How Much Time Should I Spend Pumping?

Don’t you hate it when you want a quick and definitive answer to a straight-forward question and instead you get: There is no one answer. When it comes to how long does it take to pump breast milk, everyone is different.

Well—we hate to tell you that, so…we’ll pretend like we didn’t (although it is true) and move on to a few standard and average breast pumping times as provided by published medical practitioners and experienced moms.

If you’re pumping to supplement your nursing schedule and create a stored supply of breast milk:
Don’t be frustrated if you don’t get much milk when you first start pumping. After a few days of regular pumping, your breasts will increase their milk output as the more your nurse and pump, the more amount of milk your breasts produce. Because you’re producing little at first, start little. Trying pumping for 5 minutes after every time your nurse. Increase the pumping time each day, always following your body’s warning signs and stopping pumping if your nipples are too sore or bloody. Eventually, you should collect a sufficient amount of breast milk in 15-20 minutes with a good, double breast pump.

If you’re exclusively pumping (EPing):
Average, healthy newborns nurse 8-12 times daily. Your goal is to match this frequency, pumping every 2-3 hours (not exceeding 3 hours). With an electric double pump each pumping session should last an average of 20 minutes. (Any longer and you risk irritation.) In the first couple of weeks you might also want to pump twice during the night, although this is a personal choice. Following this schedule and duration you should establish a good, constant milk supply.

If you’re pumping as you return to work:
If you’ve been exclusively nursing prior to returning to work, here’s a great tip: practice for 1-2 weeks before “go time” so you can get the hang of it and begin to collect and store milk. At first pumping will take about the same amount of time as breastfeeding, but with practice and a double pump, you can collect a good amount in 10-15 minutes. While at work, try to pump as often as your baby nurses (every 2-3 hours). To keep your milk supply up, give your baby extra feedings when you’re together. You can also pump directly after your baby feeds, which—as a bonus—will help your breast produce more milk.

Again, these are only generalities and average breast pumping times provided by published medical practitioners and experienced moms (citations provided). If you’re having trouble or have specific questions please consult your physician and/or a lactation consultant.

Lastly, remember that while it’s frustrating to hear, it’s true: everyone is different. Don’t be discouraged or upset if your pumping times are longer than designated averages. And don’t be surprised if the balance and rhythm of pumping takes some practice. The one commonality is that once you find your breast pumping groove, it’s worth it!