New moms ask us all the time when to start pumping breast milk after birth to make it more convenient to go out or so that they can start getting a breastfeeding stash in storage. Is it ever too soon after the birth? We will answer your questions to make breast pumping easier and help you avoid common pitfalls.
Why Pump Breast Milk?
The breast pump is an essential tool for all new mothers. Even if you decide to breastfeed exclusively, you should have a high-quality mechanical pump in your home. You can use it to relieve engorgement so that you’re more comfortable. You may also like the idea of storing some milk in the fridge or freezer just in case it’s needed due to unexpected circumstances.
Understanding Supply and Demand
Your body doesn’t know the difference between a breast pump and your baby. If your breasts are drained of milk, your body gets the message that more milk is needed. This is a great thing if you’re struggling with milk production and want to pump between breastfeeding sessions to increase demand. It’s not so great if your body starts overproducing milk, leaving you painfully engorged.
That is why giving your body time to adjust to your baby’s natural demand before you start pumping is sometimes a good idea. Waiting to pump will allow you to see how your body responds to your baby’s natural feeding pattern, identifying any issues with supply before you introduce pumping.
Once your baby has mastered breastfeeding and you have settled into a routine, you can start exploring the breast pump. How soon you get to this point is personal, so don’t compare yourself to other nursing moms in your social circle. If you don’t feel ready to start that freezer stash, there’s no pressure as long as your baby is well-nourished and your milk supply is strong.
When to Start Pumping? Signs It’s Time to Start
Some mothers start breast pumping before they even leave the hospital with their babies. This often occurs when the baby is premature or experiences other health problems that limit breastfeeding capabilities. In those cases, pumping allows the baby to receive breast milk without attaching to the breast. Latch problems may also require a mother to pump and cup feed the baby until the little one overcomes breastfeeding setbacks.
Some mothers may start pumping right away if they aren’t completely committed to long-term breastfeeding. If you know that you want to breastfeed exclusively at least for the first month or two, you may not need to start pumping until one of the following scenarios make it necessary:
- Your breasts are milk-producing champs, and you need relief. Even without pumping, your breasts may become engorged. A breast pump will quickly relieve the pressure so that you’re more comfortable. Just keep in mind that pumping too much will lead to even more milk production. You can also use hand expression to relieve the pressure without draining your breasts.
- You’re returning to work or other adult activities. Once you start spending extended periods of time away from your baby, exclusive breastfeeding is no longer an option. That doesn’t mean that you have to give breastfeeding up, but you will need to get comfortable with the pump and learn milk storage methods. It’s best to start pumping and getting your baby adjusted to occasional bottle feeding before this change begins.
- You have multiples and need to boost your breast milk supply. The more babies you need to feed, the more milk you need to supply. Mothers with multiples may start pumping sooner than other mothers because they need to keep their supply strong. Some mothers may also want to start supplementing with bottles so that other members of the family can help with feedings. That’s a personal decision that every mother must make, but a pump can help boost supply to ensure all babies are well fed.
- Your baby is comfortable breastfeeding and you want to start building a freezer stash. A stash gives you comfort that breast milk is always available when your baby needs it. Life doesn’t give you warnings when emergencies will arise, so it helps to have an emergency stash waiting to back you up as needed.
- Your baby’s demand for milk is lessening. There are many reasons that your baby may demand less milk at times, but you might not want your body to get the message to slow down just yet. You may have a sleepy baby who wants to rest more than feed for a few days. Maybe you have a sick baby who is feeding less due to how they feel or medication. Whatever is causing the slowdown, your pump can pick up the slack so that your supply remains strong.
Other life changes may require you to start pumping even if you breastfeed exclusively. For instance, many women get pregnant while breastfeeding and find that hormones cause slowdowns in milk production. Pumping may help give that a boost regardless of everything else happening inside your body.
Nipple confusion occurs when babies are offered natural and synthetic nipples. Some babies will start to prefer one over the other. Other babies may get confused about how to latch and express milk from one or both nipples, leading to frustration and a lot of fussing. That is another reason that many professionals recommend waiting at least two or three weeks after birth to introduce a bottle.
You may decide that you want your partner or another caregiver to share in the feeding responsibilities. It’s still important to give your baby a few weeks to adjust to breastfeeding before you introduce the bottle. This increases the chances that your baby will want to continue breastfeeding, which is essential to keeping your breast milk supply strong.
A delay in bottle feeding often means a delay in pumping as well. Even if you want to start building a breast milk stash so that there’s always something to fill a bottle later, it’s a good idea to give your baby and you a week or two to adjust to breastfeeding.
Nipple confusion may also happen when pacifiers are offered too soon because they’re also man-made nipples. It’s also not good from the supply-and-demand standpoint if your baby is pacified rather than fed on demand. If that little tummy is ready for nourishment, your breasts need to know that there is demand. That is how your body determines how much milk you might need tomorrow.
Don’t Stress Over the Pump
The breast pump should feel like a friend that gives you no anxiety. If your breasts get a little too full and your baby is sleeping peacefully, it can relieve the pressure quickly. When your baby catches a cold and doesn’t want to feed as often as normal, you can send the “produce milk” signals through the pump instead. If you just can’t seem to produce enough milk to keep your baby happy, a pumping schedule could increase your supply within days.
If you’re not sure whether now is the time to start pumping, think about the reasons that you want to pump. If you’re returning to work, then it makes sense to start building your freezer stash and adjusting to the pump about three weeks before your return date. If you just feel like you’re supposed to be pumping like everyone else, then you may not need to pump at all. Your needs are what matters, so don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
- How Often Should I Pump Breast Milk? What Breastfeeding Moms Want to Know
- Breast Pumping at Work – Your Rights, Schedule & Tips for Working Moms
- Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk: Why, How and Tips for Success
- Breast Milk Stash: What it is, Why You Want One and How to Do it