Breast Pumping 101: When to Start, How Often and How Long

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Last Updated: January 17, 2020

This article will be your ultimate breast pumping 101 hand book and go-to guide on getting started with breast milk pumping. 

Today, you are going to learn when to start pumping, how often to pump and for how long. You will also be introduced to breast pumps, parts, supplies and more.

Lastly, there will also be a section on some actionable milk supply tips that will assuredly come to the rescue when needed!

Ready to get started? Let’s go!

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What is Breast Pumping?

First things first, let’s get a little technical and define exactly what breast pumping is. You could define it as the manual or mechanical expression of breast milk, mostly with the aid of a breast pump.

Breast pumping is generally used for the purpose of evacuating additional breast milk in order to increase milk supply, build a freezer stash or pump exclusively.

An electric breast pump is typically used to perform this action as it much more efficient at removing breast milk than a manual breast pump.

However, manual breast pumping is still very effective for certain breast pumping needs. Such as, pumping on the go, getting out a clog and power outages. 

What to Expect when You Begin Pumping

First of all, breast pumping is not an innate skill. Unfortunately women were not born with the “how to pump breast milk” gene.

Pumping is a skill that takes practice, determination and a lot of patience.

A good place to start preparing for success with breast pumping is with an online course that walks you through every avenue of pumping and your milk supply. 

The Ultimate Exclusive Pumping Class by Milkology was created to prepare moms with the unique skills and techniques needed to have in order to experience a smooth and successful go at breast pumping.

You will also receive priceless information in order to troubleshoot and solve any pumping problems that may arise ready to derail your breastfeeding plans.

As well as, the secrets to mastering your milk supply!

It’s never a good idea to just “wing it” when it comes to pumping. Too many things can wrong which could mean the end of your breastfeeding journey. 

Another huge advantage to having this resource, is that you can refer back to it during any stage of your evolving pumping journey for as long as you need and it’s all in one easy to navigate place. 

P.S. If you choose to enroll in The Ultimate Exclusive Pumping Class for $19 with this link, I will also send you The Pumping Pro Course ($19 value) for FREE as a bonus BOGO offer! Just contact me once you’ve enrolled.

Read: Preparing to Pump Breast Milk: Here’s Where to Start

When to Start Pumping Breast Milk

The next topic in this breast pumping for beginner’s manual is to discuss when it is appropriate to start pumping breast milk.

There are different scenarios throughout your breastfeeding experience that will help determine when the best time to begin a breast pumping regimen will be.

Below, you will find a few of the most common examples of when to start pumping and then an explanation on how to go about doing so.

When to Start Pumping After Birth 

In order to determine when to start pumping after birth, first decide what your breastfeeding plan is. Will you be exclusively pumping or attempting to exclusively nurse?

Knowing the answer to those questions will help provide you with a pumping plan.

As an Exclusive Pumper

For instance, if you plan on pumping exclusively, also expect to begin a breast pumping routine as soon as baby is born.

After all, exclusive breast pumping is the mimicking of a baby’s natural feeding habits and babies don’t typically wait too long to eat after they are born!

I would suggest having your breast pump and parts sanitized and ready to be used at the hospital. Also be sure that you are using the best breast pump for exclusive pumping.

Also keep in mind that you should not expect to pump much breast milk right after baby is born. 

Your body will be making colostrum for the first few days postpartum until your milk comes in. Even so, by beginning to regularly stimulate breast tissue you are signally a crucial supply and demand response.

If You Plan to Exclusively Nurse

Now, if you plan to exclusively nurse your baby, when to start pumping after birth will look entirely different than the previous scenario.

Your lactation consultant may tell you to wait at least three weeks after baby is born to begin any type of breast pumping. This is because your baby will have the job of regulating your milk supply.

By nursing on demand your newborn will naturally help your body determine exactly how much breast milk he or she needs. However, you can use a nursing cup like The Boobble at the hospital to help bring in your milk.

Read: Breastfeeding and Pumping Schedule: How to Balance Both

When to Start Pumping for Storage

A nursing mom can actually start collecting breast milk for storage right away, even without pumping!

They can do so with the help of a silicone breast pump. Such as, the innovative Haakaa silicone breast pump. However, my personal favorite breastfeeding product for this task is the Boobble Cup.

This nursing cup can be gently suctioned to the breast (not being nursed on) and because it’s shaped like a cup, there’s much less of chance it getting knocked off!

Using the Boobble as a catch-all for leaking breast milk will help you collect extra milk that would have otherwise been wasted. 

Some moms end up with a significant freezer stash using this method of milk saving without actually pumping once!

You can buy a Haakaa on Amazon and here is the link to check it out!

Read: Extreme List of Pumping Essentials and Supplies

When to start pumping before going back to work

The method recommended above also works amazingly well for building a back to work freezer stash.

You may also want to consider Milkology’s Ultimate Back to Work Pumping Class that guides a breastfeeding mom through this hard transition with ease.

You will learn how to effectively build a freezer stash, protect your milk supply, troubleshoot common pumping mistakes and so much more!

The Ultimate Back to Work Pumping Class is easy to digest and fun to watch anywhere and at anytime. You can switch it on whenever it’s convenient for you and can always refer back to it when needed.

P.S. Join both of Milkology’s pumping courses and save. At checkout, you’ll receive a 20% off code to use on your second course. As an example, you could end up with The Exclusive Pumping Class, Back to Work Pumping Class and Pumping Pro for only $34 ($57 value)!

P.S. Get The Pumping Pro Course for FREE if you decide to enroll in either one of Milkology’s courses via a link on this website. Just send me an email once you’ve enrolled and I’ll send you another great pumping course for free!

Read: 7 Pumping at Work Tips to Help You Pump like A Boss

Free back to work pdf pack with loads of pumping at work tips!

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How Often to Pump Breast Milk

Again, knowing how often to pump breast milk depends on the circumstance you find yourself in. An exclusive pumper for instance, will be pumping around the clock for the first few weeks to few months after birth.

Whereas, a mom who nurses exclusively may only need to pump once or twice a day.

With that being said, let’s look at both examples and you can decide which one suits your unique situation best.

Read: How to Set Up A Breast Pumping Station 

How often to pump as an exclusive pumper

Exclusive pumpers often pump up to twelve times per day the first few weeks postpartum. Ideally, an exclusive pumper should be pumping every 2-3 hours throughout the day and night.

This sounds daunting I know, but bare with me here.

Thankfully, this amount of breast pumping only lasts usually until baby is steadily sleeping though night. Once this transition takes place, you can begin weaning from the pump, at least at night.

Until then, here is a sample schedule of how often an exclusive pumper should be pumping.

What to expect exclusively pumping schedule infographic

How often to pump when mostly nursing

Obviously this answer will be different for everyone since there is no rule to how often you need to pump while mostly nursing.

As an example, If you are a stay at home mom who can be available to nurse on demand 24/7, you may never need to touch a breast pump. 

However, in order to have some freedom every once in a while or the option for others to feed your baby, you may want to have some stored breast milk on hand.

To do this, simply pump for an additional 15-20 minutes after you nurse up to a few times per day. If you find that you don’t have much breast milk left over after you nurse your baby, wait 10-20 minutes and then try again. 

Over time, you may also notice that you begin to pump more milk.

Read: Power Pumping: How to Increase Milk Supply by Pumping

How often to pump at work

Circling back around to breast pumping 101, the back to work edition. How often do you need to pump at work?

This of course depends on your work day, but for this example, we’ll be looking at a full time working scenario.

Let’s assume work starts at 8am, you have probably already pumped or nursed at least once since waking. Your first breast pumping session at work would most likely be around 10am.

The next time you need to pump should be around lunch time and then if you can squeeze one more session in before leaving for the day at 3pm or so.

In total, it’s safe to assume you could be pumping up to three times a day at work. 

While we are on the subject of pumping at work, I should let you know about Pumpables Genie Plus breast pump. Which is a portable and compact pump perfect for work.

You can leave it there or easily bring it back and forth in your breast pump bag. Here is a 10% off incentive for you to use on your total purchase.

Read: What to Pack in Your Breast Pump Bagist

Breastfeeding and pumping schedule for working moms infographic.

How Long to Pump Breast Milk

Determining the duration for how long each breast pumping session should last depends on how long you as an individual takes to fully empty your breasts with a pump.

Some women may take 10-15 minutes to feel completely empty after pumping. While others, it could take up to an hour.

With that noted, pumping for at least 15-20 minutes seems to be a good rule to follow. However, once you have become more in sync with your body, you can then adjust how long to pump breast milk according to your body’s needs.

It is also recommended to pump an additional 2-5 minutes after milk stops flowing to ensure all breast milk has been removed. This is also a good strategy to adapt while exclusive pumping if you are seeking to increase breast milk supply.

Read: 9 Breast Pumping Questions Most Commonly Asked – Answered

How Much Milk Should I be Pumping?

The answer to this question will vary from woman to woman. What may be a normal amount of milk supply for one woman, may not be for another.

However, do note that for the first few week postpartum, your milk supply is mostly regulated through hormonal means.

That being said, it is not a good indication of how much breast milk your body will be regularly making throughout your entire breastfeeding experience.

Most women do not fully regulate to their “set” amount of breast milk until around three months postpartum. It is also normal for one breast to produce less milk that the other.

The take away, how much milk you should be pumping depends on where you are postpartum. As well as your breast capacity and body’s unique capabilities.

Pro Tip: Apply here to receive a FREE personal breast pump AND unlimited supplies.

FREE pumping schedules!

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Breast Pumping 101 Concluded

Well mama, you made it through! This was a lot of breast pumping information to take in. You learned when to start pumping, how often to pump, how long to pump and how much milk you can expect to pump.

As a reminder, breast pumping is not something you will feel 100% confident in at first. It takes time, practice and perseverance to feel like you are successfully mastering this skill.

However, you can expedite this process by taking an online course that focuses on preparing you for breast pumping. The Ultimate Exclusive Pumping Class will be a very valuable asset to your breastfeeding success.

For the mamas heading back to work soon, The Ultimate Back to Work Pumping Class was made for you! You can enroll for only $19 and start watching it today!

If you decide that either one of these awesome resources is for you and you enroll today via this website, I will send you my Pumping Pro Course for free as an added bonus. Here are the details.

Pump icon for how to pump on a spectra

How to Pump on a Spectra Breast Pump

Yield: A better pumping experience
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: None
Estimated Cost: None

This is an example of how you can pump on a Spectra Breast Pump.


  • Spectra Breast Pump
  • Pumping Kit


  1. Start on 70 cycle/low vacuum for 2-3 minutes
  2. Once milk starts flowing, switch to 54 cycle/medium vaccuum for 15-20 minutes
  3. Finish with 38 cycle/high vaccuum for 3-4 minutes
  4. Contiue pumping until milk stops flowing.


To initiate a letdown, a faster and quicker cycle speed is prefered at the beginning of a pumping session. Once milk begins to flow, the speed can be dialed down and the vacuum increased to a get a deeper pull. In addition to this, ending a pumping session with another faster cycle and lower vacuum may result in additional letdowns.

These Spectra pump settings are based on how a baby naturally likes to nurse.

If these sample pump settings don't work for you, keep adjusting until you find your rythm and flow.

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Read Next: Pumping and Dumping Rules While Breastfeeding: What Are the Facts?

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