Breastfeeding & Pumping schedules for newborns through the first year
Hi Mamma! I hope you got at least a little rest last night! I’m guessing that if you’re here, you probably have a newborn and are wondering when the heck you can figure out a breastfeeding schedule, or maybe even a breastfeeding and pumping schedule if you’re heading back to work.
I know you’re still waking up to nurse overnight, or it might even still feel like you get to sleep a little while you nurse all night. It’s tempting to want to quit breastfeeding early on if you think your little one will sleep longer. I promise you, this won’t help.
Even if you’ve heard of those “dream” (formula-fed) babies that sleep from the moment they get home from the hospital. That’s not the norm. Studies show that breastfeeding moms of newborns actually get MORE sleep (up to an hour more) per night than formula moms.
However, I know that at this point, you’re tired. And stats don’t really help. You’re looking for any type of breastfeeding schedule or lifeline out of this mess. Some type of guide or advice on how often you should be waking up for feedings, and when you can finally get some sleep.
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When can I start a breastfeeding schedule?
It is HARD WORK figuring out when your babies are truly hungry or just waking up for comfort. I know you just want to get a sense of normalcy back in your life. Having a definite idea of whether you should be feeding the baby or soothing another way sounds like a dream.
The balance between wanting to make sure they’re fed, yet allowing them to self-soothe is definitely tricky. If you’re in the under three months camp, assume they’re hungry and need to be fed.
Unfortunately, babies don’t come with built-in clocks or manuals, and each baby is different. That said, there are a few general guidelines you can reference for eating through infancy after you get through those first few months of establishing your breastmilk. I’m going to share some schedules below to provide estimates of how often your breastfed baby should be eating (and waking up at night). We’ll also cover when you should be pumping and how a pumping schedule fits in when you’re also nursing.
If you’re trying to find a breastfeeding and pumping schedule for the first year, you’ve come to the right place!
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Breastfeeding & pumping schedules when establishing your milk supply
Ok, if you’re here and you have a newborn (which is highly likely) I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no breastfeeding or pumping schedule for this phase. Newborns feed on demand, which can feel like 24 hours of continuous feeding depending on how long each session lasts.
You will still be up every few hours in a good stretch. Newborns nurse 8-12 times per day. Many feeding sessions are an hour long, as babies aren’t as efficient when they first start nursing. This may mean if you’re nursing every two(ish) hours, you only get an hour break in between nursing sessions, as the clock “starts” at the beginning of each nursing session, not the end.
Trying to get on a breastfeeding schedule too early can damage your milk supply, and have negative implications for your child’s growth. If you’re in this phase the only thing I can tell you is to hang on, nap when you can, and that it will pass quickly. Even if it doesn’t feel like it.
By about two months newborns will breastfeed 7-9 times per day. However, this will vary based on the child. At this point, you’re probably going 2-3 hours between feeding, with cluster feeding at night or the evening. This can feel like a never-ending cycle if you’re still not getting long stretches of sleep at night, but it’s important to remember that this is temporary. The good news is that soon your baby will get much more efficient, and while she could have nursed for almost an hour during the early sessions, she will cut down drastically as the months move on.
Why you don’t want to regularly pump when establishing your milk supply
I know you probably want to do anything you can to get a break. Pumping so you can build a stash of breastmilk and give a feeding to dad overnight sounds so tempting. I am going to give you a tip on how to get a *little* relief in a minute, but I’d really encourage you not to begin pumping or alter your baby’s nursing schedule early on.
If you continually give an overnight feed to dad, it will tell your body you don’t need the milk during that time. If you aren’t waking up to pump when your baby is eating, your body will be out of sync with the baby’s needs. And who wants to wake up to pump if the baby needs to eat anyway? It’s less complicated just to wake up and nurse.
You don’t want to start double pumping or “regular pumping” before your milk supply has fully established, between 6-12 weeks. The caveat to this is if you have a preemie or baby who won’t latch and you’re pumping to build your supply. In that case, disregard this section completely.
If you have a baby that latches and is having good output (appropriate wet and dirty diapers) you don’t want to begin pumping early as it can cause oversupply. I know moms are typically stressed about low milk supply and worried that baby isn’t getting enough, but oversupply can be just as challenging.
Oversupply can be just as challenging as low milk supply
Picture this: You pump an extra 10-15 minutes twice a day while baby is exclusively breastfeeding. Your milk comes in and you start to get an extra 4-6 ounces every day. This sounds great, in theory.
Until one day you want to run to Target and you don’t have time to pump in between baby’s nursing sessions. Your baby won’t fully drain your breasts because this is “extra” milk you’ve been pumping out every day. You may even get clogged ducts or mastitis if you skip enough sessions.
Oversupply is just as big of a pain to deal with as low milk supply, so unless you REALLY need to, don’t begin to pump and build your freezer stash until you’ve established your baby’s needs.
I know, I know, you just want one three to four-hour stretch of sleep one night. There has to be a way to make that happen. And guess what? There is.
How to build a breastmilk stash before you begin pumping
Enter the Haakaa. The Haakaa is marketed as a “manual pump” but is really a silicone milk catcher. This thing was a lifesaver with my second baby, and it allows you to build up a stash of milk before you begin double pumping.
You simply use the Haakaa on the side you’re not nursing on and it catches the let down of milk that would otherwise get lost in a breast pad. You can still feed on the side that you used the Haakaa on, and you’re able to start building up a little stash.
Don’t worry if you only get a few drops at first. Your body will get used to it, and if you use it enough you’ll get a bottle’s worth in no time. You can then give that milk to dad or your significant other to use while you get a little more sleep one night.
Since your body produced the milk anyway, you aren’t signaling that you don’t need that milk. The supply killer comes when you begin supplementing. As long as you’re only feeding the milk collected that day, you’re in good shape.
I would still not skip a feeding every single day unless you’re double pumping in place of the feed, but this is a good trick if you just need a couple of extra hours of sleep.
When to begin pumping: sample breastfeeding and pumping schedule for newborns
Now, to address why you’re probably here in the first place. Let’s talk about when you can start pumping with a newborn to build a freezer stash, and when you can get on a more normal “schedule” breastfeeding and pumping.
After your supply is established and you’ve gotten in the groove breastfeeding (usually between 6-8 weeks) you can start building a breastmilk stash, and even a freezer stash. This is great if you are planning to go back to work, or if you just need an emergency stash in case you’re away from your baby.
You naturally have the most milk making hormones in the early morning, so that’s when we’ll begin pumping for storage. During your first morning feed, begin feeding your baby only on one side, and pump the other side for 15 minutes.
If your babe is still hungry after you feed, you can wait a few minutes and put her back on the same side, or you can even try the side you just pumped. Each day try to alternate the side you feed the baby on and the side you pump.
Starting with this method tells your body to make *just a little* extra milk, and you still have enough to satisfy your baby. You can also double pump after feeding in the morning, but then you’re signaling to your body to make even more milk. It can also be more cumbersome to feed and then immediately have to pump both sides. If you’re still in the newborn phases you can probably pump one side while you’re feeding on the other.
The easiest way to nurse and pump at the same time is with a hands-free pumping bra
The easiest way to begin building your breast milk stash and pumping one side is with a nursing/pumping bra combo. This one is highly rated on Amazon. I absolutely love their sleep bra, so if you’re in the market I’d definitely give it a try.
Pumping while nursing becomes a lot harder once your baby gets older and wants to play with the pump, so take advantage of this while you have a newborn. You’ll ideally wait to start building a big stash until you’ve established your breastmilk supply. This usually happens at (6-8 weeks) or you’ll wait to begin pumping until 2-3 weeks before you go back to work.
Breastfeeding & pumping schedules for working moms
Now, you might be asking, is it possible to get on a pumping schedule while breastfeeding? And what does that look like? The good news is, yes! When you’re planning to go back to work, you’ll just swap those nursing sessions for a pumping session instead.
The sample schedules below assume you are going back to work around 12 weeks. If you’re going back to work earlier than that, you’ll want to pump as often as baby is eating. If she’s eating six times while you’re away, you’ll need to pump that often to keep up your supply to meet her needs. I know this is terrible, but I promise it won’t last forever.
If you’re returning to work, it’s probably important to you to get on a semi-regular breastfeeding schedule (and pumping schedule) so that you know when to pump when you’re away from the baby.
Related: Check out my tips for continuing to breastfeed after returning to work.
I’m assuming you’re also going to keep nursing when you’re with the baby, and you’ll only need to pump while you’re away and your baby can’t nurse.
So, let’s start with what a combination nursing and pumping schedule could look like for a three-month-old baby with a working mom:
7:00 a.m. – Nurse
10:00 a.m. – Bottle (Mom pumps)
12:30 p.m. – Bottle (Mom pumps)
3:30 p.m. – Bottle (Mom pumps)
6:30 p.m. – Nurse
10:00 p.m. – Dream Feed*
+1-2 overnight nursing sessions
Depending on how you’re feeling about your breastmilk stash, you can also add a pump after your 7 a.m. nursing session, or continue to feed the baby on one breast and pump the other. I’m all for only pumping when absolutely necessary. But, I’m not going to lie, I definitely also pumped every morning because it was the only way to keep up with how much my baby was drinking.
What is a dream feed? Will it affect my pumping schedule?
A Dream feed is a feeding in which you feed the baby right before YOU go to sleep, presumably after the baby has already been down for a few hours. You don’t have to fully wake them, just rouse baby enough so she latches on and gets in a feeding. The idea is that hopefully you’ll get a longer stretch of sleep before the next feeding. It also helps keep your supply strong if you’re separated from your baby during the day.
I’ll be 100% honest, I didn’t stop our dream feed until almost 10 months with either baby. I think Baby Wise says to drop it before six months. (We were not a Baby Wise family, but I know some people who swear by it).
I was still feeding 2-3 times a night, so I was paranoid to try and drop the dream feed. Since we didn’t sleep through the night until close to a year with both girls, I don’t know what I was so worried about.
Once your baby is sleeping for longer stretches (or hopefully all the way through) at night you can drop the dream feed. It won’t affect your breastfeeding or pumping schedules, and you can choose to simply drop the feeding because the baby doesn’t need it, or add in a pump before bed if you need more milk.
How much milk do I need in my freezer stash?
This really depends on your particular situation, but a good general amount to strive for is 50-60 ounces. That’s two days (plus) of breastmilk, assuming your baby eats 25-30 ounces per day. If you’re separated unexpectedly this gives you a little cushion so you aren’t also stressed about feeding the baby.
If you travel a lot for work (or are separated for any length of time) you might want to have even more built up. For instance, if you know you’ll be gone for a four-day business trip and you don’t want to ship your milk back, you’ll want 100-140 ounces stored up before you leave. Ideally, you’ll have a little buffer in case your baby eats slightly more one day or milk spills.
If you’re traveling, you don’t need to ship your milk home daily, although you can also do that. The easiest way to breastfeed and travel is to pump your milk as usual, and bring it with you on the way home. Airport security is used to this and they won’t force you to dump the milk. You’ll only want to do it this way if you have enough milk for your baby to eat while you’re gone, but it certainly takes some of the stress away from finding a place to ship milk every time you travel.
Really worried about building your freezer stash? Check out my top tips to build a stash of 500+ oz.
How should I store my pumped breastmilk?
If you’re looking for breastfeeding and pumping schedules, you’re probably also wondering what to do once you’ve pumped all that milk. Presumably you’ll be away from your baby and will need to store your milk safely before your baby drinks it.
Fear not, breast milk isn’t as fragile as you might think. Although it’s a LOT of work to get out those ounces, you don’t have to stress a lot about storage. For instance, did you know that breast milk is good on the counter after being pumped for FOUR hours? I’d never leave out milk from the refrigerator for that long, so I was shocked. I also personally wouldn’t leave breast milk out that long either, but it’s good to have the information in case you get busy and forget to put it away immediately.
Here are some quick facts on breast milk storage so you can feel confident about your milk’s safety after pumping.
Breastmilk is good…
On the counter…. For four hours
In the refrigerator…. For four days (optimal by three days)
In the freezer …. For six months (optimally by three months)
In the deep freezer … for twelve months (optimally by six months)
Once thawed from frozen… for 24 hours in the refrigerator or two hours on the counter (NEVER refreeze)
When traveling and returning home, I prefer to pack my milk in bags of ice versus freezing them. They’ll typically stay cold all day (in ice in a cooler) and I don’t have to worry about them unfreezing. Once your frozen milk thaws, you only have 24 hours to use it, no exceptions.
When should I adjust my breastfeeding and pumping schedule?
As your baby gets older, she’ll naturally begin to drop feeds. Hopefully, the first ones to go are overnight! Although the early months feel like one never-ending day and night, after a few months your baby will settle into a more predictable pattern of eating and sleeping.
The breastfeeding sample schedule I shared above will need to be adjusted for you and your baby, as well as how your baby feeds through the first year. I’ve shared a few other sample schedules below for what it could look like as your baby begins to drop feeds throughout infancy.
As you’ll see, your baby likely won’t move below five feeds per day even after a year. As long as your one-year-old is getting four nursing sessions per day, you won’t need to supplement with other milk.
The major change that happens as you move beyond six months is the number of times per day that you need to pump. Gradually your baby will begin to replace breast milk with solids, so you can pump fewer times per day.
This is not an exclusively pumping schedule. Although you could just replace all the nursing sessions with pumps, but it shows options for nursing and pumping throughout the first year.
Do I need a nursing or pumping schedule for a one-year-old?
By a year old, you’re likely in a very consistent nursing routine. You’ve had your breastfeeding schedule down pat for a while. At this point, you can choose to wean or continue your nursing relationship beyond the first year. Although each phase is challenging for different reasons, the first year will fly by. You’ll be on to the next step before you know it.
I chose extended breastfeeding (until 19 months) with my first daughter. I plan to let my current baby nurse as long as she likes. Luckily, I was able to wean off the pump the first time at 13 months. By then I was only nursing morning and night (and all weekend) with my little one.
You should do whatever works for your family. As long as you wean from nursing and pumping gradually (drop one feed per week) your body will adjust to the amount of milk you should be making.
Are you heading back to work soon? Keep scrolling…
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