While there's no "one size fits all" when it comes to breast pumping recommendations, it's best to plan ahead if you want to have an ample supply of breast milk available when you return to work or are otherwise separated from your baby. You won’t know how long expressing your milk will take until after your baby is born and you have had a chance to practice.
You can begin to hand express as soon as your baby is born. Milk expressed during the first 3–5 days contains important nutrients and antibodies. It should be fed to your newborn using a teaspoon or a feeding syringe. Milk expressed after 5 days can be stored for later use. Once you see an increase in the amount of milk expressed by hand, you can begin to use a hand pump, a battery-operated pump, or an electric pump. Your first attempts at pumping may produce only enough milk to cover the bottom of the collection container. Hang in there! Much like breastfeeding, expressing milk is a skill that improves with practice.
Some mothers prefer to hand express and forgo pumping altogether. In fact, a combination of hand expression, breast massage, and breast pumping has been shown to better stimulate milk production than breast pumping alone.
There is no need to pump on a set schedule. Simply watch your breasts and pump whenever they feel full or whenever it is convenient. How often you pump depends on your needs and the needs of your baby. If work requires that you be away from your baby for more than six hours a day, you may need to pump several times a day to relieve breast fullness and maintain your milk supply.
As long as you have a good supply of milk, your breasts will tell you when you need to pump. However, if your milk supply is low, you may need to pump more often in an effort to increase your supply. In the beginning, you may want to pump one breast while your baby feeds from the other breast. A breastfeeding baby will stimulate the let-down reflex and increase the flow of milk. As you become more confident in your ability to pump, you may want to pump early in the morning or between feedings when your breasts seem full.
It's important to remember that breasts are either more or less full, but never truly “empty.” Breasts like other vital body parts operate 24 hours a day! When you return to work, you may want to mimic your baby’s breastfeeding schedule and pump at the same times she would normally breastfeed if you were together.
Regardless of which breast pump you choose (learn about the different kinds here), it’s important to remember that no pump is as efficient as a baby—which may explain why mothers who return to work often report a decrease in their milk supply. When you and your baby are together, you can boost your supply by breastfeeding more often.
Additional tips for increasing your milk supply can be found here.