I received a lot of different advice about the length of time I should spend pumping. I found that throughout my pumping journey, the time I spent on a pumping session varied greatly.
So, when do you stop a pumping session? Pumping sessions should be ended once you feel empty and milk stops flowing. This is usually after 2-3 letdowns and around the 20-minute mark. The length of time can vary depending on several factors. Pumping sessions may last anywhere from 10 minutes to 45 minutes.
The length of time to spend on a pumping session can vary based on several factors:
- How far postpartum you are
- The amount of time since your previous pumping session
- How quickly you get letdowns while pumping
- If you are exclusively pumping, or
- If you are both nursing and pumping.
How do you know when to end a pumping session?
A pumping session should end once your breasts feel empty. This happens once you have had a few letdowns.
You should aim for at least two letdowns, but three or four letdowns during the pumping session is ideal.
A letdown happens when you can see milk either squirting, flowing continuously, or dripping more quickly.
Most women will have a few letdowns early in the pumping session. After a letdown, you may pump for several minutes where no milk is flowing. Then another letdown happens and milk flows again.
Sometimes milk will continue flowing or dripping the entire time you are pumping. This is because when breastfeeding, your body is continuously producing milk.
If this happens, watch until you have had two or three letdowns and the speed of the drips slows down dramatically.
The drips will also become more spaced out. Once this happens, it is a good time to end the pumping session.
An analogy to think about is popping popcorn. When popping popcorn, in the beginning the kernels pop rapidly.
As the cooking time nears the end, the popping sounds slow down with several seconds before the next pop. This is when you know to stop cooking the popcorn.
The same is true when you are pumping. When the drips begin to slow down and are more spaced out, it is time to end the pumping session.
Some lactation consultants will give the advice to stop pumping after 20 minutes. This advice is generally true for nursing mothers, the population that lactation consultants work with most often.
If you are exclusively pumping, it is important to pump based on your breasts feeling empty. This will help maintain your supply better than pumping for a set number of minutes on the clock.
Pro Tip: If you are looking for the fastest way to pump until empty, I definitely recommend getting these lactation massagers (link to Amazon). The combination of heat and massage helped me to finish my pumping sessions quickly.
You can also compare prices on their site here and use coupon code LISA10 to get a 10% discount.
How do you know when your breast is empty when pumping?
Empty means that you have removed the majority of the milk from your breasts. When your breasts are empty after pumping, they should feel soft, floppy, or flat like pancakes.
You should not be able to feel any lumps.
Why should you pump until empty instead of pumping for a set length of time?
Pumping until empty signals to your body to continue producing milk. If you do not empty as much milk as possible during a pumping session, then your milk supply may decrease.
This is because your body may think that it does not need to produce the amount it has been producing.
If you only pump for 20 minutes each time you pump, it is possible that you would be in the middle of a letdown when you end your pumping session.
This can be detrimental and cause several negative side effects. For example, it could cause clogs or a reduction in milk supply
Ideally, you would continue until the end of the letdown before turning off the pump. This is to help maintain your milk supply,
If you are looking to increase your milk supply, continue pumping for 5 minutes past the end of your letdown. This will signal to your body that it needs to produce more milk.
How does the amount of time since giving birth affect the length of time you spend pumping?
If you are pumping immediately after giving birth and your milk has not “come in” yet, 15 minutes during a pumping session is adequate.
Once your milk starts to “come in”, then it is important to pump until empty.
How does the amount of time between pumping sessions impact the length of pumping sessions?
If you have gone a long time between pumping sessions then you will have more milk to be removed from your breasts. You will need to watch out for several letdowns to make sure that you fully empty.
For example, after going 6 hours overnight without pumping, I would for 40 minutes during my first pump in the morning to feel empty.
During this first pumping session of the day, I had more milk and I would typically have 5 letdowns.
As the day went on, the length of time I needed to pump decreased. So, for a pump that I did at 10 pm, I would only need to pump for 20 minutes and 2 letdowns until I felt empty.
This was normal because prolactin levels drop as the day goes on. Prolactin is the hormone produced by your body which signals it to make milk.
How does the speed of letdowns impact the amount of time you spend pumping?
Faster letdowns mean less time pumping. If you are able to train your body to have letdowns more quickly, then you may be able to decrease the amount of time you spend during each pumping session.
One way to trigger a faster letdown is to watch the drips while pumping. As soon as the drips start to slow after your first letdown, then adjust your pump settings.
Most pumps have a “letdown” button you can press. If your pump does not have this button, then increase the speed and decrease the suction for your pump until another letdown begins.
Another way to trigger letdowns is to have a pumping ritual. For example, you may always drink a glass of warm tea while pumping.
You can also try visualizing water flowing or your baby while pumping. Another option is to listen to calming music each time you pump. Relaxing can help the milk begin flowing again.
Letdowns can also be triggered by massaging or using a hot compress while pumping. Some women can get more milk quickly by using a hands-free bra and massaging while pumping.
When do you stop a pumping session when nursing and pumping?
If you are able to nurse and only need to pump occasionally, it is less critical to completely pump until empty each time you pump.
This is because when you are with your baby, your baby is more efficient than the pump. Your baby is likely fully draining the breast each time they feed.
Since your baby is able to drain the breast several times per day with nursing, pumping is less critical to maintaining your milk supply.
When do you stop a pumping session when exclusively pumping?
When exclusively pumping, it is critical to pump until empty the majority of pump sessions during the day. This will ensure that your milk supply is maintained at its current level.
Sometimes life will happen and a pump session will need to be cut short. If your baby is crying and needs attention, it is alright to end a pump session early.
A hands-free bra and a battery powered pump can be lifesavers in this instance. These accessories may allow you to tend to the baby while continuing pumping.
If you do have to end early, then, pick up where you left off and continue pumping.
How can I decrease the length of a pumping session?
Here are some tips to pump more quickly:
- Try massage and compression while pumping
- After a letdown and once drips slow down, hit the letdown button another time
- Hand express milk after pumping
- Use a manual pump after pumping
How can I save time washing pump parts?
Check out this article I wrote here for all the tips for washing and sterilizing pump parts.
Must-Have Pumping Gear
Hear are a few of my favorite pumping items that made my life so much easier.
- This is the best pumping bra that is actually comfortable to wear all day long (the Sublime version). Use this link and code Lisa15 for a special discount on your purchase!
- Try the Chocolate Fudge flavor of this yummy milk-boosting protein powder.
- Click here for the best deal on the WillowGo pump!
- These are the best baby bottle labels that will not wash off or wear off. The pineapple design and the whale design are two of my favorites.
- My favorite pumping bag that is roomy enough for my pump, a laptop, a cooler, and a lunch bag. They have so many cute colors and prints but I really love the Floral print.
- These custom baby name onesies I found on Etsy are so adorable I ended up buying them in two different colors. The shop even has a really cute matching mommy and me set.
- I used this tiny mini fridge (link to Amazon) near my pumping station at home so I didn’t have to trek to the kitchen after a middle of the night pumping session.
- This postpartum care box has a couple of my must-have items for the first few months after baby arrives. The tubes that help with engorgement provide so much relief.
- If you enjoyed this article, you can help support this blog by buying me a coffee here. Your support is very much appreciated!