Creating a Breastfeeding and Pumping Schedule That Works for You

Everything might feel brand new right now, and a little chaotic. There's a sweet little stranger that you're completely in love with, but is SO demanding! There is at least one solution to managing some of the chaos when it comes to feeding baby. Let's talk about creating a breastfeeding and pumping schedule that works for you and your baby, keeping them content, and adding a little order to your new normal.

Set Realistic Goals and Expectations

It's a good idea to set feeding goals for you and your baby, but things don't always go according to plan. Different factors like milk supply, baby's health, and the demands of everyday life can throw a wrench in even the best-conceived breastfeeding plans. Don't be too hard on yourself! It may be tempting to compare yourself to other parents or feel like you're failing, but every breastfeeding journey is unique. As long as baby is getting the nutrition they need, whether it's from exclusively breastfeeding, combination feeding, or formula, you're doing great.

Beginning your Breastfeeding and Pumping Journey

The first few weeks of parenthood are a time of major transition, and crucial to building a good foundation for your milk supply.1 Allowing yourself to settle in mentally and physically will be beneficial for a positive breastfeeding experience. Baby will likely feed often in the first few days. As tiring as it is, this is normal and is helping to increase your breast milk supply and allow baby to get the hang of suckling and swallowing.2 Lots of skin-to-skin contact is also a wonderful way to bond with baby and encourage breastfeeding. Studies have shown a strong correlation between skin-to-skin contact with infants and a higher likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding.3

At the beginning of breastfeeding, many doctors recommend feeding on-demand or "responsive feeding" rather than sticking to a strict schedule. This way you can begin to learn your baby's hunger cues and feeding needs early on, watching their behavior rather than the clock. Most babies seem to have an innate understanding of their feeding needs, letting you know when they're hungry, and drinking as much as they need until they feel full. As the days go by, baby will likely fall into a natural feeding pattern, making it easier for you to anticipate their needs and set up a schedule.

How Often Should I Breastfeed?

According to the CDC, most babies 0-6 months old will feed approximately every 2-4 hours, or 8-12 times in a 24 hour period.2 As baby's stomach grows, they will begin to drink more milk with each feeding, and the number of times a day they feed will decrease.2

You may experience "cluster feeding" during the day in the early weeks after having baby. Cluster feeding is when baby feeds frequently (maybe once an hour) and only drinks a little bit of milk at each feeding.4 This is totally normal, and they may grow out of it as time goes on. Cluster feeding can be tiring and demanding on the body, but it may help you to have longer stretches of time at night where baby doesn't need to feed. Additionally, if you are on-demand feeding rather than scheduled feeding, baby may eat every 2-3 hours during the day and have a 4-5 hour stretch at night where they don't need to eat. And what new parent wouldn't take any extra sleep they can get?

How Often Should I Pump?

Pumping is a great solution to collecting breast milk while you are away from baby, to build up a freezer stash, and to help maintain your milk supply.5 Registered Nurse and Board-Certified Lactation Consultant Leana Thompson recommends this as a guideline for when/how often you should pump:

"Whenever a baby is taking a bottle, the breastfeeding parent should be pumping at the same time. When breastfeeding parents go to work while away from their babies, I encourage them to pump at least every three hours, if possible."

This way you can maintain your milk supply even when you aren't breastfeeding.

Plan Around Your Personal Schedule and Lifestyle

It can't be stressed enough that everyone is different. Your baby's feeding needs are unique to them, and your life and schedule is completely your own. If you can manage to exclusively breastfeed and be available for baby 24/7, fantastic! If you have to take more time away from baby or work full time, excellent! You can plan your feeding schedule around it.

Leana L. Thompson, RN, BSN, IBCLC provides this sample schedule for a working breastfeeding parent who's away from baby from 9am - 5pm:

  • 6 am - Breastfeed
  • 8 am - Breastfeed at "drop off" or when caregiver arrives
  • 10 am - Pump
  • 1 pm - Pump
  • 4 pm - Pump
  • 6 pm - Breastfeed
  • 7:30 pm - Breastfeed at bedtime
  • 10:30 pm - Pump/breastfeed during the night as needed

Having a general guideline for your feeding and pumping schedule can be helpful for keeping track and anticipating feeding, but life (and babies) can be unpredictable, so don't panic if things don't go exactly to plan.

Utilize Helpful Resources

There are many sources available to help you with breastfeeding scheduling, questions, or difficulties. Some people like to use apps to track and schedule feeding. There are many breastfeeding apps that can keep track of baby's progress, send alerts for feeding times, tell you which breast to offer for feeding, offer access to experts, and more.

You don't have to figure this out all on your own. Family and friends with breastfeeding experience can be reassuring and offer helpful advice and support, and there's a multitude of resources available with special expertise in breastfeeding. Reach out to your doctor or a certified IBCLC (lactation consultant) if you're looking for professional advice. Plus, many insurance companies cover IBCLC services!


  1. Jacqueline C., Hazel Gardner, and Donna T. Geddes. "Breastmilk Production in the First 4 Weeks after Birth of Term Infants." 8 December 2016. Accessed 28 August 2023.
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. "How Much and How Often to Breastfeed." Last reviewed 11 April 2022. Accessed 28 August 2023.
  3. Ann‐Marie Widström, Kajsa Brimdyr, Kristin Svensson, Karin Cadwell, and Eva Nissen. "Skin‐to‐skin contact the first hour after birth, underlying implications and clinical practice." 13 March 2019. Accessed 28 August 2023.
  4. Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. "Cluster Feeding." Pregnancy, birth & baby. Last reviewed May 2022. Accessed 28 August 2023.
  5. Cincinnati Children's. "Breast Pump: Maintaining Milk Supply." Last updated April 2021. Accessed 28 August 2023.