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Building a Supply Through Pumping

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Monday, October 16, 2006

One of the things that makes nursing so much easier than exclusively pumping is the whole "building a supply" issue. With nursing, you effectively nurse "on demand" so the baby makes sure that you end up building a supply. You don't have to think about when the last time you pumped was or remember to pump again the next go round. A baby is also far more effective at "convincing" your breasts to produce milk than a pump, so more people will respond to a nursing baby than a machine.

So, my top tips for building a supply if you have to pump...

1.) Rent a hospital grade pump. No two ways about it, you HAVE to have a hospital grade pump to build a good supply. People have done it with less, but you are starting off with a major handicap. Go ahead and cough up the $30-$50 a month that it costs to rent one and remind yourself that it's less than formula would cost. I reccomend the Medela Lactina Select or the Medela Symphony.

2.) Buy a timer and clip it to your pants. You HAVE to pump on the clock that first month or two. Seriously...if you are scheduled to pump at 2, you HAVE to pump at 2, you can't stretch it to 2:30 or 3pm. There's pretty much NO flexibility in pumping for that first month or two. So, a timer is essential. This way you can set it to give yourself ten minutes of warning so that you have time to settle in with your pump and get going.

3.) Set a schedule that mimics baby. You should start off pumping every two hours, day and night. By the end of the first week, you could likely space it to every 3 hours at night, but leave it at 2 hours during the day. By week three, go ahead and go to every 4 hours at night and every two hours during the day. By week five, you can likely pump just ONCE in the middle of the night, but still every two hours during the day.

When you hit the second month, you can "test" the idea of backing off on the daily pumping sessions. Move them to every 2.5 or three hours. If things are going well, try cutting out the night time pumping session. How well this works depends on a lot of factors...a major one being "luck." By week four, I was able to pump 6 times during the day and none at night and I could get more than enough milk.

Chances are high that pumping on this schedule will produce more milk than your baby needs. This is OK! Because a pump is less effective at establishing supply than a real baby, you pretty much NEED to produce an over-supply. Freeze the extra to donate to a milk bank or to use for baby later on... Whatever you do, don't be tempted to cut back on your pumping because you have "extra." This is a sure-fire killer to your supply. Again, you HAVE to build an over-supply to protect yourself down the road.

4.) Understand that you have to give up some quality time with your baby. This is the HARDEST one, at least for me. Those first two weeks, I rarely got to feed the baby. Timing wise, it takes so long to pump, clean parts and make bottles, that it's hard to be able to feed baby too. That means that a lot of time my husband or mother got to do the feeding while I was off pumping. This sucked royally, but ultimately, it was important enough to me to get breast milk into Elnora that it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. By the second month, things had calmed down enough that I got to do most of the feedings.

Now, these steps might seem over the top to some and WILL be overkill for others...but they will give you the absolute best shot at making a go of pumping.


  1. Blogger Gaia | 11:04 AM |  

    Wow, I love this article. I wish someone could have told me this stuff when I started pumping. Just goes to show that not all LCs are created equal and many of them know nothing about pumping as a viable option. As I did not start pumping until month two, I wonder how that would have changed the pumping recommendation.

  2. Blogger stillajones | 9:24 AM |  

    thanks for the advice, I have been mostly pumping since the LC told me at 2 week weigh in I need to nurse every 2-3 hrs and then pump 10 min to empty breast and feed it to my daughter in a bottle to help her gain back to birth weight, this took so much time that i just decided to pump exclusively, since that process took soooo much time. My baby always falls to sleep at the breast and would want to nurse hourly and use me as a pacifier, she is now 71/2 wks old.

  3. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:58 PM |  


    I EBfd my son for a year and now with my daughter, I am going back to work after EBfd for 6 months. I am having the worst of times getting her to take a bottle, sippy cup, etc. She hates them and I have tried lots of brands. I am also pumping (for the first time ever) and I was wondering if I should follow the same advise on building a supply being that I have Bfd for months and have an established supply. I have only pumped for 4 days and I do it every 3-4 hours and not at night. I pump anywhere from 3-6 ounces each time but it is very variable. I don't really know how much the baby will be eating a day because I have never measured milk before so I spok to the ped and he says it should be at least 24 ounces a day. According to this then my supply should be increased but I find it very impossible having a toddler and a baby at home all day by myself. I have to accept that some part of me is thinking about giving up and going to formula.
    Thanks for your advise.

  4. Anonymous Anonymous | 4:46 PM |  

    Monica, keep pumping. Even if you can't feed baby exclusively with your breast milk, some is better than none. I have just started working again and have started to supplement my son with one bottle of formula a day because of the fact that I can't pump as often at work and therefore am a bit short of breast milk for him but I strictly nurse when I'm at home and pump every 4 hrs during my work day.Hope you stick with it. Good luck.

  5. Blogger Tiffaney | 8:26 PM |  

    I have 3 week old twins and have been pumping/formula feeding the entire time. I have not been pumping at night and my daytime pumping has become more laxed and I am not getting as much milk as I was. If I start pumping more often will my supply come back up? I don't want to stop pumping, but it is discouraging to do it and hardly getting any milk.

  6. Anonymous Anonymous | 4:42 PM |  

    Some advice about increasing supply.... you don't have to pump 10 or 12 x a day, all the time. I went to see a lactation consultant and she said usually babies increase their needs about every 10 days or so. You could increase pumping (say, for 8 x a day, to 10-12) times a day for ONE or TWO days, once you see an increase in supply (about 2-4 ounces in a 24 hour period), you can drop one pumping a day til you're back to 8 and see if you maintain the increased supply. It also helped me to take Motherlove's Milk Plus tincture during the times I'm trying to increase the supply. BTW, a 2-4 ounce increase over 12 pumps isn't a whole lot per pump, so it may not be readily apparent unless you're keeping track.

  7. Blogger Unknown | 8:26 AM |  

    I have the same problem as Tiffany. I had a pumping timetable set up and even when i pumped 6 times a day for 15-20 minutes the most i would get is 2 ounces. I have not pumped in over a week and the last time i pumped i barely got one once but i want to start back. My goal is to provide my baby with breastmilk and stop formular feeding, any advice?

  8. Anonymous Anonymous | 12:12 AM |  

    I have a 7 week old.. and have been pumping for the last one week as she has completely stopped Bfeeding... my supply is down to 1/2 an ounce a session.. any suggestions to bring my supply back up ?? I am really worried coz have to supplement formula now..

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