How to combine breastfeeding and pumping into a schedule that works

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How to combine breastfeeding and pumping into a schedule that works

Figuring out how to combine breastfeeding and pumping can be challenging. Here are some tips for making a feasible schedule.

How to combine breastfeeding and pumping into a schedule that works

Pumping breast milk — whether you are planning a return to work, or just need a few hours’ break — is a wonderful gift you can give to your baby. But it doesn’t come without stress. Caring for and breastfeeding your baby is difficult enough, but the idea of adding pumping into the mix can feel overwhelming. If you feel that way, you’re not alone.

“Nursing and pumping may come with unexpected demands,” says Dr. Nikki L. Roberts, an OB-GYN at CareMount Medical in Duchess County, New York. However, she assures that the majority of breastfeeding parents are able to pump without encountering serious roadblocks.

The keys to success, according to Roberts? Patience, setting realistic goals and cutting yourself a whole lot of slack. Here are some tips for how to combine breastfeeding and pumping into a reasonable schedule that works.

1. Pump after breastfeeding

You might be wondering when the best time to pump is. Should you pump before nursing, or is it best to pump after?

Experts agree that you should put your baby’s breastfeeding needs first and pump after breastfeeding. Roberts recommends delaying pumping until about two weeks after birth, or when your milk supply is established.

“Once you are ready to start pumping, nurse your baby, then pump afterward,” she says. “Waiting about 30 minutes after you’re done with breastfeeding is helpful, as well.”

“Once you are ready to start pumping, nurse your baby, then pump afterward. Waiting about 30 minutes after you’re done with breastfeeding is helpful, as well.”

— DR. NIKKI L. ROBERTS, OB-GYN

2. Continue to breastfeed on demand

Feed your baby according to their own schedule, even as you pump, says Roberts. This will amount to breastfeeding every two to three hours, including at least once at night.

“I nurse my baby on demand, which means anytime day or night,” says Karen Walsh, a lactation consultant from Bellmore, New York, who is certified with the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners.

Walsh shares that pumping the other side while she nurses has been very helpful and allows her to meet her daughter’s needs while building up her freezer stash. When she can’t do that, she has her husband hold the baby while she pumps.

3. Keep your stress in check

Stress isn’t just unpleasant; it can make pumping less successful.

“Stress can reduce your supply, in general,” says Donna Kimick, a board-certified lactation consultant at Lakeshore Lactation in Massapequa Park, New York. “It can also increase your cortisol levels and therefore decrease important milk-making hormones. It’s a good idea to try to stay calm while pumping.”

“Stress can reduce your supply, in general. It can also increase your cortisol levels and therefore decrease important milk-making hormones. It’s a good idea to try to stay calm while pumping.”

— DONNA KIMICK, LACTATION CONSULTANT

Kimick recommends keeping a piece of your baby’s clothing in a zip-close bag near you and then smelling it as you are pumping. This can help you relax and let down more easily while pumping.

4. Pump first thing in the morning

“I found I had the most milk in the morning,” says Cordelia Newlin de Rojas, mom of two from Merida, Mexico, and founder of Multilingual Mama. “I was very worried about having sufficient milk once I went back to work, so I would pump after I had nursed the baby in the morning.”

Indeed, says Roberts, many parents find they produce more milk in the morning. “If you are unable to pump after every feed, focus on pumping in the morning,” she says. “The difference may be small, but you may find that the total volume of milk produced is greater.”

“If you are unable to pump after every feed, focus on pumping in the morning. The difference may be small, but you may find that the total volume of milk produced is greater.”

— DR. NIKKI L. ROBERTS, OB-GYN

5. Develop a de-stressing technique

There are many methods breastfeeding parents utilize to reduce stress while pumping, including listening to music, meditation, visualization and looking at pictures of their baby if they are apart. Distracting yourself can also work wonders, a fact that Newlin de Rojas stumbled on by accident.

“A friend of mine was upgrading her iPod, and she gave me her old video iPod with a couple of seasons of ‘The West Wing’ loaded on it,” she says. “I decided to try pumping while watching the program. I went from struggling to get 1 to 2 ounces to filling 6-ounce milk bags!”

6. Stock up on helpful supplies

Donna Kimick recommends using a hands-free pumping bra, where the pump flanges fit into your bra, leaving your hands free to hold your baby or tend to work. There are also breast shells like Milkies Milk Saver or manual pumps like the Haakka that collect any milk that leaks between feedings or while you nurse. 

Liz Whalen, a mom from Little Neck, New York, recommends having multiple pump parts on hand in case anything gets misplaced or damaged. She also shared a game-changing trick she learned.

“I read in a support forum about putting all the pump parts into a zip-lock and refrigerating them until the next pump,” she says. “I had been washing the pump parts out after every single pump, so that was a life-changing revelation for me.”

Kimick gives this time-saving trick her stamp of approval and says refrigerating bottles and pump parts can help prevent bacteria from growing. Although if you have a premature or ill baby, she recommends checking with your doctor regarding pump sanitizing guidelines. You may also need to take extra sanitizing precautions if you are currently infected with COVID-19.

7. Have realistic expectations

Expecting perfection with pumping can cause stress, advises Roberts. For example, she shares that the amount you pump isn’t always consistent and may even change over time. Many breastfeeding parents will still be able to pump 2-3 ounces after breastfeeding their babies, she says, though this amount can differ from one parent to another.

You have to learn to meet yourself where you’re at, try not to compare yourself to other parents and keep a positive attitude.

8. Make a breastfeeding and pumping schedule

Wondering how an actual pumping and breastfeeding schedule might look? Here’s an example, based on a young infant with an already established breastfeeding schedule and a breastfeeding parent who has access to their baby throughout the day.

Please note: This is only meant to serve as an example of one way a breastfeeding and pumping schedule might look. Every baby and breastfeeding parent has different needs and habits, so find the rhythm that works for you and your child.

Sample breastfeeding and pumping schedule

6 a.m.Breastfeed
7 a.m.Pump
9 a.m.Breastfeed
12 p.m.Breastfeed
1 p.m.Pump
3 p.m.Breastfeed
6 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.Breastfeed/put baby to bed
10 p.m.Pump

9. Ask for help if you’re struggling

Most importantly, says Roberts, remember you are not meant to do this alone.

She advises parents to set up a meeting with a lactation consultant if they are experiencing challenges with pumping. “Having a specialist observe and make recommendations can be helpful in a potentially frustrating situation,” she says.  

There are other support options as well, such taking a breastfeeding class, or connecting to other breastfeeding parents online, Roberts suggests. 

Support can be instrumental in helping you meet your breastfeeding and pumping goals. Some online breastfeeding support groups to consider joining include: