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Returning back to work after maternity leave can be very daunting for breastfeeding moms. From learning to pump, preparing milk stash, introducing baby to bottle, woah, it’s so overwhelming.
As you plan for your first day at work, you start wondering about this question, how often to pump breast milk at work. You’ve scoured Google, forum, and Facebook groups, and the answer differs from each other. How confusing!
I feel you. I have been there before. Hence, in this post I will discuss in details about how often you should pump breast milk at work, so that you will maintain a healthy milk supply and get enough milk for your baby.
This post is part of Pumping At Work series. Other articles in this series includes:
- How to build breast milk stash before returning to work
- How much breast milk stash do you need | A case study
- How to freeze breast milk | 10 Things You Need To Know
- How to rotate breast milk stash
- How to thaw and warm frozen breast milk
- Breast milk storage systems | Milk Bag vs Bottle, Which One To Choose
- 10 tips on introducing bottle to breastfed babies
- How to maintain milk supply at work
- 30+ pumping hacks for working moms
How Often Should You Pump Breast Milk At Work | A Beginner’s Guide
First thing first, you need to understand how much your baby needs when you are away. In general, most babies from 1-6 months old will need 1 oz (~30 ml) of breast milk per hour. Next, you need to calculate how long you will be away from your baby. Include your commuting time, working hour, and breaks in between.
Let me give you an example. I need to reach my workplace at 8 am and leave at 6 pm. That translates to 10 hours of working time (includes lunch break). But with commuting back and forth at one hour each, I will be away from my baby for 12 hours. Thus, my baby will need approximately 12 oz (~360 ml) of expressed milk while I am at work.
Now, how often should I pump at the extend of 12 hours? The answer may be different from one mom to another. As a general rule of thumb, you need to pump as often as how your baby latches when you are around.
What if they have sporadic nursing pattern? You may adopt the following rule and do some trial and error along the way:
- Baby’s age below 6 months: pump every 2-3 hours
- Baby’s age above 6 months: pump every 3-4 hour
Let’s go back to my example. Assuming my baby is below 6 months old, then I need to pump 4-6x at work. Wow, that seems a lot!
But the good news is you don’t need to do all the pumping at work. As long as you add these pumping sessions throughout your day (on top of your direct latch session), your milk supply will be doing fine and you will likely be able to produce enough milk for your baby.
Let’s take 5 pump sessions as an example. You may do three pumping sessions at work, plus one session during your commuting to work, and one during commuting back home. Alternatively, you can have 3 pump sessions at work, 1 pump session early in the morning after your first feed, and 1 at night after your baby is asleep.
Now, can you see how you can flexibly schedule your pumping sessions? You may choose the arrangement that work best for you.
The most important thing here is to maintain the frequency of breast milk removal that you do throughout the day. And this encompasses how often you pump breast milk and how often you nurse your baby. Nancy Mohrbacher discussed this in her very popular article about the magic number of long-term milk production.
In short, magic number refers to how often breast milk should be emptied thoroughly from breast every day to maintain a healthy supply. When the number of milk removal decreases below her magic number, the breast supply dwindles down.
This number is closely related to mother’s breast storage capacity and varies from one mom to another, as low as 4-5 and as high as 10-12. Thus, don’t be surprised if one mom is doing fine only pumping twice at work, whereas another mom need to pump much more often.
TIP: If you are returning to work very soon, don’t forget to check my detailed post on The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide On Returning To Work After Maternity Leave. I shared a lot of tips related to freezer stash, preparing your baby, and more!
Tips On Maintaining Breast Pumping Frequency At Work
1.Nurse Before and After Work
You can minimize the amount of expressed milk needed daily by nursing the baby right before you leave for work and right after you come back. Communicate this with your baby caregiver so that they don’t accidentally offer expressed milk close to the timing of your return.
2. Pump while commuting
A lot of moms swears by pumping while driving to and from workplace. You can simply use your normal pumping set up, a battery-operated breast pump (or a breast pump connected to car adaptor), a good quality pumping bra, and nursing cover.
It takes time to master this, and you may take longer time to pump the same amount of milk compared to if you do a proper pump session with hands-on pumping and breast compression.
TIPS: Consider using a smart breast pump that can memorize your setting throughout the whole pump session such as Super Genie or Genie Plus so that you don’t need to switch modes manually while driving.
3. Frequency matters more than the duration
If you only have one hour pumping break, it is better to have 3 sessions of 20 minutes each rather than 2 sessions of 30 minutes. Remember, the more often you empty the breast, your brain will respond it as a signal to increase the milk production.
4. Don’t wait until you feel engorged
Full breast may be interpreted as slowing down the milk production. Even a quick 10 minutes pump is better than leaving your breast uncomfortably full.
5. No Time For Hands-On Pumping?
What if you need to do breast compression for optimum milk output, yet you don’t have enough time?
You may consider combining a few sessions of hands-on pumping and a few of hands-free pumping. Yeah, of course, the best is do all sessions with hands-on technique. But if you don’t have time for it, hands-free pumping is better than skipping pumping session.
6. Don’t forget your latch session at home
A lot of moms focus on pumping frequency at work to the point that they forgot the importance of direct latch. Remember that a good latch is more effective in removing breast milk thoroughly compared to a pump. So it is necessary to keep track on your nursing session, too.
Sometimes, as your baby gets older, he stop nursing throughout the night and the number of milk removal decreases. To compensate this, mom should either offer to nurse while sleep (dream feed), or add more pump sessions.
My Personal Pumping Experience
When I was pumping for my second baby, I used to pump 3 times at work, around 10 am, 2 pm, and 5:30 pm. Since my baby latches frequently at home, I am aware that I should pump more than that to maintain a healthy milk supply. So I added two more pumping sessions at home, one early morning (around 6:30 am) and one at night (9 pm).
Even with this, I still didn’t pump enough expressed milk for my baby. I pump more during weekend to top up the difference.
There were times whereby my milk supply dwindled down. At that time, I tried to decrease my pumping sessions into two. At first everything seems okay, but after two weeks, my supply plummeted drastically. The only way I could bring my supply back is by doing power pumping diligently for two weeks and went back to pumping 3x at work. This is where I used a lot of my freezer stash to compensate the deficit. Click here to read my complete story.
A few lessons learnt:
- I realized later on that my baby consumed a lot of expressed milk for her age (~13 oz) while she was beyond 1 year old. Perhaps if I would have taught the baby caregiver to better differentiate hunger cues and need of comfort, I could have saved some oz of total milk needed daily.
- At home, I didn’t pump as long as I pumped at work, only around 10 minutes. I might expressed more milk if I would have pumped longer.
- I didn’t pump much in one session. My max pump output is around ~3 oz per session at work. Yet, with diligent effort, I could continue providing expressed breast milk for my baby.
- I understand that I may have small breast storage capacity. Therefore, I had to latch / pump more often than other mamas. Thus, I stopped comparing myself to other. I simply focused on reaching my pumping goal.
- Note that on top of pumping, I still nurse my baby around the clock, 1 early in the morning (before pumping), 1 before leaving for work, 1 after reaching home from work, and 1 at bed time. There were also times when my baby still nurses at night, but the frequency decreased as she was approaching two years old.
Need More Example of Pumping Schedules?
My friend, Heather, shared how her pumping schedule looked like with only 2 pump sessions done in the office. Yet, she had plenty supply for her baby. Click here to read her story and uncover her secret.
Are you exclusive pumping? Kristina shared how she survived exclusive pumping with her detailed tips and pumping schedule. Click here to read her exclusive pumping tips.
A Final Note
Balancing between breastfeeding, working, and pumping is surely a challenge. It takes a lot of sacrifice, trial error, and hard work to find out the schedule that works best for you.
As you sail out your pumping journey, I hope these tips can help you to find out how often to pump breast milk at work and maintain a great milk supply.
What about you? Have you returned to work recently? How often do you pump breast milk at work to maintain your supply? Feel free to share your story in the comment.