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Maximizing Milk Production: Pumping Duration & Frequency Tips

'Become a Pumping Pro' Blog Series: by Christsenio Dean, RN, IBCLC


Pumping duration and pumping frequency tips, pumping checklist, becoming a pumping pro, blog series, Christsenion Dean, RN, IBCLC

Hello everyone, it’s Christsenio! If we haven’t met yet, I’m a NICU Registered Nurse (RN), International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and one of the Allergy Experts here at Free to Feed. I’m incredibly passionate about helping families navigate infant food allergies, while continuing breastfeeding. Despite what you may have heard, your breastfeeding journey does NOT need to end at the first sign of infant food allergies, and I’ve helped many families successfully continue breast/body feeding despite infant allergy challenges. 


I am a mother and a food allergy warrior supporter. You can learn more about my background here, or schedule a 1:1 Food Allergy virtual consultation with me here. Pro tip: you may be able to receive up to six consultations with me for FREE, covered by your insurance. Check your eligibility with our partner, The Lactation Network (TLN), here


This article is for all my pumping mamas out there! With a plethora of pumping information online, I’m setting the record straight and providing science-backed guidance on recommended pumping duration and frequency so you can get the most milk output for your sweet baby.


In this article, you'll learn:

  • What’s the recommended pumping time in each session? 

  • How often should you be pumping to optimize your milk output?

  • How to determine your magic milk number?


Your Breastfeeding Journey is Unique

The thing that I love about breastfeeding and lactation is that the journey is personal and individualized, meaning you get to define how it goes, on your own terms. One mother's journey can vary significantly from another's.


Mother holding child working on a laptop computer, phone and paperwork on the left and breast pump on the right

Every baby is different, and every parent is different. Some babies will only feed directly to the breasts. Some parents will exclusively pump. Some will do a combination of the two. 


Thus, the qualities of the journey, such as exclusively pumping or partially pumping, will help to decide how long you should pump and how often. Also, the length of time and the frequency required to maintain adequate milk production depends on whether your individual journey is exclusive pumping or a mix of pumping and breastfeeding.


If you are exclusively pumping, the pump is the only regulator of supply, so milk removal via pumping must occur on a more regular, routine basis. Exclusive pumpers should strive for thorough drainage of the breast during each pumping session. On average, babies will feed 8-12 times in 24 hours. So, if you’re exclusively pumping, your pumping schedule should mimic this timeline. Those who pump at least 6 times or more in 24 hours produce more milk4. The current recommendation for pumping is every 3 hours during the day, with gaps no longer than 5 hours at night, and a cumulative total of 100 minutes per day4. This is the general rule. 


However, keep in mind that your baby's size, age, time spent away, and breast capacity will all influence the amount of pumping required. The baby's size and age largely influence milk intake. Larger babies tend to take in more milk than smaller babies, so they will require more pumped milk volume. 


A guide to your baby’s milk needs based on age

0-1 Months

In the first month of a baby's life milk supply is regulated, with intake volume increasing. During the first month of life, newborns should feed a minimum of 8 times per 24 hours. However, it is not uncommon for some to feed up to 15 or more times in a 24-hour period [3]. 


1-6 Months

Months one to six are focused on maintaining supply. The average number of feedings is 5-12 times per day [3]. Up until month five, the average milk volume intake is 750-850 mL [3]. After six months, or with the introduction of solids, it is not uncommon to experience a decrease in milk supply because a baby's alternate energy intake (starting solids) results in less breast milk consumption. 


6-9 Months

With solid introduction at six months of age, average milk intake is 769 mL [3]. We see the average milk intake steadily decrease, with the average at nine months at 637 mL/day, and 445 mL/day at 12 months [3]. So keep in mind that after introducing solids, if the baby’s milk requirements decrease, the pumping frequency may be decreased as well. 


Maximizing Milk Production: How to find your magic milk number

Mother breastfeeding baby, and pumping breastmilk with a handheld pump.

If your journey is combined with both direct breastfeeding and pumping, a more personalized approach to determining the amount of pumping required would be done by calculating your magic number. Learning your magic number may help you feel more confident in judging your milk supply. The magic number is the volume of milk removals needed to keep the supply stable [2]. This number varies from mother to mother because it is based on breast storage capacity and degree of breast fullness. 


A mother that has smaller breast storage capacity will have a greater chance of decreased milk supply if she goes 5 hours without pumping, compared to a mother with larger storage capacity. Fuller breasts produce milk more slowly than empty breasts. So it is very possible for one person to pump 5 times per day and maintain an adequate supply, while someone else may need to pump 8 times per day to maintain an adequate supply.


Understanding Your Magic Number 

For those of us who are pumping and direct breastfeeding, they need to maintain equal milk removals to maintain supply. If your baby on average feeds at the breast 7 times in 24 hours, then you should attempt to remove milk 7 times in 24 hours between direct breastfeeding and pumping. 


For those combo feeding (breastfeeding + pumping):

If your baby on average feeds at the breast 7 times in 24 hours, then you should attempt to remove milk 7 times in 24 hours between direct breastfeeding and pumping. 


For exclusively breastfeeding mamas:

If your baby on average feeds at the breast 7 times in 24 hours, then you should attempt to remove milk 7 times in 24 hours via direct breastfeeding.


Note, for partial pumpers, the longer the length of time away from the baby, the greater the number of pumps are required.


Close-up of two breast pump bottles standing, clear and purple, and with an unfocused background.

The length of time you should pump depends on your milk ejection pattern.. Current recommendations include pumping for 15 min or until milk ejections slow to a trickle. Those with late ejections may require 15 minutes or more to achieve full drainage [1]. However, it is possible for some, with early milk ejections, to have nearly drained the breast in 10 minutes and pumping longer does not result in a significant increase in volume [1]. Doing some direct feeding at the breast may provide more flexibility regarding length of time required for pumping because the baby will still be a part of regulating milk supply [4]. 


Volume is not always everything

Combo feeding parents, meaning to feed directly from the breast and pump, need to know that low pumped volume is not always indicative of low milk supply. If a baby, who is most often the superior with milk removal from the breast, is helping to regulate supply, they will feed to their need [5]. Thus, if your pump volume is not as large as someone else’s, but YOUR baby is growing well and meeting milestones, then you have the milk supply that your baby needs. As adults, it is not common for us to eat the same amount of food at each meal. So, we can expect and trust for the baby to feed to satiety.


Summary

In summary, pumping duration and frequency of feeding your baby varies greatly depending on your feeding style. Are you exclusively breastfeeding, or combo feeding by breastfeeding and pumping? Focus on these key areas when thinking about the ideal pumping duration and frequency to ensure your baby gets adequate nutrients through breastmilk. These items will help you in maximizing your milk production:

  1. Tailoring Your Pumping Routine: Recognize that every breastfeeding journey is unique, so adjust your pumping schedule and frequency according to your specific circumstances, whether you're exclusively pumping, combining pumping with breastfeeding, or solely breastfeeding.

  2. Understanding Your Milk Needs: Determine your personalized "magic number" – the volume of milk removals necessary to sustain your milk supply – based on factors like breast storage capacity and fullness. Match the number of milk removals to your baby's typical breastfeeding sessions in 24 hours to maintain your milk supply. And remember your magic number will fluctuate as your baby grows, starts solids, experiences illness, etc.. 

  3. Adapting to Milk Ejection Patterns: Align your pumping duration with your individual milk ejection patterns. Pump for the recommended duration or until milk ejections slow, understanding that low pumped volume doesn't necessarily indicate low milk supply, especially for combo feeders. Trust your baby's feeding cues and growth milestones to assess milk supply adequacy. 

If you have additional questions or concerns around your unique feeding journey, I encourage you to book a consultation with me! During a 1:1 virtual consultation I discuss a variety of lactation topics with parents to ensure they feel confident and empowered feeding their baby. Don’t forget, you may be able to receive up to six consultations with me for FREE, covered by your insurance. Check your eligibility with our partner, The Lactation Network (TLN), here.


Keep on pumping,



 Christsenio Dean  Registered Nurse, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, & Allergy Expert at Free to Feed













💙 Christsenio Dean

Registered Nurse, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, & Allergy Expert at Free to Feed


References

  1. Kent, J. C., Prime, D. K., & Garbin, C. P. (2012). Principles for maintaining or increasing breast milk production. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing, 41(1), 114–121. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1552-6909.2011.01313.x 

  2. Mohrbacher, N. (2011). The magic number and long-term milk production. Clinical Lactation, 2(1), 15–18. https://doi.org/10.1891/215805311807011827 

  3. Nutrition During Lactation. (1991). National Academies Press. January 11, 2024

  4. Ru, X., Huang, X., & Feng, Q. (2020). Successful full lactation achieved by mothers of preterm infants using exclusive pumping. Frontiers in Pediatrics, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fped.2020.00191 

  5. Yamada, R., Rasmussen, K. M., & Felice, J. P. (2019). "What Is 'Enough,' and How Do I Make It?: A Qualitative Examination of Questions Mothers Ask on Social Media About Pumping and Providing an Adequate Amount of Milk for Their Infants. Breastfeeding Medicine: The Official Journal of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, 14(1), 17–21. https://doi.org/10.1089/bfm.2018.0154


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