goal is to strike a balance between pumping enough milk to store, and overdoing it to the point where oversupply, forceful letdown, and/or foremilk/hindmilk imbalance become an issue.
Most of the time, you will want to pump soon (around 30 minutes or so) after you finish nursing, so that you have enough milk the next time your baby is hungry.
Length of pumping sessions if you’re pumping to increase supply
There are a few different ways that you can pump to increase supply.
One is triple feeding, where you pump and bottle feed after each nursing session. This is sometimes done when your baby is a newborn in order to establish your milk supply while baby is learning how to nurse and transfer milk.
While triple feeding can be effective, it is also exhausting. Ideally, you’d do it for a week or two before transitioning to nursing or, if you prefer, to exclusively pumping.
When you’re triple feeding, I would recommend pumping for about 15 minutes.
Another option is power pumping. Power pumping mimics cluster feeding (which is thought to increase milk supply), but with a breast pump coming on and off the breast for a longer period of time instead of a baby.
To power pump, you pump on and off for an hour. This could look like 20 minutes of pumping, followed by 10 minutes rest, 10 minutes of pumping, 10 minutes of rest, and 10 minutes of pumping.
How long should you pump if you’re pumping at work
How long you should pump at work depends on how old your baby is as well as how often you’re pumping. As noted above, it’s important to pump more frequently when your baby is young.
This is easiest to explain with examples. Say you are going back to work at three months postpartum. In most cases, you’d want to pump about every three hours for about 15-20 minutes.
On the other hand, if you’re not going back to work until your baby is nine months old, you might pump twice in an eight hour workday, but for slightly longer – maybe 20-25 minutes.
In both cases, you’d pump for for about 45 minutes, but when your baby is younger, you might just need to do it more frequently.
You can see more examples of schedules for pumping at work here.
Let me know if you have any questions about how long you should pump in the comments!