How to balance breastfeeding and pumping

May 21, 2019
How to balance breastfeeding and pumping

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, of CareMount Medical OB-GYN in Duchess County, New York.

However, she assures, “The vast majority of women are able to pump without significant setbacks.”

The keys to success, according to Roberts? Patience, setting realistic goals and cutting yourself a whole lot of slack. Here are some other breastfeeding and pumping tips to keep you on track:

1. Pump after breastfeeding

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.”

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, certified with the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners from Bellmore, New York, who is about to return to work after giving birth to her third child.

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 definitely 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 important to stay calm and only pump when it will not cause stress.”

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 moms 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.”

5. Develop a de-stressing technique

There are many methods moms 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 Lacti-Cups) that go inside your bra and 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 get 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 then 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 says you should check with your doctor regarding pump sanitizing guidelines.)

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.

“Most women can expect to pump 2 to 3 ounces after they nurse their child; however, the amount can vary,” she says.

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

8. Sample breastfeeding and pumping schedule

Wondering how an actual breastfeeding and pumping schedule might look? Here’s an example, based on a young infant with an already established breastfeeding schedule and a mom who has access to her 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 mom has different needs and habits, so find the rhythm that works for you and your child.

Sample schedule

6 a.m.


7 a.m.


9 a.m.


12 p.m.


1 p.m.


3 p.m.


6 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

Breastfeed/put baby to bed

10 p.m.


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

“I advise moms to meet with a lactation consultant if they are experiencing difficulty with collection of breast milk,” she says. “Having a specialist observe and make recommendations can be helpful in a potentially frustrating situation. Enrolling in a breastfeeding class or finding information online from other moms can be helpful, as well.”

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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