The general consensus when it comes to timing your breastfeeding sessions is simple: don't. But if you're a pumping mom, how are you supposed to tackle those sessions in the workplace? How often should you pump at work to maintain your supply without feeling like you're attached to the machine? It's not like your pump can give you a cue that it's hungry like your baby does.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Kristin Gourley of Lactation Link tells Romper that the amount of times you pump at work can depend on a few factors. "For most moms, pumping at least every two to three hours is best to keep supply up," Gourley says. "But depending on mom's storage capacity (this varies for every mom and isn't necessarily dependent on breast size), some moms can go longer in between pumping sessions (or feeding baby) without risking a decrease in supply."
Think about how often your baby eats in your time away from them. If you leave three bottles for your baby's caregiver while you're working an eight-hour shift, then you can assume it's best to pump at least three times during your workday to make up for those missed feedings. Your breast milk is produced by supply and demand, so if you weren't pumping, you would've had to nurse that often during the day to satisfy your baby's hunger, according to La Leche League International.
But if you aren't sure how often baby nurses or are worried about making sure you pump enough, you can follow Gourley's suggestion of pumping every two to three hours. "As you get into your groove at work and away from baby, you may find that you need to pump more or less in order to pump enough for while baby is away," she says. "In general, pumping more often for shorter periods of time is more effective than pumping less often for a longer period of time."
IBCLC Heather Shabestari of Breastfeeding Consultants of San Diego agrees with Gourley. "I generally tell mothers to not go longer than three hours without pumping at work," Shabestari tells Romper. "Most of the time, the first month back at work is OK, but then supply may start to dip, so keeping on a little schedule can help reduce stress while at work."
Shabestari also notes that when most mothers contact her about a drop in supply, she finds they aren't pumping long enough at work. "They usually tell me that they pump for 10 to 15 minutes and I suggest they pump for 10 minutes, take a break for two minutes, and then pump again for an additional 10 minutes, or close to it. Many times, they get a higher milk yield this way," she says.
No matter what, pumping at work can be an adjustment, but with a schedule, you can definitely make it work for you. Shabestari recommends giving yourself a quick breast massage just prior to pumping and investing in a good pump to get the most out of those sessions. Try not to stare at the milk accumulating in your containers either — it can be really stressful to constantly look for the ounces you're producing — and she suggests using your pumping session as "you time" so you can relax, listen to music or a video of your baby, and take some deep breaths. It shouldn't be a stressful time in your work day, no matter how often you have to do it.