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Can I Pump Every 4 Hours? (What Happened To My Milk Supply)

Can I Pump Every 4 Hours? (What Happened To My Milk Supply)
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Pumping takes a lot of time out of your day and you might wonder how you can stretch out those sessions. You might be thinking “Can I pump every 4 hours and maintain my milk supply”? 

Most lactation consultants will tell you to pump every 3 hours to help maintain or build up your milk supply. However, you do not have to keep this up forever. Here is what happened when I started to pump every 4 hours.

Can I Pump Every 4 Hours?

If you are past 12 weeks postpartum, your milk supply has most likely regulated and you can pump every 4 hours and still maintain your milk supply. Go slowly when stretching the time between pumping sessions to see if your milk supply decreases. Be careful when stretching out the time between pumping sessions and watch out for signs of clogged ducts. 

Below are more details on 

  • When Can You Stop Pumping Every 3 Hours
  • How to Maintain Your Milk Supply When Pumping Every 4 Hours
  • Survey Results When Pumping Every 4 Hours Instead of 3
  • How to Pump Every 4 Hours at Night
  • How to Pump Every 4 Hours at Work
  • What to do if your milk supply decreases
how to pump every 4 hours. mom with green shirt pumping milk into bottle

When Can I Stop Pumping Every 3 Hours (And Move To 4)

You may be wondering when you can stop pumping every 3 hours. You can start to stretch out the pumping sessions after your milk supply has regulated after 3 months postpartum.  You may also want to take into consideration if you are producing an adequate amount of milk.

Milk Supply Regulation At 12 Weeks Postpartum

It is important to wait for your milk supply to regulate because in the first few weeks after birth, your body is trying to figure out how much milk it needs to produce. 

Pumping every 2 to 3 hours in the beginning will help your body to produce an adequate supply of milk for your baby. The milk supply for most moms will regulate around 8 to 12 weeks postpartum.

If you are wondering if it is ok to go 4 hours between pumping sessions, you may want to wait until after the first 2 to 3 months to try it out.

How Much Milk You Are Producing In 24 Hours

The next thing to consider is if you are happy with the amount of milk that you are currently producing. A normal amount of milk to produce is anywhere between 24 ounces to 30 ounces during a 24 hour timeframe.

If you are producing much more than 30 ounces in 24 hours, then you have an oversupply

When I Moved to Pumping Every 4 Hours

For me, it was a balance of maintaining my milk supply and everything else I needed to do (take care of the house, work, cook, etc.). I decided it would be ok to pump every 4 hours when I was about 10 to 12 weeks postpartum. 

At that point my milk supply seemed pretty stable. I also decided that if I lost a few ounces and had to supplement with some formula, I would be ok with it. To me, I was ok with the tradeoff if I got some time back in my day.

How To Maintain Milk Supply While Pumping Every 4 Hours 

When you start to stretch out the amount of time between pumping sessions, one of your big concerns is how you will maintain your milk supply. 

One way to test it out is to start by stretching out the pumping sessions every other day. 

So for example, you would pump every 3 hours on:

  • Sunday
  • Tuesday
  • Thursday, and 
  • Saturday

You would stretch the pumping sessions to every 4 hours on:

  • Monday, 
  • Wednesday, and 
  • Friday

If this goes ok, then the next week you can start to move your pumping sessions to every 4 hours every day of the week. 

If you notice a dip in your milk supply or if you start to notice clogged ducts, then you may want to add the more frequent pumping sessions back into your routine.

Can You Maintain Milk Supply When Pumping Every 4 Hours Instead Of 3?

I surveyed 55 moms who exclusively pump and asked them when they moved from pumping every 3 hours to every 4 hours. If you are wondering, “Can I pump every 4 hours and maintain supply”, here is what these moms had to say.

Of these moms:

  • 63% were 8 weeks or less postpartum when they started pumping every 4 hours.
  • Another 23% of moms waited until 4 months postpartum to stretch out their pumping sessions. 
  • The remaining 14% waited longer than 4 months to move from pumping every 3 hours to every 4 hours. 

When Did You Start Pumping Every 4 Hours?

Weeks or Months PostpartumNumber of Moms
Before 4 weeks16
4 – 8 weeks17
8 -12 weeks0
4 months13
5 – 6 months7
7 – 8 months2
9 – 12 months0

Based on the survey, most of the moms were successful in stretching their pumping sessions to every 4 hours by 8 weeks postpartum. Their milk supply had likely regulated around that time.

Maintaining your milk supply will also depend on your milk storage capacity. If you are an over supplier, you are more likely to maintain your milk supply when you space out your pumping sessions.

As a note on the survey, many of the moms who choose to exclusively pump also tend to have a larger storage capacity. This means that they may be more likely to be successful to stretch out pumping sessions at an earlier week postpartum.

Just be sure to know your body and if you tend to produce just enough milk for your baby, then be cautious about moving your pumping sessions to every 4 hours. 

Can I Pump Every 4 Hours At Night

Most lactation consultants will recommend one stretch at night that is 4 hours between pumping sessions while keeping the rest of the sessions every 3 hours. 

After your milk supply has regulated around 12 weeks postpartum, pumping every 4 hours at night should not be a problem. 

Milk production also requires you to get your rest. (Or at least as much rest as possible with a newborn.) 

One nurse recommended to me that it was better for me to wake up on my own rather than to set an alarm and stick to a strict schedule at night.  

Can I Pump Every 4 Hours At Work

After 12 weeks postpartum, you will likely be able to pump every 4 hours at work. At work there is a lot of pressure to finish your pumping break quickly and then get back to your desk.

If you notice your milk supply dropping when pumping every 4 hours at work, then you may want to go back to pumping frequently to get those ounces back. 

One way I was able to get my pumping sessions in at work was to pump in the car while going to work around 7am. I would then pump at 11am around lunch time, and again at 3pm. Then, I’d pump again on the way home. 

The pump on the way home wasn’t a full three hours between pumping sessions. I did this because it would buy me some time before I needed to pump again in the evening.

When I was pumping outside the house, I found that a portable pump was really useful.

You won’t want to miss all the tips here about if the Willow is worth it.

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4352698/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32700964/

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