You might have heard that you shouldn’t pump for more than 20 or 30 minutes. Why is this? How long is too long to pump?
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Many breastfeeding moms have been told that they should not pump for more than a certain number of minutes (common recommendations are not to exceed 20 or 30 minutes). Where do these guidelines come from, and should they be different for nursing moms versus exclusive pumpers?
Here is some background with regard to each of these recommendations, and what you might want to think about.
Is It Okay to Pump for More than 20 Minutes?
It’s not uncommon for moms to be told that they shouldn’t pump for 20 minutes.
Why is this?
The concern behind this advice is that pumping too much might cause oversupply in a nursing mother. For women who are nursing, having a large oversupply can cause problems with overactive letdown and foremilk/hindmilk imbalance.
As a result, if you’re nursing, it’s a good idea to be careful to not overdo it, as your supply might get to be too out of sync with what your baby needs, causing these problems.
Women who are exclusively pumping often ALSO get this advice.
However, if you aren’t nursing, being in sync with your baby’s intake is not as important.
Your breast pump isn’t going to choke or struggle with your letdown, no matter how forceful. And while exclusive pumpers can have foremilk/hindmilk imbalance, this is much more manageable because all of the milk is prepped in bottles.
(If you are an exclusive pumper and think you might have foremilk/hindmilk imbalance, consider the pitcher method.)
In summary, if you are a nursing mom, it’s not bad advice to consider if oversupply is a potential concern. Otherwise, you can probably ignore it.
Is More than 30 Minutes Okay?
Does this mean that using a breast pump for more than 30 minutes is unsafe?
Not necessarily. The truth is, there hasn’t been any research on the effects of breast pumping for 30 minutes or more.
It is reasonable to assume there is some point at which it is unwise to continue. For example, in the Facebook group, some moms will report that they fell asleep while pumping and woke up two to three hours later. The result was very sore nipples.
But where is that line? We don’t know, exactly. As a result, I think it’s likely that companies choose to limit their liability by including disclaimers about pumping more than 30 minutes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean terrible things will happen if you pump for 31 minutes. In fact, many exclusive pumpers have pumping sessions that are 45 minutes to an hour.
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What’s the Bottom Line? How Long Is It Safe to Pump?
If you are a nursing mom, it may be better to limit pumping sessions to 20 minutes if you’re pumping after a nursing session in order to store extra breastmilk for later, in order to avoid an oversupply.
However, if you’re at work or replacing a feeding, you may want to pump a little longer than that if it’s necessary to remove the amount of milk you need.
If you’re an exclusively pumping mom, it’s probably okay to pump for more than 20-30 minutes. It’s a good idea to test things for yourself; stop if it starts to hurt.
Additionally, I probably would not suggest going for more than an hour, but this isn’t an evidence-based recommendation – just a suggestion based on my experience.
While I can’t give you an exact answer, hopefully this gives you some clarify on how long is too long to pump! (And read more on how long your pumping sessions should be here.) Let us know if you have any questions in the comments.