Expressing milk by breast pumping

Many women have questions regarding expressing milk by pump, especially in the first few weeks after giving birth. 

There are many reasons why a woman may need to pump her milk, but for the majority of women, they just want some flexibility to go out for an hour or two away from their baby, and be confident that the baby can still receive breast milk.

It’s equally important to know that many women may never use a breast pump for the whole of their breastfeeding journey, and that’s equally fine.

If this is true for you, it is still worth learning the technique of hand expression, where you use your hand to express milk out of the breast.

This technique can help to relieve engorgement, and can prevent and treat a blocked duct or mastitis.

Hand expression is also useful if you have a fast let-down, where your baby may cough or splutter at the beginning of a feed, or at various times throughout a feed.

You can also use the technique to express a little bit of milk off the breast, if you are occasionally separated from your baby.

Once you have learned the technique of hand expression, it’s great to use it to keep yourself comfortable from birth, whenever that situation arises.

Picture of baby breastfeeding

However, before pumping your milk with an actual pump, it is FAR better to allow your breastmilk to become established first, which usually takes about four to six weeks.

This is purely because your baby is building up your milk supply every single day, putting in extra demand, telling your body to make milk, according to his needs.

Around the four to six-week mark, your body will then make a very similar amount of milk per day – so at that point, you have the flexibility for some extra pumping.

However, there are some circumstances where using a breast pump can be useful, even in those first four to six weeks, such as where your baby isn’t attaching well at the breast or isn’t feeding particularly efficiently.

Therefore a pump is needed to tell your body to make extra milk, which can be given to your baby until he becomes a more efficient feeder.

It’s also wonderful to know that breast pumps can be useful when you go back to work to help you boost and maintain your supply to ensure that your baby still receives your breastmilk. 

One of the reasons why you may be pumping your milk is because you want flexibility, that choice of being able to give a little expressed milk in combination with breastfeeding.

It may also be that you want to pump your milk exclusively, and that’s a personal choice too.

So if you are planning to pump, it’s good to be clear about the reasons why you are doing it, and how often you are hoping to do this, because the type of pump that you choose will be specific to those needs.

If you need to pump your milk exclusively, perhaps your baby is not latching at all at the moment, or you’re trying to relactate or induce lactation, the best possible pump is a hospital grade double pump.

These industrial strength type pumps can reduce your pumping time and usually ensure more yield of milk in the process.

Many women have tried very hard to boost supply and maintain their supply for their baby, with a less than adequate pump, and this can be a real challenge.

If, for any reason, you are unable to obtain a hospital grade double pump, it’s essential to look at the best quality one you can that will help you to make as much milk as possible.

Often, breastfeeding mothers who are frequently pumping, have concerns that the pump is taking away some of the milk that their baby should have at the breast, but this is not true.

Breast pump and appliances

Look at the information relating to how breastfeeding and milk production works, and know that every time you pump a little, milk comes off the breast, and your body will then make more – so in effect, the pump is putting in extra demand, and increasing your supply.

So when is a good time to pump your milk?

The majority of breastfeeding mothers tend to find that they get more yield of milk in the morning, and less towards the end of the day. 

Towards the end of the day, babies at the breast usually do a lot of frequent (cluster) nursing, and generally have to work that bit harder to generate supply.

Supply is available, but babies work that little bit harder to access it, and this is the same when expressing milk.

Most women generally find that they can express more milk in the morning and less in the evening, but there are always some exceptions!

It’s also worth knowing that pumping at different times of the day can yield different amounts. This is normal.

Breastmilk in bottles

Many women get very upset to find that they were able to express 30ml, 60ml or more in one session, and then at a later session only got 10ml!

The amount of milk that comes off the breast changes and fluctuates.

If you lined up ten women and gave them the same type of pump, you would find that each would produce a different amount in the same time frame, due to the varied interplay of hormones that we all have. 

If you’re finding that you’re only getting small amounts of milk at each pumping session, then it’s worth knowing that you can add to the same batch over 24 hours.

Cool it down for about an hour each time, and add it to previously cooled milk in your refrigerator.

It is helpful to understand more about the handling and storage of milk.

If you are expressing for a premature baby, the guidelines are likely to be different, so please follow those.

Another really important point is that if you are pumping your milk while you’re breastfeeding, or if you are exclusively pumping, you may get uncomfortably full at any given time, in between those pumping and feeding sessions. 

If you become uncomfortably full, it’s vitally important that you hand express a small amount of milk to feel comfortable again.

That is a simple way to prevent a blocked duct.

It’s great that we live in an age when we have these extra devices that can help us to reach our breastfeeding goals.

Although breastfeeding is a normal and natural process, (and in an ideal world we would all breastfeed with no added interventions or devices), there are so many potential hurdles that can occur during your breastfeeding experience, and these pumps are a fantastic invention!

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


If you require the reference sources for this article, please contact us. We will complete your request within 28 days.

Comments / Feedback

Part of what we provide depends on the feedback of its users. With that in mind we would love for you to give feedback on this video. Click here to leave feedback.

Generic filters
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in excerpt