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Breastfeeding vs. Pumping: Which One When?

Posted on February 01 2018


When do I Breastfeed and when do I Pump?

You know you want to breastfeed, but what about pumping? Do you really need a pump? When should you use a pump? What are some reasons you might need to pump?

If you're new to the world of breastfeeding, these are just a few of the many questions you might have when it comes to breastfeeding versus pumping. Understanding when the breast is best and when pumping is right will help you to be better prepared for life's complications.

When to Breastfeed

Breastfeeding can be one of the greatest bonding experiences you can have with your child. The skin-to-skin contact, those little eyes seeking out your gaze, and the opportunity for you to sit down and pause your busy day to cuddle your little one all combine to make it extremely beneficial for both you and your baby. Plus, there's no preparation needed- the milk is already ready to go, at the perfect temperature, so why not use it?

In short, you should. You should breastfeed whenever it's comfortable and convenient for you and your baby. Don't overthink a schedule and feed baby whenever they show signs of hunger, but expect newborns to need a feeding 10 to 12 times a day.  When things are calm, when you're healthy, and when you're with your child, it's the best way to ensure you're both getting what you need. 

But what about when circumstances are less than ideal? What if you are a mom going back to work? Here are a few times you might want to consider pumping.

When to Pump. When not to Pump.

  • Pump in the morning.  Studies show that prolactin is at higher levels at night and into the early morning so pump away.
  • When you're apart. This is probably the most common reason moms pump- they have to get back to work but they still want all the wonderful nutritional benefits for their baby that breast milk provides, and they want to continue that bonding with their baby when they get home in the evenings, so they want to keep their milk supply up. Pumping throughout the work day ensures that baby has all the food he or she needs, and it especially ensures that mom's milk supply keeps flowing and stays abundant.
  • Speaking of milk supply... Many moms find that baby's appetite is moving faster than their milk supply can keep up, so they add additional pumping sessions between feedings to stimulate greater milk production. These pumping sessions may not result in large quantities of breast milk, but they can help tell your body that it's time to amp up the supply.  Try to pump within the first hour after breastfeeding. 
  • On the other hand... Sometimes moms have the opposite problem: they find that their body is producing more milk than the baby can consume, which can lead to uncomfortable engorgement and even clogged milk ducts. In this case, pumping just until the pressure is relieved can ease discomfort without stimulating your body to produce more milk (which would only exacerbate the problem). So don't do that.  Pump till the 'tank is empty'.  
  • And speaking of clogged milk ducts... Clogged milk ducts are hard, tender lumps that occur when your breast doesn't completely empty of milk after a feeding or after you pump. Obviously, this can happen because your baby isn't finishing his or her meal, or can even be caused by illness or stress blocking the release of oxytocin.  More frequent feeding or pumping can reduce the chances of clogged milk ducts, but not always. If you notice one, and you're able to nurse, see if baby can help release it; otherwise, you may need to pump to relieve the pressure. As you nurse or pump, apply a warm compress (like a washcloth dampened with warm water) and massage the area until the clog releases. Don't be concerned if it takes a few sessions- a warm shower can also help.
  • When you're on medication that's not good for baby. Just like when you were pregnant, as a nursing mother, you really are eating for two- most of what you consume enters into your breast milk in some form, so you have to be cautious about what you put in your mouth. There may be times when you must temporarily take medication that can transfer into your breast milk and be dangerous for your baby, so you'll have to stop nursing for a time until you are healed enough to stop taking the medication. Not only can you pump ahead of time and store your breast milk to help feed your baby while you're on the medication, but if you want to continue breastfeeding once you've finished the medication, pumping can ensure that your milk production stays up. Unfortunately, this "tainted" milk will have to be tossed in what's popularly called a "pump and dump." This is when you pump your breast milk and "dump" it down the drain. It's hard to watch that hard-earned milk get dumped, but it'll be worth it when you and your baby are able to pick up nursing again.
  • When nursing is inconvenient. Anyone who's ever traveled cross-country with a baby knows what a hassle it can be to have to stop to change diapers- add in stopping to take the baby out of the car seat to breastfeed and you'll start to feel like you'll never reach your destination! Pumping and having a few bottles prepared ahead of time will keep you rolling and keep baby happy. Many babies also find it difficult to focus on nursing in noisy, busy places, so if you think you'll be in a situation that could prove challenging to nursing, having some bottles for your baby might be handy.

Read more tips here on breastfeeding on a plane.


  • When you want to give Dad an opportunity to feed. Believe it or not, many dads envy that special time that mom gets with baby every feeding (although they might change their minds if they had to experience a clogged milk duct or engorgement!) This is an opportunity for dad to help the breastfeeding mom.  If you want to let Dad in on the action, pumping can be a great way to let him serve dinner to your little one and allow him to experience a taste of the closeness with baby that you enjoy as a nursing mother.

Take a look at our nursing and pumping friendly clothes for play or work to help make switching between breastfeeding and pumping easier.