When to Start Pumping Breastmilk

When to start pumping breast milk?? That’s a question we get from many new moms. And, like most things, it doesn’t have a one-size-fits all answer. This blog post will cover a few different scenarios for when to start pumping breast milk. First, when to start pumping if you have a healthy baby who is latching and feeding well. Next, when to start pumping if you have a baby in the NICU or with other feeding complications. Finally, when to start pumping if you have to go to work shortly after birth. 

(We covered this topic over on YouTube. Check it out, below!)

Pumping is a great resource for moms when they need to be away from their baby. Working moms who want to meet their breastfeeding goals rely on pumping! And it can be hard to get information and support for pumping as a working mom. That’s why we created the Pumping for Working Moms Program, to help moms like you! With online courses, weekly meetings, a community of moms in your same situation as well as same day access to a professional, this program is amazing! Click here to book a consultation call to see if this program is the right fit for you.

For stay at home moms, or moms who aren’t planning to be away from their baby, don’t feel pressured to pump if you don’t need to! This blog post will also answer the question of whether or not you need to start pumping at all! (And check out this YouTube video that covers why you may not need to pump…)

This post will cover when you can start pumping and how to find the best times to pump extra milk without interrupting your baby’s feeding schedule

When can you start pumping breast milk?

There are a few variables here for the best time after delivery to start pumping. Let’s break it down three categories: if you have a full-term healthy baby, if you have a premature baby and/or a baby who has trouble feeding, or if you are returning to work shortly after baby is born.

Full-term, Healthy Baby

It’s best to wait until breastfeeding is well established before you start adding in other things like pumping. This is usually at a  minimum of 3-4 weeks postpartum. 

At 6-8 weeks is a great time to start building a small freezer stash. That really gives time for your milk supply to regulate and for you to get into a solid breastfeeding routine.

What Well Established Breastfeeding Looks Life:

  • Baby can latch on easily and it’s pain free for you
  • There is a (somewhat) regular pattern to their feeding schedule
  • Baby is satisfied after feedings and is having plenty of wet/dirty diapers daily

If you’ve had problems breastfeeding or a rocky road to start, you’ll want to wait until you feel very comfortable and your baby can latch on and feed easily to start pumping. This might be the 2-4 month mark for you and that’s ok, too. 

Don’t rush into pumping before you’re comfortable breastfeeding or you run the risk of making things worse.

Premature Baby and/or Unable to Breastfeed Right Away

If your baby was born premature or you are unable to breastfeed right away, your pumping journey may start sooner than others. It’s perfectly fine (and encouraged!) to start pumping as soon as 1-6 hours after delivery. This is a great way to encourage your milk to come in and feed the baby valuable colostrum.

Find a lactation counselor or utilize the hospital staff’s help to come up with a pumping schedule until you can be reunited full time with your baby. 

Don’t neglect the nighttime pumpings. It takes around the clock stimulation to build and maintain your milk supply in the first few months.

Pump every 2-3 hours (8-10 times a day) if you’re exclusively pumping. This is a good estimate until you can transition to breastfeeding your baby.

Returning to Work VERY Soon…

Ideally, you should wait until breastfeeding is well established and your milk supply is regulated before adding in pumping sessions. But if you have (or want) to return to work within the first month after delivery, you may want to start pumping sooner if you want extra stored milk.

Still, it’s recommended to wait AT LEAST 7-10 days before starting any kind of pumping schedule. Even then, it’s likely going to be a struggle. 

You will need to weigh the risks and benefits of establishing solid breastfeeding or having a small freezer stash. 

It may be worth your time and effort to take your short maternity leave to focus on bonding, breastfeeding effectively, and regulating your milk supply instead of stressing about a small freezer stash of breastmilk. 

Remember, a freezer stash is not necessary before returning to work. So, think carefully about what’s best for you before you start pumping too soon in your breastfeeding journey.

Returning to work after having a baby is a big transition! Working moms often don’t have the help and support they need to reach their breastfeeding goals. That’s why we created the Pumping for Working Moms Program.

With lifetime access to a professional, a community full of moms in your same situation, as well as courses you can refer back to again and again, this program is a great resource! Book a consultation call, here, to see if this program might be right for you!

When You Should NOT Add in Pumping

Be cautious of times when your baby is going through a growth spurt, teething, or is sick. These are NOT good times to start adding an extra pumping session because your baby will likely be needing more milk at the breast during this time. Their health and comfort are most important! So don’t lose sight of the main goal (a healthy, well-fed baby) to try and meet secondary goals (building a freezer stash.

However, you can use this to your advantage after the growth spurt, teething or sickness ends! If your baby is just coming off their 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, or 6-month growth spurt, you’ll likely have some extra milk in your breasts from all their added feedings at the breast. Take the opportunity to pump and save this milk before your body readjusts to the baby’s slower regular schedule.

When to Add Pumpings to Your Regular Breastfeeding Schedule

The goal of adding a pumping session is to find “extra” milk that won’t take away needed milk when your baby is hungry.

Every baby’s feeding schedule is a little different so try a few different things to see what works best for you. Here are a few ideas when you can add a pumping session into your breastfeeding schedule!

First Thing in the Morning

It’s very common to have the most breast milk first thing in the morning. This is also likely your baby’s biggest feeding of the day. Find a way to pump a little while still leaving enough for baby.

  • You could try pumping one side while the baby eats their morning feeding from the other side
  • Or wake up an hour earlier (crazy I know!) and pump through only one let down.
    • Do not empty your breasts and allow them to fill again before baby wakes for a full feeding.

Did you know? Most women have multiple milk ejection reflexes or “let downs” in one nursing session? The first one is most prominent and the others often go unnoticed. Exclusively pumping or working moms may be more familiar with this concept, since it’s much easier to notice when you’re pumping regularly for longer periods of time.

So, don’t stop pumping after 5 minutes when the milk seems to slow considerably, keep going! You’ll likely get another let down or two! (There is a point of diminishing returns though and most moms don’t pump longer than 20-30 minutes.) Interested in learning more about let downs? Check out this video, here!

30-60 Minutes after Breastfeeding

There’s a sweet spot somewhere about 45 minutes after feeding when your breasts have had a break and another strong let down can be triggered. This is an ideal time to pump some extra milk since your baby likely won’t be hungry for another couple of hours.

Most babies have a time of day when they want unlimited access to the breast, often called “cluster feeding”. If you’re right in the middle of their usual cluster feeding time, this is not a good time to pump extra milk. Let them do their thing and pick a longer eating interval in their day to try this method.


1 Hour before Feeding

Find the time in the day (or night) where your baby has the longest stretch of sleep and try to pump right in the middle or at least an hour before breastfeeding. This should give your breasts time to fill up again before the baby is hungry.

Don’t be surprised if your baby feeds a little longer than usual after doing this method. You’re messing with the supply and demand cycle a little bit which isn’t a bad thing, but there will be consequences.

The more you stimulate your breasts, the more milk your body makes. So the end result will likely be a good thing, but it might take a few days or even a week for your hormones to tell your brain, “Hey! Send more milk!”

What if my baby is hungry right after I pump?

This is a great question! If you’ve just pumped and now the baby wants to breastfeed, just go for it. If your baby is patient, they’ll likely suck until they trigger another milk let down and get the milk they want.

No matter how good your breast pump is, it will never be as good as your baby at getting milk out so there will likely be a little milk still in your breasts to pacify them until another let down comes.

If your baby is not willing to wait and end up frustrated, you may try feeding them the breastmilk you just pumped. This isn’t a failure, this is real life. Trying to plan around babies is a joke! So go with the flow and try a different time of day next time.


You NEVER have to pump if you don’t want to. No one says you have to have stored milk in the freezer. But if you choose, you can start pumping as soon as breastfeeding is well established which is commonly around the 6-week mark.

Find times when you have “extra” milk and be flexible on freezer stash goals. You can do this! And remember, if you’re looking for the best community of moms as well as access to a professional for help and support, the Pumping for Working Moms Program is here for you!

Happy pumping!

When to Start Pumping Breastmilk

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