When and How to Start Pumping and Bottle Feeding

So, you get home from the hospital and you’ve decided to breastfeed. Maybe it’s been a smooth ride or maybe it’s been much harder than expected (because breastfeeding can be really challenging). Either way, you may be wondering: when do I start pumping and giving a bottle without disrupting…everything.

When and How to Start Pumping and Bottle Feeding

Written by: Jessica Diamond, MPH, RDN

So, you get home from the hospital and you’ve decided to breastfeed. Maybe it’s been a smooth ride or maybe it’s been much harder than expected (because breastfeeding can be really challenging). 

Either way, you may be wondering: when do I start pumping and giving a bottle without disrupting…everything. 

Maybe you’re starting to think about skipping a nursing session for the sake of sleep (who doesn’t want more sleep?!) or taking a solo trip out of the house or preparing a large enough breastmilk supply to get back to work. 

Some moms may find themselves excited for this transition, while others may be hesitant about changing up their routine, especially if they’re worried about the bottle causing “nipple confusion” or discouraging breastfeeding altogether. 

Whatever your situation, figuring out how and when to pump and when to introduce a bottle is important, and timing and strategy are everything. We’re here to make it simple and break it all down!  

Disclaimer: Every baby and situation is different! When you decide to start pumping and offer a bottle can vary widely based on your circumstances. If you pumped and offered a bottle in the hospital, don’t worry! If you’re just reading this and ready to offer a bottle way after the 2-4 week point, don’t worry! These timeframes are typical, but we all know that many things don’t fall into typical! And if you’re concerned at all about your situation, please reach out to a lactation specialist for help. Raising a baby takes a village and tons of help!

When to Start Pumping

Assuming you haven’t needed to pump before this point, starting to pump around the 2-4 week mark is a good goal. Why? Well, you want to introduce the bottle some time between 2-4 weeks old. It’s best to wait to introduce a bottle once your milk supply is established and your baby is successfully latched and breastfeeding. You don’t want to wait too long (longer than 6 weeks) because you run the risk of your baby rejecting the bottle. We’ve found that some time between 2-4 weeks is the sweet spot! 

In order to build up a breastmilk stash, it’s best to start pumping one time per day, ideally for 15-20 minutes (but no longer than 30 minutes) in the morning after your morning feed. The morning is when breastmilk production is usually the highest, so it’s a good time to pump. You’ll also want to pump when your baby is scheduled to have their bottle so that you keep your milk supply up and consistent with their demand. 

How to Pump

  1. Make sure you have appropriately-sized pump parts. Breast shields come in different sizes, so before you buy multiple pump parts, make sure you have the right breast shield size. (This nipple ruler can help!) Having the right size is important for comfort and optimal milk production. 
  1. Make sure your pump is charged or plugged in and all your pump parts have been disinfected before use. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for disinfecting pump parts and setting up your pump. Here’s a great video that walks you through sterilizing the Spectra pump. We’re major fans of these UV sterilizers for disinfecting pump parts, bottles, pacifiers, and almost anything after that initial use.  
  1. Attach all the pump parts together, put your pump on (we love a good hands-free bra to hold them in place because hands-free pumping is a game changer), and then turn the pump on with the power button. Most pumps have two modes: a let-down mode and an expression mode. You should use the let-down mode in the beginning of the pumping session, and then once you see milk coming out, you should switch to the expression mode. 

On the Spectra pumps, the button with the wavy lines is the let-down mode. You’ll want to push it when you begin to pump and then tap it again to turn it off when you want to go into expression mode. The setting on the Spectra S1 and S2 that typically works the best is Let-down: Cycle 70 and Expression: Cycle 54. The suction is adjustable to different degrees on different settings. Always adjust the suction to your comfort. Start off with Level 1 and then increase to your comfort level. Once it’s comfortable, decrease the level down once. 

When to Bottle-Feed

Once you start with a bottle, stay consistent. This means giving your baby the bottle 3-4 times each week. You want to give them the bottle only once or twice per day when fully awake during the day so that they get used to the artificial nipple but don’t get “nipple confusion” – we don’t want them to get so used to an artificial nipple that they begin to prefer it over the breast! Using a rubber nipple requires a different mouth movement than breastfeeding, so it is possible for them to lose the skill of breastfeeding if you overdo the bottle-feeding.

You also want to avoid giving your baby the bottle at 4 weeks old, seeing how they like it, and then waiting to give them the bottle again for another few weeks (or months). We often hear of parents giving their baby the bottle at 3 weeks old and then not giving them the bottle again until it’s time to go back to work…and then the baby refuses the bottle! Consistency from the get-go will help you avoid this.  

Try Paced Bottle-Feeding 

Paced bottle-feeding can help any baby, but it’s especially important for breastfed babies because this style of bottle-feeding closely mimics breastfeeding. It helps make sure your baby doesn’t get confused and then begin to prefer the bottle over the breast. 

Here’s how you do it: Have someone besides the breastfeeding parent give the baby the bottle. This will help your baby get comfortable being fed by other caregivers and is a great way to involve your partner, family member, or nanny. Then sit your baby in an upright position, offer the bottle, and wait for them to open their mouth like they do when they breastfeed. Moving slowly, tilt the bottle upwards to let the milk flow out and then move the bottle back to a horizontal position so that no milk comes out. Repeat this until your baby shows signs that they are done (e.g., they turn their head away from the bottle, get easily distracted and don’t seem interested in eating, or cry after you give them more milk).   

Hungry for more?

If you’re looking for more practical resources to make the transition to motherhood easier, be sure to check out our Registry Essentials. Now that we’ve been around the block a few times, we made sure we included only the things you will love and get tons of use out of! And definitely check out our other amazing breastfeeding and infant feeding resources:

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