When and how to start pumping


In the past few years, expecting mums have realized that breast pumps are appliances that can make their breastfeeding journey easier.

As a result, one of the most frequently asked questions at my prenatal classes now is –

“Doctor – When can I start pumping?” 

I am answering that question in this article.

Before that, however – I want to emphasize that ‘Breastfeeding on Demand’ is the best way to breastfeed babies.

All efforts must be made for mother and baby to stay in the same room and spend a lot of time skin to skin with each other, at least in the first 3 months so that the mother can offer the breast whenever her baby is hungry. This ensures that a good breastmilk supply is established and sustained. When this is not possible for various reasons – pumping can really help.

When to start pumping breast milk?

  1. If your baby is healthy and able to latch – wait at least 6 weeks before you start pumping.
  2. If your baby is unwell and unable to latch – begin pumping within 6 hours of birth.

How often should you pump?

  1. If you are not direct nursing and feeding your baby by exclusive pumping – pump every two hours to follow your baby’s hunger pattern.
  2. If you are pumping to increase breast milk supply – pump for 10 minutes every time after you finish direct nursing.
  3. If you are pumping to keep a bottle ready for occasional feeds – pump early in the morning between 4 am and 7 am.
  4. If you are trying to build a stash before you go back to work – pump between feeds. Begin 4 weeks before your joining date.

How to start pumping

  1. Hand expressing is more effective than pumping in the first week because you are producing colostrum and not milk.
  2. Initially use your hands to stroke your breast while pumping to move the milk to the nipple to establish flow.
  3. Ensure that you completely drain your breast of milk. Leftover milk in the breast prevents the formation of more milk.
  4. Check the flange size and ensure a good suction.

How to get the best results from pumping –

  1. Pump a greater number of times in the day.
  2. Use higher intensity suction in the first few minutes and then lower it. This mimics baby’s suckling.
  3. Pump for longer durations 20 – 30 minutes.
  4. Pump while direct nursing at the other breast.
  5. Prepare for pumping by taking a few minutes to relax and think of your baby (if you are away from your baby)
  6. Do not get stressed by comparing the amount of breastmilk produced by pumping to the amount of formula required at a particular age. Breastmilk has a completely different composition and is not required in such large amounts.

Always remember – pumping does not ‘finish’ breastmilk. It results in more milk production.

Be patient, persistent and pump without panic. You will soon master the technique and collect more breastmilk in each session.


Dr. Debmita Dutta MBBS, MD

Dr. Debmita Dutta MBBS, MD is a practicing doctor, a parenting consultant, and the founder of WPA whatparentsask.com She conducts online and offline workshops on parenting for schools and corporate organisations. She also conducts online and offline prenatal and infant care classes. She is a well-known thought-leader in parenting and an expert on play, learning and eating habits. Her books on parenting are published by Juggernaut Books and are among their most read books. She is frequently quoted in national and international publications of repute for her empathetic and compassionate approach to parenting and her application of physiology and brain science to parenting.


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