May 23, 2023 • 8 min read

How to Combine Breastfeeding & Pumping: Ideal Schedule

Medically Reviewed by Kim Langdon, MD on 05.31.23
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No matter how you choose to feed your baby, you are probably wondering if they are getting the right nutrients to grow. If you feed your baby exclusively with breastmilk, you will want to make sure you’re producing enough milk to support them.

Feeding directly from the breast and pumping breastmilk are common ways to feed exclusively with breastmilk. And you can combine the two! 

Combining feeding directly from the breast with pumping and feeding baby expressed milk is a choice many parents make. This option allows for bonding and attachment at the breast, as well as the convenience of having pumped milk available when this is not possible. 

This guide goes over how to combine breastfeeding and pumping, including the ideal schedule to aim for, the pros and cons of this method, and how a lactation consultant can help you get the most out of the combination. 

Combining breastfeeding and pumping overview

Combining feeding your baby directly from the breast with feeding pumped breastmilk from a bottle has benefits for bonding and attachment, baby growth and nutrition, and it supports parent lifestyle. 

This approach allows for: 

  • Bonding and attachment at the breast to occur 
  • Parents to observe hunger cues closely 
  • A method for managing milk supply (power pumping to increase milk if needed, or pumping excess milk baby does not consume in one feeding in the case of an oversupply)
  • The convenience of having pumped milk available for a return to work or school or when dealing with breast pain from breastfeeding
  • The ability for a partner to help with bottle feedings, supporting their own attachment and bond with baby 

Even if you think you will choose to feed your baby pumped breastmilk some of the time, it is still important to feed baby directly at the breast initially after birth.

Feeding baby directly from the breast immediately after birth supports bonding and attachment. It also allows baby to become familiar with the breast and practice latching. A good latch is key not only for baby to successfully get milk out of the breast but to signal to the mother’s body to produce more milk. 

Once baby has successfully latched at the breast and established breastfeeding, you may be ready to add pumping. Establishing and maintaining a regular schedule of feeding directly from the breast and pumping will help to regulate milk supply and ensure optimal production for baby’s needs. 

There is no “requirement” for how many feedings are directly at the breast versus how many pumping sessions you do per day. The key is to establish a routine that works for your baby’s feeding needs, both of your bodies, and your lifestyle. 

Tips for breastfeeding and pumping together

Here are some tips for combining breastfeeding and pumping:

1) Delay pumping after birth when possible

Some literature cites an increase in mothers stopping breastfeeding prematurely when they introduce a pump too quickly after birth. 

If possible, take 2-3 weeks to establish a good latch and breastfeeding routine with baby before introducing a pump. 

Not only will this help baby nurse more effectively, but there are some challenges associated with pumping that may be easier to mitigate after you’ve already established your supply. This includes soreness and discomfort.  

2) Breastfeed first, pump second

To add pumping breastmilk to your feeding routine, start by pumping after feeding baby at the breast once per day. Do this after the feeding when your breasts still feel the most “full.” Usually, this is in the morning. This will allow you to pump any “extra” milk which can be stored for future feedings. 

As your body adjusts, add pumping after breastfeeding to more feeding sessions. This will allow you to build up a store of breastmilk for when you need to be away from baby. 

3) Allow your baby to still breastfeed when it wants

Feeding directly at the breast aids in bonding and attachment between baby and mother, but there are other benefits to baby feeding at the breast whenever possible. 

Recently published literature cites findings that pumped milk may not retain all the beneficial bacteria that support baby’s gut health. Including feedings directly at the breast will ensure baby is still getting some of those helpful bacteria. 

4) Use a high-quality pump

Since pumping is meant to simulate breastfeeding, it makes sense that higher-quality pumps do this best. Studies have found that electric breast pumps work better than manual pumps at simulating baby suckling. 

Higher-quality double breast pumps allow you to pump both breasts at the same time, cutting down on the time you spend pumping. This is especially helpful when you are also spending time breastfeeding baby as well.

Higher-quality pumps, especially those that are hospital-grade, typically have a better fit. This results in less irritation, pain, or discomfort. These pumps also last longer. An alternative to purchasing a higher-quality pump is renting a hospital-grade pump from a local health provider. 

5) Pump early in the morning

Milk production is typically highest in the morning. Pumping within an hour of baby’s first morning feeding will support better supply and usually yields the most pumped milk from a combination breastfeeding/pumping session. 

As you establish a routine of breastfeeding and pumping, you may want to pump on one breast while simultaneously feeding baby directly on the other breast to save time. 

6) Include hand expression

While using a high-quality, double electric breast pump for the bulk of pumping is effective, don’t forget about hand expression. 

Hand expression is a helpful tool to use after a pumping session, to make sure your breasts are completely emptied of all milk. 

It may also be helpful to hand express on one breast while breastfeeding baby on the other if you do not like using an electric pump at the same time you are feeding baby. 

7) Try limiting stress

Not only may stress reduce the amount of milk you produce, but it may also reduce the nutritional quality of your breastmilk. The fat and nutrient density of breastmilk in women with high cortisol levels (stress hormone) is lower when compared to those with lower cortisol levels. 

Self-care is important during your breastfeeding journey to reduce stress and stay well. Stress will mentally and physically impact your breastmilk quantity and quality and ultimately, your baby’s nutrition.

8) Try power pumping if you want to increase supply

Power pumping may be helpful to increase your milk supply. 

Power pumping is pumping regularly at all times of the day except for 1 hour. During this hour, pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, and repeat this cycle for a full 60 minutes. 

Power pumping signals to your body the demand for more milk. Greater demand typically results in greater milk production.

9) Stay hydrated

Breastmilk is mostly water. That means your fluid intake matters to how much milk you produce. Your body must be well hydrated and nourished to make breastmilk that nourishes and hydrates your baby.

In addition to providing hydration, there are many drinks that may help increase breastmilk supply. Try these so-called “galactagogues” which can be mixed into teas and other drinks.

10) Set a breastfeeding and pumping schedule

A schedule is helpful both for your planning and organization, as well as for regulating the demand for milk on your body when you are breastfeeding and pumping. 

Getting into a schedule will allow you to plan your day if returning to work or school. You will also be able to plan when you are hydrating and eating, which will be key to maintaining your milk supply. 

Without an established schedule, your body will respond less effectively to the demand for milk, and this could potentially cause supply challenges. 

11) Store your milk safely

You must store breastmilk in clean, food-grade containers (plastic bottles, milk storage bags, etc.). Freshly expressed breastmilk may be stored at room temperature for no more than four hours, in the refrigerator for four days, and in the freezer for no more than 12 months. 

12) Regularly clean your pump

Cleaning your manual or electric breast pump and all associated parts is key to sanitization and the longevity of your pump. Always follow manufacturer instructions for cleaning. 

All pump parts should be cleaned after each use. Following cleaning, they should also be sanitized via steam or boiling water. Your manufacturer instructions will explain what method is best and safe for your particular pump. 

13) Consider working with a lactation consultant

lactation consultant is a healthcare professional who has specialized training in breastfeeding and human lactation. A lactation consultant can help with any information included in this guide, as well as with common problems such as nipple pain, supply questions, clogged milk ducts, and positioning.

Example breastfeeding and pumping schedule

Here’s an example breastfeeding and pumping schedule. Note that your ideal schedule will depend on your personal situation.

7:00 AM – Wake up and breastfeed baby on one side for 10-15 minutes, then switch sides and breastfeed for another 10-15 minutes.

8:00 AM – Pump for 15-20 minutes on both sides.

10:00 AM – Breastfeed baby on one side for 10-15 minutes, then switch sides and breastfeed for another 10-15 minutes.

11:00 AM – Pump for 15-20 minutes on both sides.

1:00 PM – Breastfeed baby on one side for 10-15 minutes, then switch sides and breastfeed for another 10-15 minutes.

2:00 PM – Pump for 15-20 minutes on both sides.

4:00 PM – Breastfeed baby on one side for 10-15 minutes, then switch sides and breastfeed for another 10-15 minutes.

5:00 PM – Pump for 15-20 minutes on both sides.

7:00 PM – Breastfeed baby on one side for 10-15 minutes, then switch sides and breastfeed for another 10-15 minutes.

8:00 PM – Pump for 15-20 minutes on both sides.

10:00 PM – Breastfeed baby on one side for 10-15 minutes, then switch sides and breastfeed for another 10-15 minutes.

11:00 PM – Pump for 15-20 minutes on both sides.

2:00 AM – Breastfeed baby on one side for 10-15 minutes, then switch sides and breastfeed for another 10-15 minutes.

3:00 AM – Pump for 15-20 minutes on both sides.

Pros & cons of combining breastfeeding and pumping

There are advantages to both breastfeeding and pumping. Combining the two in your baby’s feeding plan allows for the benefits of both. These advantages include:

  • Bonding and attachment at the breast while breastfeeding
  • The ability to ensure baby can latch adequately when needing to feed on demand
  • Flexibility to return to work or school when needed with a pumping option
  • The convenience of an alternative caregiver being able to feed baby when you are away

Still, there are some disadvantages to consider when you use both breastfeeding and pumping to feed baby, such as:

  • It may seem like you are engaged in a feed activity all the time when first establishing a pumping routine (this will get better!) 
  • You need milk storage solutions
  • You must clean and sanitize pump parts 
  • Baby may not like a bottle nipple after feeding at the breast, or have difficulty with latching after taking a bottle nipple 

How a lactation consultant can help you with breastfeeding and pumping

Lactation consultants are certified through the International Board of Lactation Consultants which holds high standards for training and continuing education for consultants to be able to support breastfeeding persons.

Lactation consultants may help with establishing a breastfeeding plan during the first few days or weeks of your baby’s life but may also help at any time during your breastfeeding journey. As you adjust from exclusively breastfeeding in the beginning, they can assist with the transition to including pumping in your routine. 

For anyone breastfeeding or pumping (or both), support from a lactation consultant statistically increases success in feeding baby breastmilk for a longer period of time.

The cost of a lactation consultant can vary but most insurance providers offer coverage of all or part of their consultations.

Jenna Nelson is a Certified Lactation Counselor and has a Masters Degree in Maternal/Child Public Health from Boston University. She is also a working mother with lived experience navigating the maternal health system.