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How Often Should I Pump Breast Milk for a Preemie?

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Updated June 18, 2014

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Pump breast milk often to establish a good supply.

Pump breast milk often to establish a good supply.

Image courtesy Keith Brofsky / Getty Images
Question: How Often Should I Pump Breast Milk for a Preemie?
Establishing a milk supply by pumping breast milk for a preemie is a challenge for many moms. Babies usually establish their moms' supply by nursing frequently at the breast, but many preemies are born too early to breastfeed. Moms must pump breast milk often and well in order to establish a bountiful milk supply.
Answer:

How Often Should I Pump Breast Milk?

Full term babies breastfeed often in the early days, sometimes as often as every hour or two. More breastfeeding makes more breast milk, so these frequent feedings help mom establish a good milk supply.

To establish a good milk supply when you pump breast milk for your preemie, you need to pump often enough to mimic a newborn baby's feeding patterns. Early on, you should pump breast milk about 8 to 10 times per day, or about every 2 to 3 hours.

When you time pumping sessions, time them from the start of the last session. If you start pumping at 8:00, your next session should start between 10:00 and 11:00. Pump around the clock until your supply is well established, including overnight. Middle of the night pumpings may feel like a burden, but they help you prepare for midnight feedings after your baby comes home!

After your milk supply is well established, you can slow your pumping sessions down. To maintain your supply, pump breast milk at least 7 times per 24 hours, or every 3 to 4 hours through the day and night. If your supply starts to dwindle, or when your baby starts taking more milk, increase your pumping sessions back to 8 to 10 times daily to increase your milk supply.

How Much Time Should I Spend Pumping Breast Milk?

In the first couple of days after your baby is born, you won't express much milk. In order to establish a good supply, pump for about 15 minutes per session. If you are pumping one breast at a time, pump each breast for 10 to 15 minutes.

Once your milk comes in, use its flow to tell you how long to spend when you pump breast milk. When you turn the pump on, it will usually take a couple of minutes for the milk to start to flow. You want to completely empty your breasts, so pump for about 2 minutes after the flow stops completely.

Sources:

Hurst, N. "The 3 M's of Breast-feeding the Preterm Infant." J Perinat Neonat Nurs July-Sept 2007. 21; 234-239.

Mohrbacher, N and Stock, J. The Breastfeeding Answer Book, 3rd Revised Edition. January, 2003; La Leche League International, Schaumburg, IL.

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