When Should You Begin Pumping? From An IBCLC



Photo Credit: Amanda Meg Photography

Congrats on your newest bundle of love! Whether you are expecting or your little one has already arrived, I am so happy that you found your way here. I am excited to talk about the topic of “when to start pumping, which is a common question that I get asked in my private practice, MilkSprouts, or when working in the hospital setting.    

Maybe you’re anxiously awaiting your little one’s arrival and trying to be as prepared as possible for when baby makes their debut. Or, perhaps delivery didn’t go as expected, and your little one is getting some extra love and attention in the SCN or NICU. You might even be snuggling your little one right now, as you read this! Wherever you are in your journey, this is for you.  

Here is some wisdom first for my expecting moms. I am so proud of you for learning as much as you can now, before baby arrives. One task I suggest putting on your to-do list today is to chat with your provider and call your insurance company to see if a breast pump is covered for you. If so, ask which what brands you can choose from and start researching. Ask other mama friends what they used and loved, or even reach out and ask an IBCLC (international Board Certified Lactation Consultant) which pump might be best for you based on your potential wants and needs. 

Now that we’ve chatted briefly about getting a breast pump, let’s dive into “When To Start Pumping.”  Typically, it’s recommended to begin pumping around 2-4 weeks postpartum so that baby can get a ton of practice at the breast with a better latch, and your milk supply is established. However, there are some circumstances that require mom to begin pumping earlier. Let’s touch on the topic of pumping for NICU or SCN moms.


If your little one needs a little extra love in the NICU or SCN right after delivery, it’s BEST to begin pumping WITHIN 2 hours after delivery. While your little one is receiving some extra love and attention, you will want to pump after every feed (if baby has been cleared for latching) for 10-15 minutes OR 8-12 times in 24 hours for 10-15 minutes if baby has not been cleared for latching. Keep pumping until baby is able to take every feed at the breast and is transferring milk efficiently.  

**Tip: Always work with the IBCLC and health care team during this time to come up with the best feeding and pumping plan for you and your little one. Every baby's needs are different.**


Once you get home, the best thing to do for the first 2-4 weeks (if there are no medical issues or the need to be separated from baby) is to continue to practice latching with baby and feeding on demand to establish your milk supply.

The best time to introduce a bottle to baby is around 4 weeks. It’s recommended to begin pumping once a day for a few days before introducing a bottle so you have a little extra milk to begin practicing with. When you pump, remember to pump AFTER a feeding for 10-20 minutes. You may not get a large volume of milk and that’s OK! Remember, anything you pump after a feeding is extra! It may take you a few pumping sessions to get enough to practice with, and that is normal. Hence, why we start pumping a few days before the first time we want to practice to give us plenty of time to get some extra breast milk.

If you are returning to work, you can increase the amount of times you pump per day as you get closer to your return to work date. If you are not returning to work, you can pump as needed to increase your emergency freezer stash or for when baby will be getting a bottle.  


There are several situations in which pumping for your little one is necessary before the four week mark, whether it's because they need some extra attention after delivery, you are returning to work, or plan to spend some time away from your little one. First, we want to focus on latching and efficient milk transfer before we begin introducing the pump unless pumping is medically needed for either mom or baby.

NICU/SCN- Pumping after feedings for 10-15 minutes OR pump 8-12 times in 24 hours for 10-15 minutes if baby is unable to latch.

AT HOME- Focus on latching and breastfeeding on demand for the first 2-4 weeks. A few days before wanting to introduce a bottle, pump AFTER nursing for 10-15 minutes. 

There are many indications or needs to begin pumping that I did not discuss here (weight loss, high bilirubin levels or jaundice, nipple pain or damage, etc…).  If you need some additional support and guidance, I would love to help.  You can schedule a consult with me through here or email sarahalang6@gmail.com. 

Congrats again on your little one. I am SO excited for you and your family.  


About the Author:


Sarah Lang is Registered Nurse, mom of 4 kiddos ages 6 and younger, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and voice behind @MilkSprouts on Instagram where it is her mission to "Empower Moms To Care Confidently" throughout their breastfeeding and pumping journeys. As an IBCLC, Sarah helps mom in all areas of breastfeeding and pumping.  It is her goal to help moms meet their individual breastfeeding and pumping goals by meeting moms exactly where they are at, listening to their wants and needs, supporting them through their challenges and celebrating with them in their victories.  She works with moms who are breastfeeding and/or pumping for babies of all ages from newborns through toddler hood.    
Sarah specializes in Breastfeeding Education through her online and in-person breastfeeding and pumping classes (milksprout.teachable.com), online and in-person consults (milksproutconsults.as.me), assessing signs of an effective latch, increasing milk supply, weaning (from the breast or pump), developing a plan for returning to work, assisting moms through an elimination diet for little ones diagnosed with food sensitivities or allergies, all things pumping (different types of pumps, pump demo and settings, flange fit, proper pumping technique and increasing milk supply), hand expression, breast infection management, and supporting moms with their own vision and goals for their breastfeeding and pumping journey by helping them develop specific and individual plans to be successful.