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Tuesday
Nov272012

How Much Milk Should You Expect to Pump?

Do you ever second-guess your milk production after pumping? Do you compare it with the volume of milk your friend or neighbor pumps? Do you compare it with the milk you pumped for a previous baby? Before you start to worry, you first need to know how much pumped milk is average. Many mothers discover—to their surprise—that when they compare their own pumping experience with the norm, they’re doing just fine. Take a deep breath and read on.

Expect Less Milk in the Early Weeks

If the first month of exclusive breastfeeding is going well, your milk production dramatically increases from about one ounce (30 mL) on Day 1 to a peak of about 30 ounces (900 mL) per baby around Day 40.1 Draining your breasts well and often naturally boosts your milk during these early weeks. But at first, while your milk production is ramping up, expect to pump less milk than you will later. If you pumped more milk for a previous child, you may be thinking back to a time when your milk production was already at its peak rather than during the early weeks while it was still building.

Practice Makes Perfect

What should you expect when you begin pumping? First know it takes time and practice to train your body to respond to your pump like it does to your baby. At first you will probably be able to pump small amounts, and this will gradually increase as time goes on. Don’t assume (as many do) that what you pump is a gauge of your milk production. That is rarely the case, especially the first few times you pump. It takes time to become proficient at pumping.  Even with good milk production and a good-quality pump, some mothers find pumping tricky at first.

Factors That Affect Milk Yield

After you’ve had some practice using your pump and it’s working well, the following factors can affect your milk yield:

  • Your baby’s age
  • Whether or not you’re exclusively breastfeeding
  • Time elapsed since your last breastfeeding or pumping
  • Time of day
  • Your emotional state
  • Your breast storage capacity
  • Your pump quality and fit

Read on for the details about each of these factors.

Your baby’s age. How much milk a baby consumes per feeding varies by age and—until one month or so—by weight. Because newborns’ stomachs are so small, during the first week most full-term babies take no more than 1 to 2 ounces (30 to 60 mL) at feedings.  After about four to five weeks, babies reach their peak feeding volume of about 3 to 4 ounces (90 to 120 mL) and peak daily milk intake of about 30 ounces per day (900 mL).

Until your baby starts eating solid foods (recommended at around six months), her feeding volume and daily milk intake will not vary by much. Although a baby gets bigger and heavier between one and six months of age, her rate of growth slows down during that time, so the amount of milk she needs stays about the same.1 (This is not true for formula-fed babies, who consume much more as they grow2 and are also at greater risk for obesity.3) When your baby starts eating solid foods, her need for milk will gradually decrease as solids take your milk’s place in her diet.3

Exclusively breastfeeding? An exclusively breastfeeding baby receives only mother’s milk (no other liquids or solids) primarily at the breast and is gaining weight well. A mother giving formula regularly will express less milk than an exclusively breastfeeding mother, because her milk production will be lower. If you’re giving formula and your baby is between one and six months old, you can calculate how much milk you should expect to pump at a session by determining what percentage of your baby’s total daily intake is at the breast. To do this, subtract from 30 ounces (900 mL) the amount of formula your baby receives each day. For example, if you’re giving 15 ounces (450 mL) of formula each day, this is half of 30 ounces (900 mL), so you should expect to pump about half of what an exclusively breastfeeding mother would pump.

Time elapsed since your last milk removal. On average, after an exclusively breastfeeding mother has practiced with her pump and it’s working well for her, she can expect to pump:

  • About half a feeding if she is pumping between regular feedings (after about one month, this would be about 1.5 to 2 ounces (45-60 mL)
  • A full feeding if she is pumping for a missed feeding (after one month, this would be about 3 to 4 ounces (90-120 mL)

Time of day. Most women pump more milk in the morning than later in the day. That’s because milk production varies over the course of the day. To get the milk they need, many babies respond to this by simply breastfeeding more often when milk production is slower, usually in the afternoon and evening. A good time to pump milk to store is usually thirty to sixty minutes after the first morning nursing.  Most mothers will pump more milk then than at other times. If you’re an exception to this rule of thumb, pump when you get the best results. No matter when you pump, you can pump on one side while nursing on the other to take advantage of the baby-induced let-down. You can offer the other breast to the baby even after you pump and baby will get more milk. 

Your emotional state. If you feel upset, stressed, or angry when you sit down to pump, this releases adrenaline into your bloodstream, which inhibits your milk flow. If you’re feeling negative and aren’t pumping as much milk as usual, take a break and pump later, when you’re feeling calmer and more relaxed.

Your breast storage capacity. This is the maximum amount of milk available in your breasts during the time of day when your breasts are at their fullest. Storage capacity is based on the amount of room in your milk-making glands, not breast size. It varies among mothers and in the same mother from baby to baby.5 As one article describes, your largest pumping can provide a clue to whether your storage capacity is large, average or small.6  Mothers with a larger storage capacity usually pump more milk at a session than mothers with a smaller storage capacity. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding and pumping for a missed breastfeeding, a milk yield (from both breasts) of much more than about 4 ounces (120 mL) may indicate a larger-than-average storage capacity. On the other hand, if you never pump more than 3 ounces (90 mL), even when it has been many hours since your last milk removal, your storage capacity may be smaller-than-average.

What matters to your baby is not how much she gets at each feeding, but how much milk she receives over a 24-hour day. Breast storage capacity explains many of the differences in breastfeeding patterns and pump yields that are common among mothers.7

Your pump quality and fit. For most mothers, automatic double pumps that generate 40 to 60 suction-and-release cycles per minute are most effective at expressing milk.

Getting a good pump fit is important, because your fit affects your comfort and milk flow. Pump fit is not about breast size; it’s about nipple size. It refers to how well your nipples fit into the pump opening or “nipple tunnel” that your nipple is pulled into during pumping. If the nipple tunnel squeezes your nipple during pumping, this reduces your milk flow and you pump less milk. Also, either a too-large or too-small nipple tunnel can cause discomfort during pumping. Small-breasted women can have large nipples and large-breasted women can have small nipples. Also, because few women are completely symmetrical, you may need one size nipple tunnel for one breast and another size for the other.

You know you have a good pump fit if you see some (but not too much) space around your nipples as they move in and out of the nipple tunnel. If your nipple rubs along the tunnel’s sides, it is too small. It can also be too large. Ideally, you want no more than about a quarter inch (6 mm) of the dark circle around your nipple (areola) pulled into the tunnel during pumping. If too much is pulled in, this can cause rubbing and soreness. You’ll know you need a different size nipple tunnel if you feel discomfort during pumping even when your pump suction is near its lowest setting.

What About Pump Suction?

Mothers often assume that stronger pump suction yields more milk, but this is not true. Too-strong suction causes discomfort, which can inhibit milk flow. The best suction setting is the highest that’s truly comfortable and no higher. This ideal setting will vary from mother to mother and may be anywhere on the pump’s control dial. Some mothers actually pump the most milk near the minimum setting.

Hands-on Pumping

Hands-on pumping is one evidence-based strategy to increase milk yield while pumping.  Click here for a post describing this effective technique.

Worries are a normal part of new motherhood, but you can make milk expression a much more pleasant experience by learning what to expect. For many mothers, pumping is a key aspect of meeting their breastfeeding goals.  A little knowledge can go a long way in making this goal a reality.

 

References

1Butte, N.F., Lopez-Alarcon, & Garza, C.  (2002). Nutrient Adequacy of Exclusive Breastfeeding for the Term Infant During the First Six Months of Life. Geneva, Switzerland, World Health Organization.  

2Heinig, M.J. et al. (1993). Energy and protein intakes of breast-fed and formula-fed infants during the first year of life and their association with growth velocity: the DARLING studyAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition,  58, 152-61. 

3Dewey, K.G. (2009). Infant feeding and growth. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 639, 57-66. 

4Islam, M.M, Peerson, J.M., Ahmed, T., Dewey, K.G., & Brown, K.H. (2006).  Effects of varied energy density of complementary goods on breast-milk intakes and total energy consumption by healthy, breastfed Bangladeshi childrenAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(4), 851-858. 

5Kent, J. C. (2007). How breastfeeding works. J Midwifery Womens Health, 52(6), 564-570. 

6Mohrbacher, N. (2011). The magic number and long-term milk production.  Clinical Lactation, 2(1), 15-18.

7Kent, J. C., Mitoulas, L. R., Cregan, M. D., Ramsay, D. T., Doherty, D. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (2006). Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day. Pediatrics, 117(3), e387-395.     

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Reader Comments (19)

I was pumping that when my babies were 4-5 mos old. It is possible. What they don't tell you is pump before feeding your child and pump through multiple letdowns. Ive pumped for 2 years total with my 2 kids and nursed a total of 5 yrs...while working outside the home full time+. Read a book or do something else you enjoy while you pump. It's just like water that never boils if you constantly watch it. And get a vehicle adapter for your pump. It saves time and is safer than texting while you are driving :).

November 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMberg

I pumped a LOT the first month due to pressure from mil to "let someone else have a turn feeding her". After that, I went exclusive baby-to-breast for 8 months. After that I couldn't pump at all bc I really didn't want to. Now I'm stuck with baby-to-breast and perfectly happy with it.

December 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAsh

So what's a normal output if you're exclusively pumping for a toddler? I've been getting very discouraged with my measly 1oz per session. Great article though! I just wish it was easier to find info for moms nursing/pumping beyond a year. :)

December 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristi

Kristi, In answer to your question, pumping volumes (and milk production) decrease as your baby takes more and more solid foods. That's why it's harder to provide specific volumes for babies older than 6 months. It all depends on how much solid food baby is eating. However, that's a completely normal aspect of milk production and doesn't mean you need to boost your supply. Just expect that as baby gets older, production will gradually decrease. I hope this helps! --Nancy

So after you start feeding solids you say that your milk production will naturally go down, but what if you still pump every 3-4 hours? Would that keep your supply up? Even if baby isn't taking in that much? Would it be nessessary to pump that much at that point (after 6 months)?

December 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

looks like about 3 -4 oz

December 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjen

With DD, I only pumped due to poor latching. Within the first month, I was able to pump every four hours and I could overflow a bottle (10+ oz). Continued for one year. As soon as I tapered off to every five hours, my milk slowed down. I had a really good supply in my deep freezer. That would allow me to take a night off (pump and dump) every so often so I could enjoy some adult drinks. Once I dried up, my DD still had about two months worth of milk that should would get on top of solid foods. Definitely important to be eating enough calories to produce milk. I wish everyone the best of luck.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCamby Momma

How wonderful that you had such a positive experience pumping, Camby. You are definitely at the high-producing end of the spectrum and well above average. Just as an FYI, caloric intake, unless extreme, doesn't seem to be related to milk production. For example, if a woman is in famine conditions for weeks or has an eating disorder, this may affect milk production. Much more important is the number of times per day the breasts are well drained and how fully drained they are. The more times per day and the more fully drained, the faster she will produce milk.

This is the most informative article I have found on breastfeeding. Thank you for the detailed info and tips for successful breastfeeding.

June 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMia

My baby is 1 month old and most of the time I pump and feed her due to poor latch. I pump every 3 hours (mostly 7 times a day) and I get between 3 to 4 oz milk. Is this enough for an one month old baby ? I try to put her on breast once or twice a day. But she doesn't seem to be getting enough that way.

October 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermolley

My baby is 1 month old and most of the time I pump and feed her due to poor latch. I pump every 3 hours (mostly 7 times a day) and I get between 3 to 4 oz milk. Is this enough for an one month old baby ? I try to put her on breast once or twice a day. But she doesn't seem to be getting enough that way.

October 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermolley

Thank you. My boy is gaining weight at a very slow rate. Hes 2 weeks and still 9 oz lower then birth rate. The doctor said to supplement 1 to 2 oz after he feeds and if I couldn't pump that I would have to use similac. I told him that im using that as last result but when I pumped for the first time I only got .5 oz for both breast. I began to freak out. After seeing this blog and surrounding myself around pro breastfeeders I am more comfortable knowing this is a process and pretty normal so just have patience and dont cave into drs orders. If my baby was screaming he was hungry all the time I would be more concerned but hes a very happy boy and I want him to be heathy too. Thank you again for the post.

November 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterlindsey

One thing I did while pumping is watch a video of my baby. It made the let down happen faster and I would get more milk vs when I didn't watch the video. I stuck the video camera in my pumping bag before I left home every day.

November 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAimee Romero

My son is 3 months old and I Just started pumping. I didn't have the funds for one before now. I'm getting approximately 2-3 ounces at a time combined. I was feeding him exclusively at the breast from birth til now. The doctor says he has colic but I'm wondering if he is getting enough to eat? He latches on but will slip off every few seconds. Then he relatches. He does this for 2-5 minutes and is done eating. I don't know what to do anymore.I dont want to put him on formula but it gets frustrating. It is very painful when he nurses.

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteramber

My first born (6 years old now) pretty much refused a bottle and I ended up leaving my job after going back to work when he was 8 weeks old because he was starving himself all day at daycare. So I definitely want my new baby (13 days old) to get used to taking a bottle of breastmilk early. Back then, I remember pumping at 4-5 oz. from each breast every 3 hours at work for a total of 8-10 oz from each pumping session. Last night, I had pretty high expectations-- I pumped for 10 minutes on one side and only got 1 oz. I was kind of freaking out, but reading this makes me feel much better that my supply will increase greatly in the next few weeks and pumping in the morning will yield more.

February 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTerri

I've also heard that nursing in different positions (cradle, football, etc) will stimulate different milk glands/sacs and increase production. I usually get stuck in a rut with the cradle position, so I'll try switching up positions to see if that stimulates other sacs. Also, my son does not like my left breast. If I start on the left breast, he latches and then goes off and gets frustrated, then latches again, this goes on for a few minutes before settling down, so I always end up starting on the right breast.

February 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTerri

Amber my son has colic and reflux, and while the colic got better as he got older the reflux got worse to the point where we would turn away fromthe boob until he was starving. Well my milk supply started to dry up and while I used to pump 3 oz a breast easy I am now at 3 oz for bothboth after a few weeks of pumping again. At first I was lucky to get an oz from both. Try your lil one on progaia its a probiotic and it works am amazing, after a week it was like a new baby. And if your nipples hurt it might be thrush.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

My daughter is 7.5 weeks and I am pumping (with a manual pump) for the first time. I got just over three ounces from one side - she usually only eats from one breast at each feeding so I just alternate, and this was the side she was due for next. Is that a good quantity? I'm going back to work in a few weeks so I'm nervous about making sure I'll have enough to leave with her dad. I know I make plenty of milk but I've heard that sometimes women who make plenty can't pump well. Also do you have any tips on how to choose a good double electric pump?

February 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

Hi Megan, In answer to your question, 3 oz. from one breast is well above average. As the post explained, a full feeding for a 1- to 6-month-ol baby is 3-4 oz. If you double pump between regular feedings, it is average to get 1.5-2 oz. If you double pump instead of a feeding, you should get a full feeding, which is what you got when you pumped just one breast. Hope this helps! --Nancy

February 15, 2014 | Registered CommenterNancy Mohrbacher
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