What to Expect When Pumping

March 20, 2012. Posted in: Mother-2-Mother.com,Pumping issues

Reprinted from Mother-2-Mother.com (2000-2006), with permission from the author, Paula Y.

 The very thought of pumping breastmilk can cause concern for the new mother. Questions like what kind of pump, when, where, and how much to pump are primary concerns, followed by concerns about the milk looking funny, storage issues and how much expressed breastmilk is needed per bottle. The answers to these concerns will vary for both individual mothers and babies depending on their individual needs and circumstances.

The type/brand of pump you choose depends on whether you will be pumping frequently, or only occasionally. It is important to purchase a good quality pump, because poor quality pumps can result in poor performance of pump, and breast soreness. A breast pump is a personal product, and manufacturers do not recommend purchasing a used breast pump. Know the risks involved if you are considering a used pump.

Check with your doctor and insurance company to see if your pump and other breastfeeding supplies can be covered by your health insurance. Many times with a doctors prescription, insurance companies will pay for a breastpump. This is especially true for mothers of premature or babies that are sick and need special care.

How much you pump depends on individual needs. If you are returning to work your needs for the type/brand of pump and the amount you pump may be very different than if you are pumping occasionally.  NOTE: Keep in mind that the average mom can express between ONE and THREE oz per pumping session (not per breast, per session).

Mothers who have spent a lot of time pumping, especially those who have pumped exclusively for long periods, have noted that as you pump, milk will flow and then stop, then flow & stop, then flow & stop, and so on & so on, and it can vary from person to person as to the individual pattern. These mothers recommend if you are trying to increase the amount you can pump, to pump for at least 15 minutes. (you might also continue pumping for 5 minutes after your milk stops flowing).

Remember to pump at LEAST 10 minutes, but no more than 20-30 minutes per session.

Be sure that you are comfortable. Some moms use the Pumpin’ Pal breastshield, which inserts into the shield of your regular pump and enables you to lean back while pumping. The idea is to be able to relax a little more.

When you pump can make a difference in the amount you pump. It is quite normal for there to be a lower volume, or amount expressed in the late afternoon and evening hours as opposed to early morning hours. Most experts recommend, especially for the occasional pumper, to express their milk in the early morning hours, about an hour after nursing.

NOTE: It cannot be stressed enough that the amount of milk you able to pump is NOT ever a reliable indicator of how much milk you are producing, nor how much milk baby is taking in. The healthy breastfed baby is usually much more efficient at getting milk from the breast than a pump is.

More here on the amount of expressed milk needed by a baby.

There are many good resources for information on storage and handling of expressed breastmilk. You can freeze your milk for use later, or you can pump and store milk in fridge one day to be used the following day, depending on your individual circumstances.

Milk volume and appearance can and does change throughout the course of the breastfeeding relationship. In the early days after the birth of baby, the body has no idea how much milk to make, so often there is an abundance. After a few weeks, the body regulates and supply adjusts meet the needs of the baby, and the “volume” pumped may be reduced somewhat. Regular pumping will signal the body that there is increased demand, and the supply adjusts to meet these needs. It is normal for there to be a drop in the amount of milk pumped at about 3 months post partum due to a hormonal change. Adjusting pumping and nursing patterns can help compensate for this normal phase of the breastfeeding relationship.

What does breastmilk look like? Breastmilk can be thin and watery looking, and may have a blue or yellow tint to it. It can even take on a hint of green, orange or other color if mother has been eating lots of green foods, or other colored foods, especially those with dye, such as green Gatorade. The color of the milk is usually not anything to be concerned about however it’s always good to check with a breastfeeding professional to be sure.

It does not always look the same because breastmilk changes it’s composition throughout the feedings, as well as throughout the day. As baby grows, breastmilk continues to change to meet the needs for optimal growth, at each stage of baby’s development . This means that mom’s breastmilk at four months is perfectly suited to the needs of her four month old baby, and at six months, perfectly suited for her six month old.

Expressed breastmilk will separate when stored in refrigerator. This can be a real shock to anyone who is not aware that this is normal. Sometimes there is a thick later of “cream” or fat on top, other times a thin layer. Sometimes the milk looks lumpy, or clumpy, and sometimes it can be nearly clear toward the bottom of the bottle. All of the above are completely normal occurrences, and does not mean the milk has spoiled. Spoiled milk has a distinct sour smell.

The picture here shows an example of what normal breastmilk may look like.

When ready to offer to the baby, one needs only to remove from fridge and gently swirl the milk in a gentle “tornado-like” fashion to remix it. Warm water run over the sides of the bottle will help when the thicker parts stick to the sides of the bottle. NOTE: Never shake breastmilk to mix! Shaking can damage the milk, and is not recommended!

There can be many “ups” and “downs” for the pumping mother, but with patience, and persistence, most obstacles can be overcome. If any difficulties are encountered, it’s always a good idea to contact your local LLL, a board certified lactation consultant, or your local breastfeeding support group for information and/or assistance.

Yesenia Tuckwiller March 23, 2012 at 9:35 am

Why shouldn’t I pump for more than 20 mins?

Guest April 16, 2012 at 12:04 pm

it will make your nipples sore.  Best to limit to about 20 minutes per session

Maritza Coronado October 26, 2012 at 7:22 am

should I still stop after 20 minutes if I continue to see milk flowing? Would my body decrease production thinkng the unexpressed milk in breast was not needed?

Jessica April 2, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I think it depends on the last time you pumped or fed. I exclusively pumped for 9 months and in the beginning pumping every two hours 20 min was a good pump time but when I was pumping every 5 to 6 hours I would pump for an hour at a time.

Kali Michal Clark November 3, 2013 at 6:52 pm

I never had a problem with pumping for more than 20 minutes and I don’t have sore nipples… I pump 20-30 minutes per side depending on when the milk stops flowing out of the breast

Kparkansky July 3, 2012 at 12:44 pm

My milk smells sour that I have stored(froze). I’ve been freezing since May and it’s now July. We went on vacation for 2 wks and I came home and defrosted a bag properly and it smelled different than it has ever smelled. I did a little research and it called lipase. Can anyone help with this matter? I’ve already thrown away 3 bags and I worked so hard to have a stock pile. I still have 6 more May bags. I am afraid that they will all have to be trashed also.

kellymom July 3, 2012 at 7:06 pm

 Have you seen our article about this? Here’s the link: http://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/milkstorage/lipase-expressedmilk/  You may also find it helpful to post in our forums to ask other mothers what they have done in similar situations: http://forum.kellymom.net/

Lisa Tsakos September 8, 2012 at 6:41 am

Thank you for this information. A well-meaning childcare worker suggested that since my pumped milk is thin and watery, it isn’t providing enough nutrients and fat to properly nourish my 4 month old. I worried all day that she might be right and am very relieved to read that both the quality and amount of milk I’m producing are exactly as they should be. Now ladies, if there are artificial colors showing up in your milk, please get them out of your diet! Artificial colors have been shown to affect a child’s behavior (my toddler is no exception! Food dyes, especially reds, make her go totally nuts).  

AchicP October 22, 2012 at 4:24 am

I’ve been expressing occasionally and have always seen the milk come out white. but today I expressed and the milk was mostly clear, like water. I expressed 4oz from one breast in 10min. Now, my LO is 11 weeks and has had green stools during the day for the last week or so. So I am wondering if I could be producing only foremilk?Is that possible. I haven’t pumped in 2 weeks or so…

Jasmine November 12, 2012 at 11:29 am

When there is green stool this is usually an indication of too much foremilk. You will need to pump the foremilk and let him breast feed the rest which will be your hind milk or pump longer till you see your thick creamy consistency

Allison April 9, 2014 at 9:23 am

Do you still keep this milk if it’s considered the foremilk?

Sarah November 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm

This is the first time I’ve ever felt Kellymom was wrong about something. You do NOT need to limit yourself to 20 minutes pumping. DO NOT damage your nipples, but as you get used to pumping, there’s no reason to stop if you’re still making milk! Some women don’t even get a letdown for the pump until 15/20 minutes into a session – Please don’t stop at some arbitrary time limit, just like you wouldn’t stop your baby nursing after an arbitrary time.

Sarah November 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm

This is the first time I’ve ever felt Kellymom was wrong about something. You do NOT need to limit yourself to 20 minutes pumping. DO NOT damage your nipples, but as you get used to pumping, there’s no reason to stop if you’re still making milk! Some women don’t even get a letdown for the pump until 15/20 minutes into a session – Please don’t stop at some arbitrary time limit, just like you wouldn’t stop your baby nursing after an arbitrary time.

guest December 19, 2012 at 12:38 am

ive never had a problem getting milk let-down when i pump. for the past month or so i was doing an extra pumping session at night when my baby sleeps to store or use to make oatmeal. i stopped for two nights (i work nights and was too tired) and since then i cannot get milk let-down!! I think ive tried everything! I think about my baby, have a pic of her, hold her blanket etc. but i cant seem to get let-down. i feel like im just getting the foremilk. i was always able to get an extra 5-6oz. now im lucky to get 2oz! my extra frozen supply is running low now because i cannot keep up! Please kellymom tell me what to do im desperate!

erika December 19, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Can someone give me some information on donating milk? My daughter is 4 months old and i have never pumped. I really want to donate but i am so scared to not have enough milk or have too much when i stop pumping. I’m at the point where my supply is perfect and i never leak anymore like when she was born.

Anna February 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Where did you find that jar?! I love it!

Ashley February 27, 2013 at 5:35 pm

I am having severe pain in my nipples and they say I have something called Raynauds and it hurts so bad, has anyone else had this happen.

Diana March 30, 2013 at 12:30 am

Have you gotten checked for thrush of your nipples? This can cause severe pain.

Diana March 30, 2013 at 12:32 am

Oh, wait. You already said it is Reynaud’s. Sorry @ that. Best of luck to you.

Kristi August 29, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I have Raynauds as a side effect of blood pressure medication. It is increadably painful. try b6 supplements, and calcuim and magnisium. There is a medication that can be given, but I have not tried it, becasue heat and the supplements have helps me. Try Boob Tubes too, they fit directly into your bra, and are cheap on amazon.

Kristi August 29, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I have Raynauds as a side effect of blood pressure medication. It is increadably painful. try b6 supplements, and calcuim and magnisium. There is a medication that can be given, but I have not tried it, becasue heat and the supplements have helps me. Try Boob Tubes too, they fit directly into your bra, and are cheap on amazon.

Leora Isenhower March 27, 2013 at 9:47 am

according to my Lansinoh breast milk storage bags my milk, at room temp is good for 4-6 hours. Fridge 3-5 days, and freezer 6-2 months but every thing I have read on the internet says something totally different so how do I know who is correct. I did have some frozen but for some reason my milk production slowed down like majorly and i ended up using it all, then suddenly like nothing ever happened it just picked back up to where it used to be, I have 4 other kids and nothing like that has ever happened, all of my other pregnancies and babies were pretty much the same but my little Selene seems to be so different from the rest, It has been 7 years since my last baby I feel like such a rookie.

Briget Cochran April 10, 2013 at 6:29 pm

I have never gotten a hard letdown when pumping (I use a Medela Swing single pump) but I can pump about 4 to 4.5 oz per session. I usually only pump once to twice a day. I however was NOT aware that it was bad to shake the milk when getting it out of the fridge. :/ From now on I will be ‘swirling’ as suggested… thank you for the heads up!

Hilary Koch April 24, 2013 at 10:32 am

I didn’t know it was bad to shake as well! I will definitely be swirling now!

saraw April 21, 2013 at 12:39 am

Can someone help me… I’ve been exclusively pumping because my daughter was born with a few health issues that made breastfeeding virtually impossible. I have a Medela Symphony but here is the problem–my nipples are extra long and pretty big. I am using extra extra large breast shields and they’re the right size, but my nipples gets pulled clear into where the shields narrow to fit into the connectors. So it doesn’t matter how big the shield is, my nipple is too long and still rubs the side because it’s getting pulled in so far. I have tried Pumpin’ Pals too, same problem. This is PAINFUL and frustrating because I know I’m not getting as much milk out as I could thanks to this issue, but I can’t seem to find a single source anywhere that makes an extra long breast shield in addition to being extra large… does anyone have any ideas? I’m at the end of my rope.

concerned May 11, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I can think of a few make-shift alternatives. How long and thick are your nipples? We could construct something, but I think I can be of better assistance if I know your nipple dimensions.

ljf July 9, 2013 at 2:33 pm

did anyone decided to pump and not breastfeed? I am not wanting to breastfeed and only pump. how did it work?

merissirem August 4, 2013 at 8:32 pm

I’ve been pumping exclusively for 12 weeks now. I just couldn’t handle breastfeeding in the first few weeks despite help from an LC. I started pumping because I want my baby to have the best food possible. So far, it has worked well for us. Every now and then I think that it’s more time consuming, but I’ve gotten so used to it that I hardly think about it anymore. I have a good stash in my freezer for daycare and keep some in the fridge for immediate use. I get about 4-6 oz from each breast per pumping session which is enough for two feedings and sometimes a little extra.

lks August 19, 2013 at 8:40 pm

I have a 6 week old baby and have been only pumping and bottle feeding the breast milk since my son was a week old. I pump every 2 hours when I’m at home and stretch to every 3 hours if we go somewhere. I have a good supply,( I’m still using milk from July), and that way everyone gets the joy of feeding our little one.

lks August 19, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Through the night I pump whenever he gets up, it ranges from every 2 hours to every 5-7 hours. I usually get up every 3 hours thinking he’ll wake up and just pump then.

Kate July 22, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I did not know you shouldn’t shake breast milk to mix it. I do this all the time when putting it in a freezer storage bag. Is this milk bad now?

Megan July 30, 2013 at 2:07 am

it should be fine i asked my doctor about it and he said it was ok

amanda September 25, 2013 at 7:17 pm

what type of bottle is the best to use for breastfed babies

Kbjiara October 2, 2013 at 1:11 pm

I had no problem using NUK. It was designed precisely for breastfed babies.

Kali Michal Clark November 3, 2013 at 6:53 pm

I love using Tommee Tippee. I got it as a free sample at Target, and haven’t used anything else since. Two of my other mommy friends use it and love it as well. Just make sure the vent is turned upright towards the baby’s nose and that there is no water or other fluid blocking it for it to work properly. I usually just blow into it like a balloon before I feed baby.

KB new momma October 19, 2013 at 5:41 pm

I breastfed my 3 and a half week old daughter until she was full, then pumped for the first time to start to get the hang of it and begin to give my daughter a chance to try having a bottle in preparation for the future. After feeding her, I still pumped about 2 and a half ounces (combined from both breasts; more from the breast she had nursed less from) – and I stopped out of concern of developing an over supply.

My question: is the amount I pumped after a feeding normal? Am I risking developing an over supply since I am still exclusively breastfeeding at this point?


Heather Manning March 20, 2014 at 6:32 am

How much pull should I allow from the pump. I am relactating, I have been pumping for 5 days trying to stimulate milk production. Just needed to know if I need significant pull or just slight stimulant from the pump, or if it matters!?…

kt April 12, 2014 at 10:25 am

Can someone help? I pump cause I’m a working mom, my nipple shields are the right size and I only pump for about 20 mins however after I’ve been pumping for about 8 minutes my nipples are pulled all the way to the end of the sheild and are hitting the wall that the milk splashes against to go down into the bottle. When I am done and take off the pump my nipples are huge and look disfigured, they take a long time to “go down” and I have to put my bra back on and go to work so I’m basically bending my nipples in my bra… I’m worried they will never go back to normal and I’m getting disfigured…. any advice????