All your supply and timeline questions answered

Quick notes:

  • Pumping can help regulate your supply and ensure your baby has steadier access to breastmilk even when mom is away.

  • If you plan on returning to work from a traditional six to 12-week maternity leave, La Leche League recommends waiting until the four-week mark to begin pumping.

  • If you’re returning to a 40-50 hour a week job, for example, you may need to pump a different amount of milk than a stay at home mom.

When you’re a new mom or a mom to be, the thought of breastfeeding and pumping can be overwhelming. Even if you’re planning on exclusively breastfeeding and nursing your new little one, there will still be times a bottle can come in handy.

If you’re returning to work or just away from your baby for a few hours, a breast pump will become one of your most trusted companions throughout your breastfeeding journey.

Here’s a round-up of everything you need to know about how to get started.

When should you start pumping?

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When it comes to the question of when to start pumping breastmilk, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer for every woman. A lot of the timeline will be depended on your situation. If you’re returning to a 40-50 hour a week job, for example, you may need to pump a different amount of milk than a stay at home mom.

This is where the start time may vary. If you plan on returning to work from a traditional six to 12-week maternity leave, La Leche League recommends waiting until the four-week mark to begin pumping.

By four weeks the breastfeeding relationship will be much more established. Your supply will start to regulate and you and your baby will start to become more proficient.

At this point, you can begin pumping for a few minutes on each breast whenever you feel most engorged, after a feeding, or if your baby begins to sleep longer stretches. The first couple of weeks of pumping are just to start storing the extra supply or to have some bottles on hand for other caregivers.

If you need to start sooner than four weeks, start slowly and nurse as often as you can otherwise.

How much can you expect to pump?

When it comes to pumping those first few weeks, don’t worry if you’re not pumping five ounces on each side. Remember that your baby gets more from you than you will from a pump so it’s no indication how much they are consuming.

Also, keep in mind that a newborn baby has a really tiny tummy. If you start out pumping and get a couple of ounces, this is completely normal. A couple of ounces a day will still help you to build a supply for when you go back to work.

When you first start building a stash, try pumping in the early mornings if your baby sleeps a long stretch. Most women see bigger outputs in the morning. If you can have a couple of week’s worth of milk by the time you go back, you’ll have a nice cushion to work with in case you need to use it.

When you go back to work, you’ll probably want to start out with three 20-minute pump sessions a day if you can. This will help keep your supply up and help you replace what your baby drank that day. Remember that the more you empty, the more you’ll make.

If you’re not fully pumping enough to replace what they are taking while at work, don’t stress. Pumping in the morning before your baby gets up or pumping right before you go to bed can also help you fill in any gaps or build a supply.

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