what to expect when pumping

What To Expect When Pumping

by Bonne Dunham, IBCLC

Pumping Milk…Am I Doing It Right?

First of all, there are A LOT of right ways to do it! Pumping is a learned activity that gets easier with time and practice. At first, most women are perplexed about ‘How much milk am I supposed to be able to express?’ Whether you are pumping to have milk for the occasional outing, pumping while at work, or perhaps exclusively pumping, it’s good to know what to expect. So let’s unpack some of these questions.


How much milk?

Most women who have never pumped might imagine that the milk just keeps flowing and you will have to stop pumping once the bottles are full. That is an unrealistic expectation and one that will likely leave you feeling like you have failed at this pumping thing.


Want some numbers first?  

  • Average pumping time: 15-20 minutes
  • How much milk can you express: .5 ounces to 4 ounces (combined sides). You may have heard that some moms can express 4-8 ounces, and it’s true, but that is a lot and more than average!
  • How much milk do babies drink: from 1 month to 7 months babies drink an average of 25-35 ounces a day, or 1-5 ounces per feed. It’s important to realize that the milk intake (nutritional demand) of the baby really doesn’t increase after 3 to 6 months of age.


Breastfeeding on demand, but wanting the occasional bottle for a brief outing?  The best time to harvest a bottle of milk for your baby is to wait at least 30-60 minutes after one of your morning feeds. This is the time when most moms will have their greatest milk supply. But please know, it is not unusual for the mother who is breastfeeding on demand to only be able to express .5 – 2 ounces per pump (not per breast), so you may need to pump a couple of times to get yourself that bottle you are looking for.


Exclusively pumping, are you? To protect your supply and meet the nutritional demands of your growing baby, you will want to pump at least 8 times a day.  Exclusive pumping works well for many women; but, pumps generally don’t drain a breast as efficiently as babies do. So, if you find that you are not expressing enough milk for your baby, you may want to consider adding a few other pumping sessions to your day to give you a boost.


Pumping to increase milk supply? Most women at some point during their breastfeeding journey will notice a dip in their milk supply. It can be very helpful to get extra stimulation and complete drainage of the breast by double pumping (both breasts at the same time) directly after a breastfeeding session. Pumping even 5-7 minutes can be helpful. This sends a strong message to the body’s hormone center to increase the hormones that help increase the milk supply.


Pumping tip: Get your hands involved with your pumping! Massage your breasts for a few minutes before pumping to wake up and warm up the breasts. Consider purchasing a hands-free nursing bra and do some breast compressions to maximize your output while pumping. The more milk you get out, the more your body makes!


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