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When to Start Pumping: A Guide for New Moms

When to Start Pumping: A Guide for New Moms

Dear new mama, wondering when to start pumping? The answer is — it depends on your baby and your schedule, but usually around 4-6 weeks.

Written By
Nicole Kainz

Nicole Kainz

August 3, 2022

If you are a breastfeeding mother, you may be looking at your brand new breast pump, wondering, “when should I start pumping?” The answer to this question is different for everyone.

Some women decide to pump soon after birth, while others may rarely use a pump — if ever.

Understanding the reasons for pumping and the benefits may help decide when is the right time for you. Knowing when and how to pump can also help you work through any uncertainty around pumping.

To help put your mind at ease, here is a guide for new moms on everything you need to know about when and how to start pumping.

What Are Reasons To Start Pumping?

There is no one right reason to start pumping. Like most experiences in motherhood, pumping looks differently for everyone. Some people may start to increase their supply, while others may pump because they are separated from their babies.

Here are a few reasons why women may decide to begin pumping.

Encourage Milk Supply

If you are one of the many women who have trouble producing enough milk, one way to increase your supply is by pumping. The amount of milk your breast produces is based on supply and demand. The more milk that is expressed from the breast, the more milk the breast will make.

Over time, your body will learn your baby’s needs and continue making enough milk for the demand. In fact, it has been shown that pumping after breastfeeding to remove any residual milk can increase milk volume by 15 to 40%.

Unable To Breastfeed From Birth

Some mothers are unable to breastfeed immediately after birth. This may be due to the baby being premature or having special medical needs. If you find yourself unable to breastfeed at birth, it is essential to start pumping early. Research has shown that mothers who pump within an hour of giving birth produce more milk at three weeks postpartum.

There are many benefits of breastmilk for a baby in the NICU. For one, the baby may have better short and long-term health benefits when consuming breastmilk.

Breastmilk has also been shown to support brain development and protect against infections.

Returning To Work or Leaving the House Without the Baby

Many parents leave their babies with a family member, babysitter, or at daycare at some point. If you plan on leaving your baby at all—for a few hours or you’re going back to work—it’s good to have a supply of milk on hand.

When Should I Start Pumping?

If you are experiencing supply issues or are unable to nurse at birth, it is best to start as soon as possible. The sooner you start pumping, the better your chances of establishing a solid supply of breastmilk

If your main goal of pumping is to have milk on hand for times when you are not with your baby, you can wait a few weeks to let your milk supply establish itself. If you pump too early, your breasts may begin to overproduce milk. Three to four weeks postpartum is generally thought to be an appropriate time to start pumping.

What Are the Benefits of Pumping?

Pumping may not be necessary for everyone. Some mothers are stay-at-home moms, some moms choose only to leave the house between feedings – if that works for you and your family, great! Either way, there are benefits to pumping that you may not have considered.

Build up Stockpile of Milk

Whether you are a working mom or with your baby 100% of the time, having a stockpile of milk can bring peace of mind. After all, life happens.

If there is an unforeseen moment when you may need to be away from your baby, it will be comforting to know there is breastmilk in the freezer for them.

Supplemental Feedings

Your milk supply can dip from time to time. This can occur during different periods in your menstrual cycle, times of high stress, or when taking certain medications. Pumping allows you to have a supply of milk on hand to offer your baby if they need a little more milk between feedings.

Getting Baby Comfortable with a Bottle

Many breastfed babies will need to eat from a bottle at some point. Help them get used to the bottle before they need it. If you are not experiencing any supply issues, try introducing a bottle to your baby once your milk supply is established. Anytime after the four-week mark is generally recommended.

Milk Donation

Another benefit to pumping is you can donate your breastmilk milk banks. These milk banks will take donated milk, pasteurize it, and provide it to hospitals for preterm babies and babies with medical needs. Some women will pump excess milk and donate it to a family or friend who cannot meet the demands of their breastfed baby.

When Is the Best Time To Pump?

While you can pump at any time during the day, the mornings are the best time to fit in a pumping session. Usually, breasts tend to be the fullest first thing in the morning, especially if your baby is sleeping longer stretches at night. You can pump first thing in the morning before your baby wakes.

You can also pump throughout the day. Try to pump about an hour before your little one needs to breastfeed, or an hour after. Another option is to pump on one breast while the baby is feeding on the other breast. The letdown reflex—when milk is ready to flow—usually happens to both breasts at the same time. Pumping when your baby is feeding may help the milk flow easier.

Try different times to find out when pumping works best for you.

The Ultimate Breastfeeding & Pumping Guide

How Often Should You Pump?

When it comes to pumping, it’s all about your individual needs. If you are pumping to build up your supply to go back to work, you will likely need to pump more than someone who is only pumping to have a small stockpile of milk in the event they leave the house without their baby.

If you are back to work, you may want to pump on the same schedule your baby would usually feed to keep up your supply. This is usually every three hours. Your breasts will usually give you a sign they are ready to release milk. They may get more firm, or you may feel a letdown sensation.

Is the Amount of Milk You Can Pump a Good Indicator of Your Milk Supply?

There is no pump available that is as efficient as your baby to get milk out of the breast. Do not be discouraged if you are not pumping as much milk as you were hoping to. You may need to tweak the settings on your pump or try other tricks to help get more milk while pumping. A qualified lactation consultant may provide more advice on how to have more efficient pumping sessions.

How Do You Use A Pump?

If you’re new to pumping, all the machinery can look a little daunting. How can one know where to put everything with all of their tubes and parts? The best thing you can do before you get started is read the directions of your particular pump. They may be slightly different in how they are used.

The next thing you will want to do is wash all of the parts that come in contact with your body or milk. Washing your pump after every use is extremely important. You will want to keep your hands and pump as clean as possible to not contaminate your milk.

Get Comfortable

Before you even turn your breast pump on, get comfortable. Sit in a supportive chair, listen to a meditation, or music you like, and relax. Pumping can feel unnatural, especially in the beginning. Getting yourself comfortable and relaxed can help your milk flow more easily.

Encourage Let Down

Once you are comfortable, you may need to encourage your letdown reflex. The letdown reflex is caused by oxytocin. Oxytocin is made more quickly than prolactin—the hormone that stimulates milk production.

When oxytocin is produced, the milk already in your breast is released. This gives your baby—or pump—milk quicker, while more milk is being produced.

You can also stimulate the letdown reflex. Simply watching a movie of them or even thinking about your baby may help the letdown reflex.

Use the Correct Size Breast Shield

When you purchase your breast pump, it will have a standard size breast shield—the part of the pump that your breast fits into. The standard size just means it fits most women, but certainly not all. You may need to purchase a smaller or larger breast shield from the company of your breast pump.

To determine what size breast shield you need, you will need to measure the diameter—the length straight across the middle—of your nipple. Once you have that measurement, look at the company’s breast shield sizing to determine which one will best suit your needs.

Pro Tip: Take this measurement after your baby is born. Your nipple size can change during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so it is best to measure them closer to when you need to use your pump.

Use the Letdown Function

Many breast pumps have a letdown function. This function will pump at a much quicker pace than the expression function. Just as your baby will change their sucking frequency during letdown and expression, the pump will as well. Change the pump function from letdown to expression once you notice your milk flowing from your breasts. The expression function will have a slower rhythm to the suction.

Use Appropriate Suction

When it comes to suction, more is not always better. Using a breast pump should not be uncomfortable. You should find the suction power that most closely resembles your baby’s. If the suction is too high, it can inhibit milk flow by squeezing the breast too much.

How Do You Store Your Breastmilk?

Once you have finished pumping, it is essential to store your breastmilk appropriately. Properly storing your breastmilk may reduce the chances of the milk being contaminated or spoiling.

  • Countertop (less than 77℉) — Breastmilk can sit out on the countertop for up to four directly after pumping. If it has been frozen and then thawed, it can sit on the counter for up to two hours.
  • Refrigerator (40℉) — If you plan to use the expressed breastmilk within four days, it can be refrigerated. If the breastmilk has been frozen and thawed, it can stay in the refrigerator for one day.
  • Freezer (0℉ or colder) — Breastmilk can be stored in the freezer for up to 12 months, but up to six months is best. Once breastmilk is thawed, it should never be put back in the freezer.
  • Leftover from a feeding — If your baby did not finish their bottle of breastmilk, it should be used within two hours.


The decision to start pumping is personal for each mother. Depending on your needs, you may decide to pump soon after birth or wait until your milk has been released on its own.

Once you have decided when, or if, you will begin pumping, find a schedule that works for you and your needs. Many women find pumping first thing in the morning, when their breasts are the fullest is a good time to pump.

You may need to pump more often if you are trying to build a larger milk stockpile.

Once you have a plan on when you will start pumping, make sure to set yourself up for success. Get comfortable, encourage letdown, and make sure your pump fits your breasts.

Once you have all of that hard-earned breastmilk, make sure you are storing it properly.

Many parts of motherhood may come naturally, but pumping is not always one of them for many women. Expectful is here to help you ease into pumping with tips and tricks that can help make it a little more comfortable.

Nicole Kainz
Nicole Kainz
Perinatal Writer