What is the best time to start pumping breastmilk?

While you can begin expressing milk within a couple weeks before you give birth, you should be careful as expressing or pumping too much can induce labor.

Reasons to begin pumping breastmilk before birth

  1. Your nipples are leaking colostrum – As you get closer and closer to your due date, your breasts will begin to leak small amounts of colostrum. While the amount of milk is not significant, it can still be messy enough to stain your shirts and bras and you’ll probably need to wear nipple pads or breast shields. If you want to keep the mess to a minimum, you can use your hands to massage your breasts and hand express the milk whenever you feel your breasts begin to leak. You should not use a breast pump as this much stimulation can increase the amount of leaking or even induce labor.
  2. You are overdue – Expressing regularly by using breast pump before your baby is born will increase the amounts of oxytocin produced by your body. This is the same hormone that is released when you go into labor. If you are pushing past your due date, you can try pumping to help your body go into labor.
  3. You’re diabetic – Diabetic moms will have irregular breast milk production when their blood sugar is out of control. Doctors recommend that diabetics build up a supply of breast milk to tide you over during the times you’re unable to feed your baby. You should begin to express colostrum when you’re getting close to your due date. By harvesting colostrum, you will have a backup source of nutrition ready to top up your baby’s food source without relying on formula.
  4. You’re already breastfeeding an older child – If you’re still breastfeeding when you become pregnant, you can pump to build up a supply that you can use to wean your older child or as extra milk so you don’t have to worry about low milk supply while tandem nursing to feed both your newborn and your eldest at the same time.

Will expressing colostrum during pregnancy increase my milk supply?

While you can express out the small amounts of milk leaking out during pregnancy before you give birth, this amount is not enough to justify using a breast pump. The drops of colostrum will likely get lost inside the parts of your breast pump. If you want to save up the colostrum, you should hand express directly into a bottle or container and freeze the colostrum until your baby arrives.

Can using a breast pump induce lactation? When should I use a pump after birth?

While you can begin to express milk immediately after giving birth, I would recommend that you begin with using your hands to express milk for about 3-5 days.

At this point, your milk supply is still coming in and the amount of milk your breasts produce at first is too small for a breast pump. By using your hands and expressing directly into a bottle, you can still encourage milk production without wasting the precious first drops of milk.

You will find that a lot of newborn babies are too tired and sleepy to nurse. You can entice them to begin eating by spoon feeding them a few drops of expressed colostrum to whet their appetite.

Once your body begins to make mature milk after the first week, you can use a breast pump in addition to breastfeeding to encourage your body to increase or maintain your supply of milk.

What are some other reasons for using a breast pump?

  • In addition to using a breast pump to increase your milk supply, it is also a good idea to have a supply of breastmilk in storage. If your baby is not gaining enough weight, your pediatrician will recommend that you give them formula to top up their regular diet. To avoid supplementing with formula, you can feed your baby from this backup supply of milk.
  • For premature babies, a supply of expressed breastmilk is even more important. For babies in the NICU, the reason why you should always have extra milk on hand is obvious. But even preemies who are healthy enough to breastfeed might need to rely on expressed milk. Premature babies can have a weak suck reflex, thus they are unable to nurse or swallow. To give your preemie the best start in life, they will need the antibodies and nutrition in your breast milk.

What problems should I watch out for if I pump?

  • Nipple confusion – Introducing a bottle and teat to a young baby can cause nipple confusion. In these cases, your baby can get used to feeding from a bottle and refuse to breastfeed since the sucking motion is slightly different for bottle versus breast. There are teats that mimic feeding from your nipples like these by comotomo which you can useĀ if you plan to introduce a bottle before your baby is a couple weeks old.
  • Too much milk – Using a breast pump in addition to breastfeeding can result in oversupply of milk. You should stop expressing or pumping if you have problems with engorgement or making more milk than your baby can eat.

Pumping later on

The best time to use a breast pump is after your milk supply is established at about 4-6 weeks after birth. This way you can pump in addition to breastfeeding without causing problems with oversupply.

Try not to go too overboard with pumping as the extra sessions can build up your milk supply too much. To transition into pumping, you can pump before or after a feed to completely drain your breasts. If you are able to, it’s even better to pump one breast while you feed your baby from your other breast. ‘Double pumping’ or feeding induces changes that make your breastmilk even richer in fats and more nutritious.

For working moms, there’s no need to start expressing too early. You can start to pump about two weeks before you go back to work. This way you can practice using your pump and work out any kinks before you begin pumping at work.

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