While many of us moms are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, it is often unclear when we should start pumping.
In short, this answer is that there is no ‘right’ time to start. It’s different for each family and there are several factors to consider.
Pumping—whether it is with an electric pump, manual pump, or via hand expression—is an effective way to maintain supply in times when a baby is not able to do so.
Scroll below, as BSN, RN, IBCLC and founder of Nestled, Alison Ahern, tackles the common cases and questions surrounding pumping.
What if I’m separated from my baby?
There may be times during the first few weeks, or even months after giving birth, where you may be separated from your baby. There are a few situations in which this might happen:
- Baby is transferred to NICU immediately or shortly after birth
- Baby is hospitalized for illness
- You may have a medical appointment
- You could be returning back to work
- There are other needs you need to attend (such as, for your other children).
Even when you’re separated from your baby, it’s a good idea to maintain your pumping schedule. This reminds your body that your baby is eating at that time (in this case, from a bottle you’ve pre-prepared) and that your body needs to continue making milk.
What if I have clogged ducts?
Even if you are exclusively breastfeeding or using a combination of breast and bottle feeding, sometimes a clogged duct may appear. This can require the short term addition of some extra pumps to fully empty a duct.
What kind of support can I receive?
Some families choose to share feeding duties among the baby’s caretakers. Whenever a non-birthing parent or support person is feeding the baby, remember to pump at the same time to maintain milk supply.
It can be beneficial to have a conversation prior to your baby being born with your support about when you would like to begin sharing feeding duties, whether that is day one or at a later date.
What if my baby has a health issue?
If your baby is hospitalized for a health issue, sometimes they may need to feed by other means—such as a feeding tube—or they may not eat at all.
Some babies have a hard time showing hunger cues when they aren’t feeling well. If this happens, it is important to begin pumping as soon as possible to maintain your milk supply.
This can happen at varying times on your time breastfeeding journey, but it is especially crucial in the first few weeks to begin pumping if the baby cannot eat in the beginning of life.
Most babies can receive milk by different methods even when experiencing a health issue. Maintaining milk supply, regardless of the method, is key.
Should I build an emergency milk stash?
While a freezer stash is not always necessary, if you’d like to have a reserve in your fridge it is okay to add a pumping session (or two) into your day and store the amount you’d like to have on hand.
How to find your rhythm
Some new parents pump from day one and some never end up pumping at all. How you would like to maximize your milk volumes is entirely your choice and based on feeding goals that will work best for your family.
Should I wait four weeks postpartum to pump?
If breastfeeding is well-established shortly after birth, it is definitely okay to wait 4 weeks to pump. Signs that breastfeeding is well-established include:
- Your baby is feeding at least 8-14 times in 24 hours
- They are producing an adequate amount of diapers for their age
- They are meeting growth and developmental milestones
- You don’t feel significant discomfort when breastfeeding
Need more advice?
- Consult a lactation consultant, WIC peer counselor, or your local hospital breastfeeding support. These are great ways to develop pumping and feeding goals for you and your family.
- Discuss your baby’s growth with your pediatrician
- Attend a breastfeeding or pumping class
- Share your experience with friends who have pumped for their baby
Alison Ahern, BSN, RN, IBCLC is the founder of Nestled, LLC, a private practice offering new families individualized assistance to meet their feeding and lactation goals. As a Villanova University grad and native Philadelphian, she has used her experiences as a nurse to shape the values of her practice and support families through the transition into parenthood both locally and beyond. Follow her on Instagram at @Nestledclose and on Facebook.