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Balancing Breastfeeding and Pumping: Practical Tips for Busy Mothers

The family dynamic that was once “the norm” has drastically changed over the years and parents are constantly finding creative ways to juggle starting a family, their career, and everything else in between. With more mothers returning to work very shortly after giving birth, and an increased awareness for wanting to breastfeed their babies, there is a growing trend of combining breastfeeding and pumping for convenience and flexibility. As breastfeeding technology develops in leaps and bounds, the balance between breastfeeding and pumping will be easier to manage for busy mums. 

There are many articles on the internet today that will explain the best way to successfully combine breastfeeding and pumping, and the dos and don’ts behind the process. But this is very much a try and see how it goes exercise! You know you and your baby best, and what will work for your family’s lifestyle. Parents are super busy already to be adding unnecessary stresses about feeding patterns!  

Mother pumping and breastfeeding her baby at the same time

How to create a breastfeeding and pumping schedule 

Your body will produce breast milk on a supply and demand basis – it's clever and reads into times of day, your diet, and what phases your baby is going through to supply them with the nutrition they need for growth and development. You may notice that you produce more breast milk at night and first thing in the morning than at any other time of the day. Listen to your body and utilise this time to build up a stash of breast milk for those times when you’re not able to feed baby yourself.  

When you create a breastfeeding and pumping schedule, do not feel that you must stick to it down the last minute. If times of day are constantly fluctuating, for example meetings at work or you travel a lot, then allow yourself some flexibility within your schedule. If you are trying to increase your breast milk supply, you may want to increase the number of times you feed or pump and therefore you will need to be a bit stricter with your schedule for a short period of time. 

Remember, a breastfeeding and pumping schedule for a stay-at-home mum will look very different to a nursing mum returning to work. Your schedule is never set in stone and can be adapted to fit your lifestyle as and when you need it to.  

Learn more: How to Combine Breastfeeding and Pumping: A Comprehensive Guide

How often should I pump at work? 

There is no magic number on how many pumping sessions you must do in a working day to reach maximum breast milk production. However, the more breastfeeding and pumping sessions you can fit into a 24-hour period will increase the amount of breast milk your body produces.  

As a breastfeeding mother returning to work, your employer is responsible for providing you with a clean, private space for you to rest and pump. They must also allow you to safely store your breast milk at work. Knowing your rights and having the conversation with your employer early on before your due to return from maternity leave will give you both time to make necessary arrangements and agree the support you will need on your return.  

Learn more: A guide for breastfeeding mums returning to work 

Working mother breastfeeding child, while having a meeting

Tips for making a breastfeeding and pumping schedule 

These are some breast pumping schedule patterns you can try and see which works for you: 

  • Breastfeed your baby first and allow them to drink what they need. Encourage them to move to the other breast to know when they are full. After this, drain each breast completely by pumping. Leave at least an hour in between your first feeding/pumping session and the next. (e.g. your commute to work and pump again afterwards).  
  • Speak with your line manager about flexibility in when you work your contracted hours to fit in pumping sessions throughout the day. These questions are not out of the ordinary and should be met with a fair response that works for both parties.  
  • If your work pattern is unpredictable and you’re finding it hard to fit in the pumping sessions you want, aim to add one more pumping session at night to make up for the missed pumping session during the daytime.  
  • Be mindful of the foods and drinks you’re consuming so that you don’t hinder your milk production. Why not try overnight oats for breakfast or a “lactation smoothie” in the afternoon?  

Learn more: Breastfeeding Diet: What to Eat While Breastfeeding

What triggers breast milk production? 

Some mums have an oversupply of breast milk, some struggle to produce enough without intervention, and others have just the right amount! Every mother is different and there are specific tips that can help you to manage your breast milk production to get the optimal amount of milk for your baby.  

How to increase breast milk production 

Choosing an electric breast pump to use alongside breastfeeding will help you in increasing the amount of milk your body produces. The aim is to increase the number of times a day you are stimulating your breasts and increasing the demand for your body to create more milk. An electric breast pump can be just as efficient as your baby is at bringing on your milk.  

Learn more: Why Use a Breast Pump? Benefits of Pumping Breast Milk 

These are some tips from pumping mums that you can try to increase your milk supply: 

1. Use an electric breast pump to express little and often for up to an hour every day. This technique is known to mimic cluster feeding a gives your body a little nudge to top up your supply. This should only be carried out for a short period of time to boost your supply. You don’t need to continue this throughout your breastfeeding and pumping journey unless advised by a professional to maintain your supply. 

2. Massage the breast to stimulate the milk flow before a feed or pumping session. You can also use warm gel packs as you massage to boost stimulation and it also lessens any discomfort you have if your breasts are feeling sore.  

Postpartum mother massaging breast to stimulate milk flow

3. “Power pumping” is a term used by some mums when they dramatically increase the number of pumping sessions they complete in a 24-hour period. One of the best times to pump is straight after a feed when your breasts have been emptied, and your body will learn to start meeting the demand to produce more milk when you pump.  

How to manage breast milk oversupply 

An oversupply of breast milk is when your body keeps producing milk beyond the demands of your baby. Some women donate their breast milk to milk banks so that other mums who struggle to produce any can give their babies the benefits of breast milk. An oversupply of milk can be draining on your energy levels and make your breast feel engorged more quickly.  

Here are some tips on how you can use breastfeeding and pumping to manage an oversupply of breast milk: 

1. Using a combination of manual breast pumps and single electric breast pumps, you can slowly remove any excess milk from both breasts to relieve any engorgement. The idea is not to fully empty your breast but express a little so reduce discomfort and slowly reduce your milk supply.  

2. Reduce the number of pumping sessions in your schedule by one every few days. Over time, your body will learn to adjust the supply it’s making because the demand isn’t there. Consider wearing soft reusable breast pads to catch any leaks. 

3. A common symptom of oversupply is when your baby struggles to latch or stay on the breast because they slip off the engorged breast. Seek support from a healthcare professional to support you with this. It may also help to lean back when breastfeeding to reduce the force your milk flows as they’re feeding.  

How to store breast milk 

We love a good breastfeeding hack that makes nursing that little bit easier! There are certain guidelines you need to follow to store your breast milk safely, but you can also jazz up your fridge freezer with these super simple breast milk storage ideas.  

1. Freezable breast milk storage bags that can be stacked will not only save you space in your freezer, but they are typically thinner and will take less time to thaw. They also fit nicely into cool bags if you’re not ready to decant them into bottles. 
    2. Write the date and time on each bag with a permanent marker so you can manage your milk stash and use it within the right time frames. You’ll notice too that your breast milk colour and consistency changes throughout the day, so it’s handy to know which milk was expressed during the day vs. nighttime.  
      3. Choose a breast milk storage bag that you can not only pump straight into and store milk inside, but you can also feed them straight from the bag without having to transfer milk into a bottle. These handy little bags are a game changer when you’re travelling and much less bulky than a baby bottle.  

        Mother feeding baby straight from Breast Milk Storage Bag

        Keeping your cup full first 

        At the centre of any breastfeeding and pumping schedule is a nursing mum who needs to care for herself too. Breastfeeding, pumping, recovering from labour, and keeping up with a busy lifestyle can be really draining so it’s crucial that you listen to your body and seek support when you need it.  

        Breastfeeding stress is a very real thing that no one can fully understand if they haven’t experienced it for themselves. Motherhood will teach you how to go about your day with little or no sleep, how to stay in the house some days and “get nothing done”, and how to feel all your emotions at once. But when it comes to preserving your mental health, sharing any challenges or struggles your experiencing will help to alleviate the problem. As the saying goes, “A problem shared is a problem halved!”.  

        For expert advice on questions around breastfeeding and pumping, you can reach out to your healthcare provider, midwife, or a specialist such as a lactation consultant. Surrounding yourself with other like-minded mums who are going through the same stages as you are can also be a great support network to have around you.  

        The people in your life that are close by can support you too in the littlest of ways that make a huge difference.  

        • Your partner recognising when you need to step back from a feed and give an expressed bottle instead.  
        • Having all your breastfeeding essentials to hand so you feel equipped and laid back for each pumping or breastfeeding session. E.g. set up a space at home with your breast pump, pillow, bottle of water, snacks, reusable breast pads, muslins, TV remote or a good book! 
        • An app on your device such as Calm, Headspace, or Spotify so you can tune out the noise of everyday and sink into your own quiet space to wind down.  
        • Have someone on call to be your phone a friend when things get tough or you’re feeling down. It’s always better to talk about it than keep it bottled up. Sometimes having a someone removed from your direct circle to check in with can give you a new perspective and encouragement. 

        Mother watching when a healthcare provider plays with baby on floor

        The balancing act in action 

        They say the best person to get a job done is a busy person – and breastfeeding mothers and partners rank pretty high on the busyness scale! Even when you have factored in all these handy tips and nuggets of advice to combine breastfeeding and pumping, there will be days when it all goes out the window. Personalise your routine and allow room for flexibility so that you can find compromise on the days when you need to without sacrificing your mental health.  

        For more breastfeeding and pumping wisdom from our panel of in-house experts and writers, discover trending topics on Lola&Lykke’s Mamahood Manuals and socials.