For most moms who end up turning to exclusive pumping, it is done out of necessity, most of the time because of premature birth, birth complications or birth defects, a small percentage of moms successfully manage to get baby onto the breast while most turn to formula and a few continue to exclusively pump.
Choosing to exclusively pump is usually not a decision that is taken lightly and often moms struggle with feelings of guilt and can easily become overwhelmed with the huge undertaking of being an exclusive pumper.
One of the most common questions on EPing boards is, “how often should I be pumping?”.
The answer differs from person to person, but ideally your sessions should mimic infant feeding habits, which will ensure your supply is healthy and well established.
It is important to understand that breastmilk production is based on supply and demand, the more you demand, the more your body will supply. In the first 12 weeks your supply is driven by hormones, this is where you need to put the all important groundwork into action, by pumping frequently you are laying the foundation for a healthy supply for when your hormones normalize and production will be based on solely on supply and demand, if you have only pumped 3 or 4 times a day during this hormone driven period you may find your supply drops drastically and you are unable to easily restore your supply, which is why it is so important to stick to a schedule of pumping between 10 to 12 times a day within the first 12 weeks for long term success. Most moms who have religiously stuck to a schedule of pumping every 2 hours, find that when supply does drop after the initial 12 week period, due to illness, hormones or stress, they are able to easily increase supply again, they also find that their supply is maintained for longer periods and are able to easily and successfully reach long term goals.
Typically an infant will feed often, sometimes cluster feeding near the late afternoon with longer periods between feeds throughout the night, on average a new baby will feed every 2 hours, you should try to pump when baby feeds, this can seem daunting but within a few days you will easily find your rhythm and if you have support, and help with baby or the washing of bottles, this is easily manageable.
Majority of moms will pump more than needed and will be a feed or two ahead of baby’s needs, others will be from pump to mouth, regardless of how your supply is in the early days you should still aim for 10 to 12 sessions a day, as this will ensure that your supply will last and that you don’t fall into the top-up trap, every missed session is a missed signal to your body to produce more milk.
An example of an easily attainable schedule is:
Feed baby, change and make sure baby is comfortable and happy.
With baby on your lap, beside you or in a safe, comfortable, appropriate area, pump until the milk stops flowing and then for a further 5 minutes to stimulate milk production.
Wash and sterilize pumps and bottles and lay down with baby.
Sleep until baby wakes and repeat.
*never leave baby to cry, if baby is unsettled, tend to his / her needs first, you can always place baby on your lap while sitting safely on a bed or couch while you continue to pump, always attend to baby first.
The rule of thumb is to pump every 2 hours during the day and every 3 hours during the night, making sure at least one of your sessions falls between midnight and 5am as prolactin levels are said to be at their highest during this period.
After the first 12 weeks, some moms find blending sessions in order to drop a session helps them gain some sense of normalcy without loosing ml’s.
To blend sessions, choose a session you wish to drop and slowly push that session back by 20 minute increments over a period of days, for example if you wish to drop your 8pm session, for the first few days you’ll pump at 20 past 8, then 10 to 9, then half past 9, then 10, and you will have eventually dropped your 8pm session by blending it into your 10pm session.
Some moms find dropping a session and shifting the remaining sessions helps maintain their supply.
As your journey progresses, you will get to know and understand your supply, some mothers find their magic number and stick to it for the duration of their pumping journey, you can read all about the magic number theory here.
Exclusively pumping is hard work, it takes time, patience and dedication, but with support, a realistic attitude and achievable goals, it can be done.
A rough example of a pumping schedule during the first 12 weeks:
6pm (power pump session)