When breastfeeding does not work out the way they expect it to, some moms choose to turn to a breast pump to help solve their problems. That inevitably leads to the question that these pumping moms often ask, “How much milk should I be pumping?”
This is a great question, but it is not the only important question. Pumping breast milk is both an art and a science. Learning about pumping and milk production while adjusting to life with a newborn is hard. To make it a little easier, here are the answers to the most important questions.
- What is the average milk production for a new mom?
- What causes low milk supply?
- How often should a mom pump per day?
- How to increase milk supply when pumping?
- How can mom reach and maintain full milk production?
How much milk should I be pumping?
The answer to this question is different for every mom. However, there are biological standards we can use to understand the amount of milk women can produce.
In the first few days of life, a newborn’s stomach can typically hold no more than one ounce at a time. By the end of the first week, it may hold as much as two ounces. This is why newborns nurse so often. Breastmilk is easily digestible because it is perfect nutrition for human babies.
At first, pumping may only result in very small amounts of colostrum. This is normal until a woman’s milk comes in. The only way for milk to come in is for the breast to be stimulated to produce milk. That means it is important to pump as often as a baby would nurse to establish the body’s need for a milk supply.
By the end of the first month, a baby’s stomach can hold between three to five ounces. Over a 24-hour period, that is about 25 ounces for most babies. Ideally, a woman would want to pump enough milk in 24 hours to cover her baby’s needs for that same 24 hours. However, with some help, she may be able to pump more to have as backup in case of a spill or extended absence from her pump.
After a month, milk production should level off until the baby is about six months old. Then, many babies begin to practice eating solid foods and their need for breast milk may diminish slightly. There are many experts though who say, “food before one is just for fun,” and encourage moms to let breastmilk be the primary source of their baby’s nutrition until their first birthday.
Ultimately, it is best to measure a mom’s milk production against her baby’s needs rather than some average of women everywhere. Mom is responsible for nourishing her baby and not the average baby. Getting hung up on an average amount is only helpful if the mom is gauging her own production against her baby’s needs.
What causes low milk supply?
The causes of low milk supply are almost as numerous as there are women worried about it. If a mom is experiencing a low supply, she should consider each of these possibilities.
- Mom is dehydrated. Water is an important component of breast milk production and if mom is not drinking enough, it can have a negative impact on her supply.
- Mom is not eating enough calories. Breastmilk is rich in nutrients because it has to help a new human grow an entire body. That means it takes a lot out of mom to produce the milk. New moms should expect to eat more if they are nursing or exclusively pumping. This is not the time to go on a strict diet.
- Mom is not eating enough nutritious calories. Eating a wide variety of healthy foods is helpful in producing breast milk. A new mom and her baby cannot thrive if they are feasting on fast food or many other processed foods. Continuing the healthy diet she had during pregnancy is important in milk production.
- There are issues with the pump. It may take a little while to troubleshoot pump issues, but pumpers should work through the possibilities. Having the wrong size flanges, using the wrong settings for speed and suction strength, or having old tubing can each make getting enough milk out of the breast difficult.
- Other medical issues are responsible. Some genuine medical issues make it difficult for certain women to produce breast milk. A lactation consultant can diagnosis this after the mom has struggled through all the other options and no other cause is found for poor milk production.
How often should a mom pump per day?
Exclusive pumping moms should pump as often as their baby eats. The timing can be tricky, but it is the best way to maintain an active supply. Once a supply is established, moms may find they can pump a little longer than they used to and get more milk. Remember though, milk production is based on supply and demand. The more milk she tries to pump out, the more milk her body will make.
If a mom is pumping to supplement breastfeeding, she will need to adjust her schedule. In this case, mom should pump after the baby nurses to signal her body to make more milk. This milk can then be stored for the next bottle-feeding.
How to increase milk supply when pumping?
To increase milk production, mom needs to pay attention to the process of supply and demand. When she wants her body to make more milk, she needs to signal to her body by pumping more frequently or longer. Shortening the length of time between pumping sessions is one way to do this. If her baby normally eats every four hours, she can pump every three hours to signal the milk ducts to make more milk. Or, she can try to make each pumping session last longer. To do this, she just needs to make sure she pumps until her breast is empty.
There are a few other options for answering the question, “How to increase milk supply while pumping?” They include:
- Supplementing with galactagogues like fenugreek, alfalfa, and blessed thistle
- Eating lactation cookies, which are made with flaxseed, brewer’s yeast, and oatmeal. (You can easily make your cookies by using this mix)
- Taking a prescription medicine after consulting with a medical doctor
- Additionally, check Erika’s video below, she shared very interesting tips on pumping (I highly recommend this video)
How can mom reach and maintain full milk production?
The best way for mom to achieve this goal is to be consistent. It is a good idea to track the number, time, duration, and output from each pumping session while a milk supply is being established. There are apps available for this (like, Pump Log for iPhone or Breastfeeding Tracker, Pump log and baby diary for Android phone users), but a simple paper log is sufficient. This will help mom to recognize any patterns relative to her lifestyle and diet as well.
While consistency is important, it is vital to note that milk production will vary by day. This is very normal and there should be no cause for alarm. Keeping a consistent log can help ease concerns about production dips too. If mom starts to notice a trend, then it is time to consider several of the issues previously mentioned. Sometimes, the return of her menstrual cycle will coincide with a dip in production. This is normal though and adding in extra pumping sessions or shortening the duration between them can help make sure the baby’s need for milk is met.
A new mom may still be asking, “How much milk should I be pumping?” If she is exclusively pumping, she should always be reassured that she should be pumping enough milk in 24 hours to feed her baby for 24 hours. When possible, it is a good idea pump a little more to build up a freezer supply. This is especially true if she plans to return to a job outside of the home.
Every day a mom gives her baby breastmilk is a gift. Choosing to pump is a sacrifice of time and energy.
Learn more about how to produce more breast milk in this post