Pump Smart: Choosing When to Pump

One of the best ways to help your body increase its milk production is to provide extra stimulation by pumping. No, you do not need to pump every single time you breastfeed (BF), but know that whatever bit of pumping you can do will help!

When should you pump? Unlike what some parenting books advocate, I don’t think there is a set way to go about this, because when you pump may vary depending on your baby’s intake at the breast on a given day, or on your goals as baby’s reliance on breast milk changes over time. But knowing the different possible timings may help you to pump more effectively.  Here are some of them:

Pumping the Side Offered:
This can occur before feeding or after feeding, with each having different advantages. Doing a quick pump beforehand (e.g., when you know baby will be waking up and feeding soon) helps to remove part of the first portion of breast milk which tends to be more ‘watery’ in composition, as it is meant to quench baby’s thirst. As a result, your baby will be feeding on the more calorific or ‘fatty’ portion of the breast milk. Pumping first is often quicker too, as it tends to be easier to pump out milk from a fuller breast at the beginning. In addition, since baby’s suck will be more effective than any pump, this may allow baby to better stimulate and pull more out of the breast as a result (instead of getting full on mostly the first portion of the breast milk). The length of pump time can be as short as 5-10 minutes, or longer depending on how much you want to pull off.
Pumping immediately afterwards will remove any breast milk not taken in by the baby. If you choose to do so, often 5-10 minutes’ on a side will be enough to adequately stimulate the breast. However, in the same amount of pump time, you will probably not get as much volume as pumping beforehand.

Pumping the Side Not Offered:
This is helpful when baby only needs to feed on one side in a BF session, as may be the case for a young infant. During this time, it really helps to pump out the other side during at least some of the BF sessions, as this will tell your body to keep up the milk production levels in both breasts. You can choose to pump before baby feeds, after the BF session, or even during the BF session while baby is latched on the other side. Some say pumping during the BF session is quite effective. I can see how this might be true, as often the ‘let down’ reflex happens simultaneously in both breasts. Personally, however, I have found this logistically difficult to do. But it may work for you!

Adding in a Full Pump Session (Pumping Both Sides):
This can happen at some point during the day and/or night, especially when baby begins to sleep longer stretches at night. Since you will be removing milk from both breasts, schedule this session when you know baby will not get up for  at least another 2-3 hours, as this will give your body time to make enough breast milk for baby’s next feed. You can pump out one side at a time or pump out both sides at the same time. Pumping both sides at the same time may be more effective in stimulating greater milk production, and is faster too!

Feel free to use more than one timing method in a day. No matter what you choose though, it is most important to be consistent. Pumping regularly will tell your body to keep up its milk production levels and allow you to more quickly build up your frozen expressed milk supply. The advice above is given in relation to using an electric pump, but some of this will also apply to other pump methods.  I started pumping soon after my baby was born, even though she was fed ‘on demand’ at the breast. I found that this helped my milk production tremendously, though baby still fed voraciously during growth spurts!

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