How long should I pump per session? How often and long at work? Ahhh!!! Moms have a lot of questions about how long you should pump.
Think of breast pumps as the companion tool for your breasts. You may decide that exclusive breastfeeding is best for your baby, but that doesn’t eliminate the need for a pump. Most women find that pumping is worthwhile or essential at least occasionally. The question is when you should use your pump and how long you should pump each time.
Like all topics related to breastfeeding, this is a personal decision. Your most successful breastfeeding strategy may look different from another mother’s routine, and that’s okay. We can give you some general advice that helps you determine the length of your pumping sessions, but there’s no better advice than experience.
Start with general suggestions and then adjust as you see how your baby responds and how the pumping routine meets your needs. The following information will help you understand where to start and how to get what you need from pumping.
The Risks of Pumping Too Much
Breastfeeding is a supply-and-demand business. Pumping is an excellent way to increase the demand for milk because your body can’t tell the difference between a baby sucking at the breast for more nourishment and a pump demanding milk. That’s why breasts and pumps work well together to feed babies the most nutritious food in the world, but there is such thing as too much of a good thing in this case.
If you increase demand for milk too much, your body may produce more milk than you baby can reasonably consume and you can have an oversupply. Your breasts will start to fill up quickly in that case, putting you at great risk of engorgement, blocked milk ducts and other complications. You may also notice that your baby is choking as your milk lets down and flows out too quickly for comfort.
You may assume that you need as much milk as possible to grow your freezer stash, but that’s not necessarily true. You may end up with far more stored milk than your baby can ever consume, which may lead to waste in the future. If you overfeed your baby because you have a lot of excess milk on hand, your little one may suffer from stomach upset and other uncomfortable side effects of eating too much.
How Long Should You Pump in One Sitting?
The solution is to keep your frequency and length of pumping reasonable. The definition of reasonable depends on a variety of personal factors, including your primary reason for pumping. What do you want to gain from the experience?
That will ultimately help you decide how long you should pump, so let’s look at some of the most common reasons women pump as a companion to breastfeeding today. The information provided here is generalized, but you should apply personal knowledge of your body, your baby and your lifestyle when determining how long you pump.
When First Starting?
Regardless of your reasons for pumping, you may not get as much milk out of your breasts as expected when first starting. That’s especially true if you’re struggling with milk production and want to boost demand to increase supply.
Your general goal is to empty both breasts immediately after a breastfeeding session or between feeding sessions. That may mean 10-20 minutes of pumping for some women while others will pump for 30 minutes or even longer. When pumping between breastfeeding sessions, make sure that you don’t pump so much that it leaves little for your baby to enjoy at your next breastfeeding session.
How Long Should I Pump for at Work?
Your work pumping sessions are designed to mimic the breastfeeding sessions that your baby would enjoy if you were at home around the clock. In general, that may mean pumping for the same length of time as your average breastfeeding session. You may find that you can pump your breasts empty a bit faster than your baby can empty both breasts, which will reduce the amount of time that you spend pumping at work.
Remember, your goal is to empty both breasts so that you don’t experience painful engorgement and your body receives the message that milk is in high demand. When starting out, assume that the length of a pumping session will mimic the length of a breastfeeding session. Adjust as you see how quickly your pump works.
The same goes for determining how often to pump. Try to pump on the same schedule that you breastfeed at home. For example, if your baby usually breastfeeds every three hours, try to pump every three hours while away from your baby.
How Long Should I Pump for to Maintain Breast Milk Supply?
If your baby doesn’t completely empty both breasts at each breastfeeding session, you can help stimulate greater supply or maintain a strong supply by pumping immediately after each breastfeeding session. The length of each session will depend on how much milk your baby left in the breast, so pay attention to how your breasts feel and how much milk is coming out as you pump.
If you’re struggling with milk supply, you may empty both breasts with 5-10 minutes of pumping following a breastfeeding session. As your body starts to produce more milk, you may need to extend the length of your pumping session. Use that extra milk to start a freezer stash, but your baby may also start to feed longer once the milk is more plentiful.
How Long Should I Pump to Create a Freezer Stash?
If you’re creating a small freezer stash to ensure your baby is covered if an emergency arises, then you don’t need to pump a lot of extra milk. Collecting a bit of extra milk for five or 10 minutes after some breastfeeding sessions may work.
You may need to pump a bit longer and with more regularity if you need to use your freezer stash for regular supplementation. Try to assess the number of breastfeeding sessions that you need to cover with your stash and create a pumping schedule that will deliver enough milk to cover that need and perhaps a bit more as a safety net.
For instance, assume you need to supplement for two breastfeeding sessions each day. Add two full pumping sessions into your daily routine will keep your demand for milk strong while delivering what your baby needs for nourishment.
Many moms take advantage of early morning milk supply to build their freezer stash. That’s when breast milk is usually most plentiful, making it easy to slip out a few extra ounces without impacting your baby’s satiety while breastfeeding.
How Long Does it Take to Pump to Relieve Engorgement?
If your only pumping goal is to relieve swollen, tight breasts engorged with milk, expressing for even a few minutes can help. Some women find that frequently releasing some milk by hand expression is enough. Others need 10 minutes or more to truly relieve the pain and tension.
Start with a short pumping session before your breasts become overly full. If engorgement becomes a routine issue, you may need to determine if there are underlying feeding problems. You may need to feed your baby from one breast while you use a pump to empty the second breast at each breastfeeding session. That’s a good way to mimic your baby emptying both breasts so that you don’t become engorged and your demand for milk stays high.
How Long Should I Pump for a Temporary Interruption to Breastfeeding Schedule?
If are away from your baby or your breastfeeding routine is interrupted temporarily, mimic a regular breastfeeding session with your pump. You may need short pumping sessions when your baby just isn’t feeding as long as usual due to illness. Or you may need to longer pumping sessions to take the place of missed breastfeeding sessions if you’re away from home at times. Vary your pumping times according to your baby’s normal breastfeeding patterns.
Don’t get overly technical when determining who long you pump. Think about what you want to accomplish with pumping and then come up with a plan. You can always alter the plan once you see how well it works for you and your baby.