Each unique milk supply requires a certain number of breast stimulations (nursing or pumping) per 24 hours to maintain a steady volume of output, often working on a 3-5 day lag from the stimulation message it receives.

Lactating parents often ask,

“When should I pump?”

My reply? 

“What is the purpose of your pump session?” aka “why are you pumping?”

Often they look at me puzzled.

In general, we should know why we are doing something before we do it, especially when it comes to hooking a machine up to our bodies. I happen to also be a firm believer in setting realistic expectations along with this “why.”

Pump to Protect the Milk Supply

  • This pump session is to stimulate your breasts when the baby isn’t directly latching to the breast and removing milk on their own.

This includes:

  • Pumping as a stimulation.
  • Pumping to stimulate in place of directly latching (nursing).
  • Pumping to complete a stimulation after directly latching (nursing) if baby is ineffective at adequately removing enough milk from the breast to be considered a stimulation.

Pump to Promote the Milk Supply

  • This pump session is designed to increase milk supply by providing breast stimulation in addition to baseline breast stimulation that protects supply. 
  • This may be in an attempt to increase an undersupply of production. 
  • It can also be done in an effort to collect additional milk above the current baseline volume, driving supply above average and toward oversupply.

This includes:

  • Pumping more frequently in 24 hours than is required to maintain current milk volume.
  • Pumping after an effective direct nursing.

Pump to Relieve or Treat Breast or Nipple Pain

This is a pump session that is designed to use the pump machine as a tool to achieve the goal of alleviating breast or nipple pain.

This includes:

  • To drain a worrisome, full section of breast tissue, in order to relieve or treat plugged ducts or mastitis. 
  • Pumping in place of direct latching to heal nipple pain and trauma.

Once you are clear on why you are pumping, you can begin to focus on how to pump to express your milk.

How to Pump


  • Highest comfortable suction, not highest tolerable suction.
  • Pain is not normal. More vacuum does not mean more milk.
  • Adjust vacuum as needed, especially with changes in cycle speed

Flange Fit

  • The best flange fit is comfortable and effective. If your nipples aren’t rubbing and your breasts seem to be draining, the flange you are using is fine. 
  • Carefully experiment with changing sizes, try using a pumping lubricant (store bought or olive oil or coconut oil) to make pumping even more comfortable and effective.

Length Of Time

  • 10-30 minutes on each breast, ideally done simultaneously with a hands free pumping bra.


  • 8-12 times a day for the first 6 weeks
  • After 6 weeks, 6-12 times a day. Six if you are pumping large volume, twelve if you are trying to make more milk.
  • No longer than 5 hours between pumps from start to start, fewer than 5 hours if your breasts feel uncomfortably full.


  • Ease your breasts into pumping by starting with a low vacuum and a fast or vibratory cycle. It often takes about two minutes of this stimulating cycle to send messaging to the brain to allow the milk to let down and flow.
  • Once the milk begins to flow, switch to a slower cycle.
  • If you are looking to “ask your body for more milk” and your breasts seem to be mostly drained of milk, use a high speed or a vibration setting for the last 3-5 minutes of pumping.

Pumping Techniques

Try out a variety of pumping techniques. Take it or leave it. Some or all of these techniques may help you pump more efficiently, comfortably, and/or with the least mental frustration. Every body is different and boobs need different strategies at different times.


“Check in” means you mentally get into your body. Ask yourself, “where am I and what am I doing?”  You are attached to a pump, expressing your milk. You are watching the milk come out. You are using hands on pumping. You are focusing on draining a full section of your breast. You are checked in when you are actively thinking about the pumping process.

“Check-in” Strategies:

  • Warm up and wake up your breasts using a source of warmth and boob massage. 
  • Hands on Pumping
  • 5-5-7 deep breathing with focus on slowing your breathing, relaxing your body, and slowing your heart rate.


“Checking out” means shifting your mental focus to something other than the physical act of pumping. Also know as “getting out of your head.” Checking out is a really important strategy when you are too all up in your pumping session. Sometimes, you just need to leave it alone.

“Check-out” Strategies:

  • Check out to baby—Memorize your baby, get a status report or picture from childcare. Look at pictures and videos of your baby. Trick your mind and heart into thinking the baby is there with you.
  • Check out to distraction- complete work tasks, listen to a podcast, watch Netflix, listen to music.
  • Check out to guided meditation- check out Headspace, Insight Timer or another meditation app and follow along.
  • 5-5-7 deep breathing with focus on clearing your mind.
  • USE HEADPHONES to get the sound of the pump out of your ears. If your pump is “talking to you,” put on headphones and check out.


If you don’t have a hands-free pumping bra yet, get one.

Hands on Strategies (often done while also “checking-in” to your body):

  • Warm up and wake up your breasts (especially if it is cold out!)
  • Use firm, not painful compressions. Try using your knuckles, your fingertips or a deep sandwich. Don’t be afraid to really get in there!
  • Try taking a break and turning the pump off to look for spots to drain.
  • Try pumping one breast at a time. Often one breast can handle a higher vacuum than another.
  • Try hand expression after pumping
  • Repeat a fast, stimulation cycle at the end of your pumping session

“Hands off”

Just like it sounds. Set the pump up, set a timer, and let ‘em pump without the help of your hands.

Hands off works well with the “check out” method. You may want to cover up your set up with a cover or sweater so you aren’t tempted to check in or put your hands on your set up. If you’re pumping while driving, you’re mostly pumping hands off. When it comes to pumping, experiment until you find whatever works best for your body and your mind at that particular pumping session.