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I'm Breastfeeding. When Should I Use a Breast Pump?

Posted on October 01 2022

Baby taking a bottle with formula

The best time to breastfeed is whenever your baby wants to, especially at first. But most breastfeeding moms use a breast pump at some time. Let's look at a few different situations that call for a breast pump, and how you can best use it to help you and your baby. 

To Store Milk

There are lots of reasons it's handy to have a supply of breast milk in your freezer, like returning to work, or going out for the evening. Whether you want milk on hand so your partner can take over a feeding or donate some to a milk bank, here are a few ways to schedule pumping so you have a good store. 

  • In the morning. The hormones that encourage milk production are most abundant in the morning so it may be worth it to wake up before your baby to capture some of that bounty. Between the hours of 1 AM and 6 AM are the most productive, so you'll have to balance your need for sleep against the need for extra milk. Try to make sure you have at least one to two hours between pumping and breastfeeding, so your breasts have a chance to replenish the milk. 
  • Between feedings. Try to give yourself about two hours after a feeding and an hour before the next feeding. 
  • Set a schedule. If you'll be returning to work and have a set schedule you'll be following, it's a good idea to start pumping on that schedule a few weeks before going back. This will get your breasts accustomed to producing milk at those times, and give you time to get used to your pump. Like breastfeeding, pumping milk takes some time to get used to, so allow yourself time to adjust to it without pressure. There are other steps you can take to make pumping at work easier on yourself, too.

To Increase Milk Supply

Undersupply can be exhausting and frustrating for both mom and baby. Try some techniques for increasing your milk production. Here are some ways you can use your breast pump.

  • Pump after every daytime feed. You may not get much milk, or maybe not any at all. But pumping alerts your breasts that they need to make more milk. Think of it like placing an order for more milk tomorrow. 
  • Cluster pump. When babies are going through a growth spurt, they will do something called "cluster feeding" where they nurse frequently outside their regular schedule. You can use your breast pump to simulate this kind of demand. Pump for ten minutes, then take a break for ten minutes. Continue for an hour. Repeat this as often as you can during the day. It's a time commitment, but within a week you should see a noticeable increase in your milk supply.
  • Be aware of growth spurts. When your baby is going through a growth spurt it may feel like all you're doing is breastfeeding. Moms sometimes worry that this means that they're not making enough milk anymore. This is a perfectly normal example of "cluster feeding" referred to above. Get comfy and expect to spend a lot of time nursing. Don't worry about increasing your supply right now; your baby is doing just that with a frequent nursing schedule. You can expect to see growth spurts between two and six weeks old, around three months, and again at six months. 

Premature Baby

A preemie may not be strong enough yet to nurse, but that doesn't mean you have to give up on breastfeeding! Pumping is a great way to establish a milk supply for when your baby is big enough to nurse, and the milk you produce in the meantime is a wonderful gift.

  • Pump soon after birth. Try to start within six hours of giving birth. This takes advantage of all the hormonal activity in your body to start milk production. You won't produce milk yet, but a small amount of the yellowish colostrum that comes before milk. That's fine; colostrum is very good for your baby, and producing it is the first step of establishing a milk supply.
  • Pump frequently. You want to mimic the frequent feeding schedule of a newborn, so pump both breasts eight to ten times a day. Remember the high levels of hormones in the morning that help your breasts produce milk? You'll want to take advantage of those hormones by scheduling two of those pumping sessions between the hours of 1 AM and 6 AM.   
  • Set a goal, but don't rush. A good goal is to eventually produce 25 to 35 ounces a day. Don't pressure yourself, though. As long as your supply is increasing, however little, you're on the right track. Once your milk supply is established, try not to go more than five hours between feedings so you can maintain it. 

Breastfeeding is a special journey you take with your baby. Don't be afraid to use a good breast pump to help you on your way.