Breast Milk Pumping: Techniques, Tips, and Benefits

Breast pumping is a convenient way to provide breast milk to your baby when they’re unable to breastfeed directly, when your breasts are engorged, or you’d prefer to bottle feed. If you’re considering breast pumping and want to learn more, keep reading for the benefits of pumping and tips on how to pump, as well as learning when to start pumping, how often to pump, and how to combine pumping and breastfeeding.

When to Start Pumping

You can start pumping soon after giving birth if you wish; however, it may be helpful to begin after you've breastfed your baby for a few weeks. This may help you and your baby settle into a breastfeeding routine and allow your milk supply to become well established. This usually happens around three to four weeks after birth.

You may decide to pump because you’re returning to work or school, or perhaps you’ll be apart from your baby for a period of time. If that’s the case, start pumping a few weeks beforehand to get the hang of it, and get your baby used to bottle feeding.

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How to Pump Breast Milk

You can express your milk with your hand or by pumping with a breast pump (manual or electric). Here are some breast-pumping tips:

  1. Ensure the pump, your hands, and the environment are clean before starting.

  2. Find a quiet and relaxing setting and sit in a comfortable position if possible.

  3. Stimulate the let-down reflex to help the milk flow. Some tips include:

    1. thinking about your baby

    2. having a photo of your baby with you, or an item with their scent on

    3. placing moist, warm compresses on your breasts

    4. massaging your breasts gently.

  4. Place the plastic cup (called the flange or shield) of the pump over your nipple and areola, so it’s covering this entire area. Ensure it has a good seal. There are different cup sizes, so you might want to try a few to find the one that feels most comfortable for you.

  5. Manual pump: Once the cup is attached correctly, squeeze the handle or level for suction.

  6. Electric or battery-powered pump: Turn on or plug the pump into a nearby outlet and select the speed and suction levels that are most comfortable for you.

  7. Store the breast milk in small quantities (2 to 4 ounces) in your clean bottles, and label them with the date you pumped the milk. Storing in small quantities prevents waste, and dating them helps remind you if they’re still fresh. For example, breast milk can remain at room temperature for up to four hours or in the refrigerator for up to three days.

  8. Wash all the equipment with soap and water after you've finished pumping. You can also use a microwave sterilization bag.

If you’re looking for the best breast pump for you, we created a helpful guide, including the pumps voted for by Pampers parents.

Can You Pump Colostrum?

Colostrum is the “first milk” your breasts produce. It’s a lot thicker than your regular milk and is highly beneficial for your baby. If you’re not breastfeeding, you can still utilize this special milk. But because it’s so thick, it’s harder to pump—therefore, it may be easier to hand express your colostrum until your regular milk comes in.

Some experts even recommend hand-expressing colostrum onto a spoon to get every drop of it. And once you’ve manually expressed or pumped your colostrum, what can you do with it? Just like your regular milk, you can feed it to your baby right away or store it in clean containers for later.

How Often Should You Pump?

How often and how many times a day or night you “should” pump depends on your individual situation and whether you’re exclusively pumping or you’re combining it with breastfeeding. One pumping schedule doesn’t necessarily fit all!

If you’re with your baby throughout the day and you’re breastfeeding, try to pump between feedings. Many moms find that pumping every two to three hours is doable.

If you’re going to be away from your baby for a period of time or you’re wondering how to exclusively pump your milk, it’s recommended to pump as frequently as your baby feeds in order to maintain your milk supply. It’s also common to wonder, “Do I have to pump at night?” If you’re exclusively pumping your milk, you may wish to pump at night to help maintain your milk supply.

Whether you’re breastfeeding, pumping, or formula feeding, check out our guide on how much a newborn should eat, which includes a helpful feeding schedule.

How to Combine Breastfeeding and Pumping

Combining both can be helpful and prevent breast engorgement. If your baby isn’t breastfeeding frequently, you can manually express or pump between feedings. Or pump from the other breast if your baby only feeds from one breast.

If you’ve decided to combine breastfeeding and pumping, you may wish to start pumping between nursing sessions until you have a small supply of bottled breast milk. Then, you could gradually introduce one or two bottle feedings into your baby’s schedule.

It’s important to remember that the nipple of your breast is different from that of a bottle, and your baby may have some difficulty adjusting to bottle feeding. It can take some time and patience.

You may want to have someone else offer your little one a bottle, as some babies find it easier to drink from a bottle when the mother isn’t around. Your baby can recognize your scent and voice, which they may associate with breastfeeding.

How Long Should You Pump For?

How long to pump per session: It’s recommended to pump for at least 15 to 20 minutes per session or until the milk stops flowing, but, of course, everyone is different, so you may need more time. It may take a little longer during your early days of pumping.

If you need a fast and efficient pumping option, you could consider using an electric pump that does both breasts at once.

How long to pump overall: Just like with breastfeeding, you can continue pumping for as long as you want before weaning your baby off breast milk. You may decide to do this gradually when your baby is starting to eat solids, at around 4 to 6 months. The gradual approach reduces the likelihood of engorgement or clogged ducts.

As you start breastfeeding or pumping less, your milk supply will gradually decrease.

How Much Milk Should You Be Pumping?

The amount of milk produced can vary from person to person and session to session. If you’re exclusively feeding your baby the breast milk you’ve pumped, it’s a good idea to pump as frequently as your baby feeds. This may help your body produce the amount your little one needs. Keep in mind that this can vary from baby to baby and increase during growth spurts.

What Are the Benefits of Pumping Breast Milk?

Breast pumping can provide numerous benefits to both mom and baby. Here are some of the benefits of pumping along with breastfeeding or exclusive pumping:

  • If you’re feeding your baby your expressed milk, know that breast milk provides important nutrients and antibodies to help babies fight off infections and illness. Breast milk also changes to meet your little one’s nutritional needs as they grow.

  • Pumping can help relieve engorgement, help with symptoms of mastitis, and maintain or increase milk supply.

  • It’s beneficial if you’re unable to breastfeed for any reason.

  • Pumping may be a great option for when you’re on the go, if you’re returning to work, or if you’re going to be away from your baby for a period of time.

  • Pumping your milk for the purpose of bottle-feeding may give you more flexibility in your daily life. And allows for others to feed the baby, such as partners, siblings, grandparents, and sitters.

  • It may also help some parents to know how much their little one is actually feeding.

The Challenges of Pumping Breast Milk

Though pumping is a relatively straightforward process, some moms may encounter a few issues along the way. Here are a few potential challenges of pumping breast milk:

  • Pumping can sometimes cause sore nipples, breast discomfort, and even infection if the pump is not cleaned properly.

  • Pumps (especially poor-quality ones) may not stimulate the breast as well as breastfeeding (the sucking motion) and may not remove milk effectively, which may result in engorgement or a decrease in milk supply over time.

  • Not all babies accept a bottle easily, especially if it’s from you (the lactating mother). It may take some time and patience.

  • If you exclusively bottle-feed your pumped breast milk, it may be difficult to regulate your milk production. This is because your baby’s suckling and your milk production work together, and your body can respond to the amount your baby is feeding. For example, if your little one goes through a growth spurt, your breasts may produce more milk in response to this.

Of course, everyone is different, and you will soon find what works best for you and your little one. If you have any concerns or need any help with pumping, contact your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant for more advice.

Pumping at Work: Going Back to Work After Having a Baby

Are you returning to work after maternity leave? If so, and you’ve also decided to breastfeed, pump your milk, or both, it’s important that you feel comfortable and supported in your workplace throughout this process. Here are a few tips for navigating pumping at work:

  • Discuss with your supervisor where you can pump at work, where you can store the milk, and how often you will need to pump throughout the workday.

  • Ensure that you're provided with a clean, private, and relaxing area for you to pump—with a chair and table, and an outlet if you’re using an electric pump.

  • If your employer doesn’t provide this comfortable space for you, speak up, and let them know what is needed for you and other nursing women in the workplace.

  • You may wish to plan your pumping at work around your breaks and lunchtime.

  • Allow 20 to 30 minutes for pumping, or 10 to 15 if you’re using a double pump.

  • If you’re returning to work and you want to continue breastfeeding as well as pumping, try to breastfeed as frequently as possible when you’re at home, such as during nighttime feeds and over the weekend.

The Bottom Line

Breast pumping can be a great way for you to provide breast milk to your baby. It’s important to understand when to start, how to pump, and how often to pump, as well as the benefits pumping offers. Whether you decide to combine breastfeeding and pumping, or exclusively pump, you and your little one will soon fall into a feeding schedule that works best for you both. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant if you have any questions or concerns.

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.