Once you’ve sorted out which pump you’re going to use, and set yourself up, you now need to figure out when to pump and how long for.
The short answer
Before you read on, when it comes to decision making about your lactation, baby or health, you should seek advice from your health professional.
Firstly, what is a pump schedule?
A pump schedule is just a routine you follow for pumping.
It can be as simple as a set of times each day that fit into your life, including other children, work, and your sleep patterns (if you still have those!).
Why have a schedule?
Your body’s ability to create breastmilk is all about supply and demand.
You need to ‘remove’ milk from your breast to create more milk. You can remove milk by expressing with your hand or a pump, or by feeding your baby directly at the breast.
If you're mostly pumping to feed your baby (and not feeding much at the breast/chest), schedules can be a simple way of making sure that you consistently remove milk, which will help you settle into a rhythm of producing milk.
If you're mostly feeding your baby directly at the breast/chest, then schedules may not actually be your friend. Babies cluster-feed, have growth spurts and go through changes in their feeding patterns. Read on to learn why.
If you are planning on setting and following a schedule, then your schedule will need to change over time, depending on your baby’s age and your feeding goals. For example, if you find yourself pumping to initiate or build lactation (those first few days and weeks post birth), you will need to be pumping often and consistently to remove milk. If your baby is starting solids, you can space your pumps out a bit.
You can choose to follow a strict schedule if that helps you. You can also simply pump when you feel like it, or when your baby is hungry.
> Some principles of 'scheduling'
However you choose to schedule your pumping sessions, it can help to keep the following principles in mind:
- You need to ‘remove’ milk from your breast to create more milk. The more you pump, the more milk you will make and vice versa.
- Every breast and baby is different, but if you’re pumping for all your baby’s milk, and your baby isn’t having solids or other milk or supplements, then you’ll need to be pumping about 2-3 hours in total per day.
- There are three things you can vary in your schedule: the number of times you pump, the length of time you pump and the spacing of your pump sessions. For example, while you are establishing your supply with a newborn, you might pump 8-10 times a day for about 20 minutes, and you might space them evenly. For an older baby, who is growing well, you might drop a few pump sessions to 6-8 times but pump for longer each time.
- If feeding isn’t going too well for you, seek advice from a lactation consultant, preferably one with pumping experience and insight. They should be able to approach your situation holistically, and help you create a schedule that fits into your life and needs.
Why not have a schedule?
Here are some problems with pump schedules:
- Schedules can be unrealistic. A 2 or 3-hour pump schedule (often required in the first few weeks to establish supply) can be tough to actually do. Many people find that the continuous pumping, feeding, settling, cleaning, and sleeping, especially without support, is too hard to sustain.
- Schedules can stress you out. Schedules can be rigid, and you can find yourself in a mental pump spiral (we made that term up) if you miss a pump, or don’t keep to time. Often if you’re on a schedule, you’re also logging the time, the volume for each breast, type of milk you fed the baby (expressed milk, supplement, milk directly from breast). For some people, this structure brings comfort, and it can be good to see numbers start to look the way you want. For others, this structure just introduces more stress, especially if you’re trending away from your goal.
- Babies don’t follow schedules. Babies cluster-feed, have growth spurts and go through changes in their feeding patterns. This article from Emma Pickett IBCLC for UNICEF, talks you through all the reasons why schedules aren’t great to follow for breastfeeding a baby directly.
If a schedule is not working for you, then you could simply pump when your baby gets hungry or when you’re feeding them. If you can stay one or two feeds ahead, you will have a bottle available of previously pumped milk to give them, and you can pump the next bottle while they’re feeding.
This method is much easier if you have help, so that someone else feeds your baby while you pump.
The Milkdrop Base schedules
Here are some schedules based on the number of times you are pumping per day. You could use these as a starting point for developing a schedule that works for you.
First, speak with your lactation consultant or doctor to figure out the best number of sessions for you and your baby. Then, start your session whenever there is a red dot.
These base schedules are focused on:
- Getting you one straight stretch of sleep. If you’re not finding sleep an issue (🎉 yay you!), or you're trying to increase your supply, then you could make your sessions more regular, rather than spacing them apart at night.
- Clustering pump sessions in the morning, when many people find they have more milk available. If this isn’t you, then change them up to suit.
- Spacing out your other sessions as evenly as possible.
You can use them as a start, but adapt as you learn what works best for you.
Looking for more?
Check out our other posts on pumping schedules, including: