How can I use a pump to reach my full milk production?

After birth, you may feel sad if you find yourself faced with a pump rather than your nursing baby. It may help to think of the pump as a useful tool that can help you get ready for breastfeeding.

Begin pumping by keeping your goal in mind: Full milk production--25-35 ounces (750-1050 mL) per baby per day--by Day 10 to 14. Right after birth, your body is primed and ready to make milk. Don’t wait too long. If you do, it may be harder to reach this goal.

From Birth to Day 4

  • If you can, start pumping within the first six hours after birth.
  • As soon as possible, pump at least 8-10 times every 24 hours. This is how many times each day your baby would be breastfeeding. In most cases, the more times each day you pump, the more milk you make. The reverse is true, too. The less you pump, the less milk you make.
  • If your baby is not breastfeeding, use a hospital-grade pump.
  • Plan to double pump (both breasts at once). This saves time and boosts milk production faster.
  • Until your milk “comes in” on Day 3 or 4, pump at least 10-15 minutes per breast. Then tilt the flange back and hand express as much milk as you can into the flange to better drain your breasts (Drained breasts make milk faster.)
  • Pump at least once during the night. Don’t go longer than about 5 hours between pumpings. (Full breasts make milk slower.)
  • Expect to pump just a little milk at first. But even a few drops are important to your baby.
  • Pumping often now “puts in your order” for later. It sends your body the signal to make more milk.

From Day 4 to Full Production
When your milk increases from drops to ounces on about Day 4, make these changes:

  • Pump longer—two minutes after the last drop of milk or 20-30 minutes, whichever comes first. (Drained breasts make milk faster.)
  • Focus on the total number of pumpings each day, not the time between pumpings (i.e., every 2 or 3 hours).

Many moms find it simpler to focus on their daily total. It is this daily total that is most important to your milk production. Rather than trying to pump at set times, instead think: “How can I fit in my 10 or so pumpings?” If you find you can’t pump during part of the day, pump every hour when you can. Make reaching that daily total a priority.

Also, try to keep the longest stretch between pumpings as short as you can. (Full breasts make milk slower.)

When you reach 25-35 oz. (750-1050 mL) per baby per day, you’ve reached your goal. Most mothers can then pump fewer times each day and keep up their milk production. You may also be able to sleep through the night without a drop in milk produced.

Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA, Lactation Consultant, Ameda Breastfeeding Products
Coauthor of Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers