When to Start Pumping Breastmilk – Building a Freezer Stash!

Once your baby is finally here, the breastfeeding begins! You have a lot going on and may be anxious to start pumping and building your freezer stash! I’ve been there too!

If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, it may feel like you’ll never get off the couch again. Newborns need ’round the clock feeding so breastfeeding literally consumes your life. The good news? It won’t always be this way!

If you ever want or need a little break away for some self-care, a medical appointment, or a night out with your significant other, you’ll need a little breastmilk stored away or at least know how and when to pump that extra milk. (If you’re planning on going back to work outside the home, check out this corresponding post specifically for building a stash when returning to work.)


Here we’re going to talk about when you can start pumping, finding the best times to pump extra milk without interrupting your baby’s feeding schedule, and how easy is it to get started!

First things first…

When can you start pumping breastmilk?

There are a few variables here for when is the best time after delivery to start pumping. Let’s break it down.

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 a minimum of 3-4 weeks postpartum. 6-8 weeks is a great time to start building a small freezer stash and that really gives time for your milk supply to regulate and for you to get into a solid breastfeeding routine.

Well established breastfeeding looks like this:

  • Baby can latch on easily and it’s pain free for you
  • There is a (somewhat) regular pattern to their feeding schedule
  • Baby is satisifed 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. 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 or ill baby

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 to help you come up with a pumping schedule until you can be reunited full time with your baby. Don’t neglect the nighttime pumpings because it takes around the clock stimulation to build and maintain your milk supply in the first few months.

Pumping every 2-3 hours (8-10 times a day) is a good estimate of what you should be doing if you’re exclusively pumping until you can transition to breastfeeding your baby.

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Have to return 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.

I’d still recommend giving it AT LEAST 7-10 days before starting any kind of pumping schedule, and 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 a small freezer stash of breastmilk. It’s not a necessary thing to have before returning to work, so think carefully about what’s best for you before you start pumping too soon in your breastfeeding journey.


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 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).

You CAN, however, use this to your advantage! 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. 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!

1. First thing in the morning

It’s very common to have the most breastmilk 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 promiment and the others often go unnoticed. Exclusivly pumping or working moms may be more familar with this concept, since it’s much easier to notice when you’re pumping regularly for longer periods of time. 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 dinishing returns though and most moms don’t pump longer than 20-30 minutes.

2. 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.

3. 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. You’re messing with the supply and demand cycle a little bit which isn’t a bad thing, but there will be concensequences. 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 they’re 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.

If your baby is still young and you’re worried about introducing the bottle too soon, check out this video on alternative feeding methods for babies!


How often can you pump when exclusively breastfeeding?

Start with adding in one pumping session every couple of days when the timing is right. If you want to start an aggressive stash, you can shoot for once a day. More than 1 time per day really isn’t necessary unless you’re trying to stock up for a major event, a long time away from your baby, heading back to work soon, etc. More than once a day will be difficult and you risk not having enough milk to keep baby nourished and healthy.

We hear so much about low milk supply, but did you know oversupply is also a problem for breastfeeding moms. If you add in 3-4 pumping sessions on top of exclusively breastfeeding, in a few days you’ll end up with A LOT of extra milk! This can cause engoregement, clogged ducts, mastitis, and other problems with oversupply. Start small and add more as you go only if you need to.

Find the balance between building up a breastmilk stock and your sanity. What are your reasons for having some extra milk in the freezer? How much do you really need? You may find you only need 5-6 bags to have “just in case” and that’s fairly easy to do over a months time. Don’t let the fear of running out of milk cause more stress than it’s worth.

Out of milk?? You can also try your Local Milk Bank or Human Milk for Human Babies on facebook to find some breastmilk near you.

These are also great resources if you end up with EXTRA breastmilk! Many moms for a variety of reasons need extra milk and you can really make a difference in tiny lives by donating or selling your extra breastmilk.


How much milk should you be pumping?

All breastmilk is amazing and any amount of liquid gold you save is precious! Try not to compare your stash with the months worth of frozen milk we often see in the media. If you can only pump an extra 2 ounces a day, great! 10 oz? Awesome! Celebrate any amount of milk you work hard to pump for your baby.

In short, it doesn’t really matter. Get what you get and if you need more, try again tomorrow. You’ll find a system that works for you and in 3-7 days your milk supply should adjust to your extra pumpings. Be patient and thankful for every drop you do get!

Did you know? Most women have one breast that produces more than the other. It may not be aparent until you start pumping! Don’t worry if one breast consistently out preforms the other and size has nothing to do with it. In fact, most women have one breast slightly larger than the other and it’s often the slightly smaller breast that produces the most milk!


Storing Breastmilk

Don’t skip this section! After you’ve worked hard to pump extra breastmilk, you need to store it properly or it’s wasted effort.

Breastmilk is good for:

  • 4 hours at room temperature
  • 4 days in the fridge
  • 6 months in the freezer (up to 12 months may be acceptable in a deep freezer)
  • frozen milk is good for 24 hours in the fridge after being thawed

Breastmilk specific freezer bags are best for freezing your milk. If you’ve never frozen milk before, you’ll want to freeze some, thaw it, and feed it to your baby to make sure there aren’t any issues. Many moms find their milk tastes/smells sour after thawing and their babies won’t drink it. You’ll definitely want to know this BEFORE you freeze all your hard pumped milk! You can read more about this common high lipase issue in this post here. You can also watch a video on scalding your breastmilk before freezing to avoid a high lipase problem.

Keep in mind: Store milk in 2-3 ounce bags to avoid waste, even if you pump more in a single session! If you freeze in large quantities, you have to unfreeze and use the entire amount within 24 hours.

Other Tips and Tricks!

Moms are loving things like the Haakaa Silicone Pump to catch and save milk! You simply suction this to the breast your baby isn’t feeding on and it catches all the leaking milk. Since there is a little suction with this too, it’s also pulling a little more milk out than just a regular milk catcher would. Many moms end up with 1-3 ounces just from placing this on and catching the otherwise wasted milk! You don’t have to be a “leaker” to try this out, give it a shot!


Just because you’re away from your baby doesn’t mean you can skip a feeding. If you’re gone for more than a few hours, you’ll likely need to pump while your away to maintain your milk supply. You can get a cute carrying bag for your breast pump if you’d like (as seen in this video), or try out a small manual pump for a quick easy fix. Also, invest in a small milk cooler! This will help you keep your milk cold until you can store it properly. If you can find a fridge within 4 hours, save the milk! But you can always pump and dump if storage is not available.

If milk sits out too long and has gone bad, you can find some other uses for it! Try putting it in your little one’s next bath for the smoothest, softest skin you’ll ever feel! It’s also great for healing diaper rashes and calming bug bites and sunburns.

If your baby had a bottle while you were gone and isn’t hungry when you arrive home, now would be another great time to pump and replace the milk you used!


If you want to know how to set up and use your pump, here’s a couple of video links for you.

Setup and use a Medela Breast Pump Video

Setup and use a Spectra Breast Pump Video

If you don’t have a pump yet, you may be able to get a free one through your insurance company! Here’s a video on Getting A Free Breastpump Through Your Insurance Instructions and also a video comparison on the 2 most popular breast pumps, Spectra and Medela.

In a nutshell…

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. I know you can do this! You deserve a little time to yourself and I encourage you to take it. You’ll be a better mom, partner, and person.

Let me and other moms know what worked for YOU by commenting below. I love to answer questions so comment if you have one because I bet another mom does too. If you want more information from New Little Life, subscribe to the blog newsletter by scrolling all the way down.

Happy pumping!

~ All things for you and your new little life ~

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