When to Start Pumping

Given that all pregnancies, and all mamas, are different — when to start pumping breastmilk will vary from person to person. Additionally, not all mothers will choose to pump at all. In this post, we’re going to explore breast pumps, pumping, and the “when” and “why” behind different scenarios mothers might face.

Should I Pump Before Labor?

Many mothers start producing colostrum long before it’s time for birth — around 20 weeks. If you’re one of those mamas, you might have wondered if you should start collecting this gold liquid and saving it for a rainy day. And guess what? If you have a normal, healthy pregnancy, there is absolutely no harm in pumping colostrum before the baby arrives.

If you want to plan ahead and save enough for a bottle or two, you can let your partner or a family member be in charge of a feeding when you take a much-needed postpartum nap. If you are not intending to use a bottle at all, however, you might not find use for the stored colostrum, since your baby will only drink this golden milk for the first few days of their life.

If, however, your pregnancy fits under any of the following categories, it’s recommended that you do not pump before labor. Pumping before labor can cause contractions — which are usually harmless and natural during pregnancy. But with high-risk pregnancies, it’s better to stay on the safe side.

If you are:

  • Having a high-risk pregnancy
  • Are at risk for pre-term labor
  • Carrying multiples.
  • Have been advised against sexual activity during pregnancy
  • Experiencing bleeding or uterine pain.

. . . . then it is not recommended that you pump before labor. If you experience discomfort due to swelling of your breasts, it is still safe to massage yourself to relieve pressure and tension — and hand express only a small amount for relief.

Should I Start Pumping Right When Baby Arrives?

The short answer is: it depends. Are you planning to primarily breastfeed your baby? Bottle feed only? A combination of the two? How long is your maternity leave? All of these questions are helpful to answer when deciding when you should start pumping. Often, each situation is so different that it’s hard to find a definitive answer to this. Most mothers will start pumping when they need to, or when their life situation depends on having stored milk for convenience. So really, it’s up to you and your family’s needs!

If You’re Primarily Breastfeeding

If you are, or plan to, breastfeed primarily, then you might not want to pump right away. Using a breast pump or getting out of the breastfeeding rhythm that you and your baby are creating together, can sometimes interrupt that rhythm. As the saying goes, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Focus on breastfeeding and developing your breastfeeding relationship, milk production, latching, etc., before worrying about pumping.

If, however, you’re like many mamas, and you want the option for your partner to help with feedings, you might want to have at least a small stash on hand. You can use the breast pump in between feedings to build up a small supply to have in the fridge or freezer for backup. If you’re a primarily breastfeeding mom, keep in mind that there is absolutely no shame in using the pump and bottle when you need some help. Having a well-rested, healthy mama is very important to your baby and their overall health. Take care of yourself — and ask for help when you need it!

If You’re Primarily Bottle Feeding

If you’re planning to bottle feed for whatever reason — whether it’s work, health reasons, or just a personal decision, then you will likely want to start pumping right away — or even before birth, if you can.

We discussed earlier that it’s completely safe to pump colostrum if you have a healthy pregnancy. So, if this applies to you, and you’re wanting to bottle feed your baby, you will want to have colostrum ready when the baby arrives. This will, of course, get your baby fed right away, but also cut down on any stress or worry about what to do when the baby first arrives — especially if you aren’t wanting to supplement with formula right off the bat. While nearly nothing goes according to plan when it comes to birth and labor, it’s always nice to be as prepared as you possibly can!

Whether you start pumping before labor or shortly after, starting as soon as possible helps you and your body get into the rhythm of pumping. In the same way that breastfeeding is a relationship between you and your baby, pumping is a relationship between your body and your pump. Finding the right size attachments, your “best/worst” side, how long to pump, how often, etc., are all things that you typically find out with trial and error — through the experience of pumping. Like breastfeeding, it’s not always easy. But the more and the longer you do it, the better your results will be. So if you’re planning to pump and exclusively bottle feed, you’ll want to get started as soon as you can!

If You’re Planning to Supplement

When it comes to feeding your baby, “supplementing” can mean several different things. First, supplementing can refer to pumped milk. If you are primarily breastfeeding, but you give your baby a bottle every once in a while — then you are supplementing with pumped milk.

The most common use of the term “supplementing,” though, is related to formula. Whether you are feeding your child breast milk from the breast, a bottle, or both — adding formula to the mix is called “supplementing.”

There are many reasons why mothers might choose to supplement with formula, including:

  • Low milk supply
  • Trouble pumping
  • Mom going back to work
  • Convenience
  • Personal choice
  • Medical Issues

Depending on whether you’re supplementing with pumped milk or formula, your choice to supplement might impact when/how you start pumping.

Supplementing with Pumped Milk

If you’re breastfeeding, but aren’t going to feed your baby directly from the breast every time, then you might be supplementing with pumped or stored milk in a bottle. It’s hard for mothers to know exactly how much, how often, or what their feeding schedule will look like until you’re right in the middle of it.

However, if you’ve had a previous pregnancy and already know or have an idea as to how you want to breastfeed — you might already know that you want to do half and half, for example. Or that you plan for baby to use a bottle only at night.

If you already have a plan as to how you want your supplementation to go, it’s easier to decide when to start pumping and preparing for your desired schedule and method.

Supplementing with Formula

If you’re doing a combination of formula feeding and pumping/breastfeeding, you might have a little more leeway in deciding when to pump. Like other combinations, it’s likely easiest to start pumping as soon as possible so that you can start building a good supply in storage. But given that you’re supplementing with formula, there is no concern for the baby’s food supply to ever run out.

This being said, it is still very important to find consistency when possible — both for you and your baby. Some mothers and babies struggle with going back and forth between different types of feedings: whether it’s breast vs. bottle, or breastmilk vs. formula. If they’re able to find a good routine and know what to expect each day, it will make the transition easier for you both.

Conclusion

Are you dizzy yet? There are so many different combinations and ways to feed your child. These decisions depend on the mother, the father, the family’s lifestyle, work situation, health needs (including mental health!) and so many more factors.

Trying to decide when to start pumping can be a guessing game — particularly if you are a new mom or never wanted or planned to use a pump to begin with! It can also be quite a learning process — so never hesitate to reach out to us, your doctor, a lactation consultant for tips and how to when it comes to pumping.

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