When I first started pumping, like a lot of first time moms, I had no idea how often I was supposed to pump to get a good supply. After doing some research, the answer was actually pretty obvious: pump [approximately] as often as you would nurse.
A set pumping schedule isn’t mandatory to successfully pump, but it’s usually helpful. Personally, I love having a routine. Especially now with a baby, if I don’t schedule a task, I’ll never do it (never mind that I planned to organize our bedroom over a month ago and it’s still a mess 😏).
But if you are the type of person who can’t or don’t like to stick to a set schedule, that’s ok! It’s more important to pump the same number of times each day than it is to pump at the same times each day.
Below is an example schedule you can use as a guideline. If you are an undersupplier or a “goldilocks”, you may want to increase your number of pumps per day (ppd). On the other hand, if you are an oversupplier, you may be able to get away with less ppd.
♥ For most women, your milk supply doesn’t regulate until you are 12 weeks postpartum (wpp). Try not to get discouraged if you aren’t able to get ahead of what your baby is eating in these first few weeks. It can take time to get in a good rhythm, so don’t worry if you aren’t able to build up a freezer stash yet. Feed your baby, not your freezer. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with supplementing formula if you need to!
On the other hand, be careful about over pumping during the first twelve weeks. Being an oversupplier has its benefits, but it can also make you more prone to clogged ducts and mastitis.
♥ Just like direct nursing, you want to use the start time as your indicator. So if you are pumping every 3 hours and you start at 2pm, whether you pump until 2:20pm or 2:45pm, you’ll want to pump again at 5pm.
Again, start times don’t have to be exact. In this case, I would try to start pumping between 5pm and 5:30pm to maintain supply.
♥ Always always always pump until you are empty! If you leave milk in the breast, your body will think you don’t need it and it will produce less. Pump for an extra five minutes or so after you’re empty if you are trying to increase your supply.
If you’re not sure when you are empty because it seems like the milk just keeps coming, try playing around with the settings on your pump or a different flange size to help you empty faster. Sunflower lecithin can also be taken to thin your milk and help empty faster, but be sure to check with your doctor before taking any supplements.
It’s ok if you need to cut a pump session short every once in a while. If you can, just pump longer next time. Even if nothing is coming out, the extra time will signal your body that you need to make more milk.
♥ Middle-Of-The-Night (MOTN) pumps: As tempting as it is, I strongly encourage you NOT to drop your MOTN pump until your supply has regulated, even if your LO is sleeping through the night.
That being said, taking care of your own well-being is just as important as, if not more important than, providing breast milk. If waking up in the middle of the night to pump means you can’t function during the day, by all means do what’s best for you! I dropped my MOTN pump when I went back to work so I could get some extra sleep, but I was fortunate to have 12 weeks of maternity leave so my supply had regulated by then. If you need to drop it before your supply regulates, try to pump longer during your other sessions. Power pump for a week or so if you can.
♥ Once your supply has regulated, you may notice that your breasts no longer feel full as often. This is not necessarily an indication that you are losing your supply.
♥ If you go an extra hour or two between pump sessions, you may notice initially that you are producing more milk. Be cautious if you decide to do this every time. It can take a week or more for supply changes to take effect, so don’t be surprised if you suddenly notices a loss in ounces a week later, or even a month later.
♥ Apparently it can be common for some women to notice a drop in ounces around the 6mpp mark even though they haven’t changed their pumping routines or diets. If you’re worried about this, I suggest pumping an extra 5 minutes each session and eating oatmeal or lactation cookies. Make sure you are staying hydrated too!
♥ The best way to maintain or increase your supply is to PUMP. I know it’s hard when you have a little pumpling who needs your attention 24/7, or a job that’s not very supportive. I can’t imagine how moms with multiple children manage! But there’s no magic cure for a loss in supply. If you want to keep pumping, you have to find the time somehow, whether it means pumping in the middle of the night or leaning on your partner more.
♥ For many women, dropping to 3-4 ppd triggers your body to start weaning. Keep this in mind when considering dropping below 5 ppd.
I’ll be following up with a separate post about how best to drop a pump next month when I go through it myself. Stay tuned 🙂