How much breastmilk should you expect to pump? An ages and stages guide

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If you are an exclusive pumper, you're sure to find this article useful...

When a mother cannot breastfeed for whatever reason, exclusive pumping is a great alternative to ensure her baby still gets all the goodness of her milk.

But how much should you pump to make sure your little one is getting enough milk at each feed, depending on his age? Are you pumping too much? Too little? When can you start expressing your milk? And the questions keep rolling in!

This article is an ‘ages and stages’ guide especially for mums with these questions and more. Singapore-based lactation nurse Jophia Bok’s expert knowledge informs most of the information in this guide.

how much milk should i expect to pump

It’s probably not a good idea to start pumping while you are still pregnant, unless there is a medical reason for it.

Can I start expressing my breastmilk while I am still pregnant?

In a normal pregnancy, you should not start expressing your breastmilk for storage while you are still pregnant, advises Jophia, especially if this is your first pregnancy. This is because nipple manipulation may cause uterine contractions, triggering early labour or even pre-term delivery.

Deanna Soper, PhD, writing for Breastfeeding USA explains that antenatal expression of breastmilk may be useful when the mother has a health condition such as Type 1 or gestational diabetes, for example, to prevent the introduction of formula to the baby after birth.

This is because “babies born to mothers with diabetes may be at an increased risk of being hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) at birth and are sometimes supplemented with formula in an attempt to increase their glucose levels.” However, giving formula so soon after birth can have negative consequences on subsequent efforts to breastfeed.

Pregnant mothers who have been medically diagnosed to have insufficient breast tissue, polycystic ovarian disease, multiple sclerosis, or those who have undergone breast surgery, may also be advised by their healthcare providers to express antenatally.

If you do have a medical condition that may require you to express colostrum antenatally, your doctor will advise you how and when to go about doing this.

How much milk can I expect to pump when my baby is…

A newborn

During the first five days after giving birth (before your mature milk sets in), you should express every hour for 5 to 10 minutes on both breasts. Jophia explains that this is because in this time-frame, your body will produce colostrum, which is a thick, golden fluid rich in antibodies and nutrients.

While it is only secreted in minute quantities (a few milliliters only), it is perfectly adequate for your newborn’s tiny peanut-sized tummy, and the special proteins it contains will help protect your newborn from many common infections.

This comparison will give you some perspective as to just how tiny your newborn’s tummy is and how much milk he can take in:

Day 1 of life – 5 to 7ml (size of peanut or cherry)
Day 3 of life – 20-27ml (size of walnut)
Day 7 of life – 45 to 65ml (size of apricot)
Day 30 of life – 80 to 150ml (size of an egg)
how much milk should i expect to pump

Remember that a newborn can only take in a tiny quantity of milk.

Two to six months old

When your body starts producing mature milk, Jophia advises that you express every two to three hours on both breasts, for not more than 30 min on each breast.

It is difficult to to say how much milk your body will produce at each pumping session, says Jophia, because each mum’s body is different and unique. A mum with bigger breasts doesn’t necessarily produce more milk than a mum with smaller breasts.

Meanwhile, Kelly Bonyata (IBCLC, kellymom.com) says that exclusively breastfed babies take in an average of 25 oz (750 mL) per day between the ages of 1 month and 6 months, with a typical range of milk intake being 19-30 oz per day (570-900 ml per day).

She uses these numbers to estimate the average amount of expressed milk a baby will need:

  • Estimate the number of times that baby nurses per day (24 hours).
  • Then divide 25 oz by the number of nursings.
  • This gives you a “ballpark” figure for the amount of expressed milk your exclusively breastfed baby will need at one feeding.

Example: If baby usually nurses around 8 times per day, you can guess that baby might need around 3 ounces per feeding when mom is away. (25/8=3.1).

For more on this, including a ‘milk calculator’, please follow this link.
how much milk should i expect to pump

You can reduce the milk-feeding sessions once your baby starts solids.

Six to 12 months old

Once your baby starts eating a full portion of solids, you can drop the expressing session that coincides with that meal. So, according to Jophia, your breastmilk expression interval can now be every three to four hours.

When your baby turns one, he should be eating about five small but wholesome meals a day, with three bottle feeds. At this point, you need to only express about two to four times a day, depending on the amount of milk your baby takes each time, and also how well he is eating.  and also depends on how well her baby is able to accept food.

All moms are encouraged to continue to provide breastmilk until their babies reach at least 2 years old.

Tips to increase breastmilk

Jophia shares some ways to help your body produce a good amount of breastmilk according to its ability:

  • Do not go on a diet. Eat a well balanced diet with a slight increase in carbohydrates.
  • Make sure you are well hydrated with water or other fluids (at least 7-8  250ml sized glasses/cups per day). In addition, have a cup or a bottle of warm water near you while you express your milk.
  • Try to relax while you express and not make it into a chore. This will enable you to express the maximum amount of milk you possibly can.
  • Learn some stress relief methods that can help you relax during your pumping sessions. For example, be near your baby, look at videos or pictures of your baby, or even bring along your baby’s clothes.
  • These little ‘reminders’ may help in the ‘let down’ of your milk, helping you pump more milk more efficiently.
  • Remember to continue with your breastmilk expression even in the night in keeping with the age of your baby.
how much milk should i expect to pump

Remember that a good pump can make all the difference in how much milk you are able to express and the ease with which you do this.

Growth spurts and pumping

During one of your baby’s growth spurts, Jophia suggests that you express your breastmilk in shorter intervals. For example, if you normally express every two hours, consider pumping every 60 to 90 minutes during a growth spurt. This will help you stock up on your breastmilk supply.

What are the factors that influence how much milk I can pump?

In general, how much milk you can express is based on a ‘supply and demand’ theory. So, if there is demand there will be supply and if demand is high, supply will also be high. Likewise, if demand is low, supply will probably be low.

Other than low demand, here are some other factors that may have a negative effect on your breastmilk yield, explains Jophia:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Unstable emotions or unstable mental health
  • Dieting and dehydration
  • Delay in expressing breastmilk
  • Wearing constricted clothing or bra consistently

Remember mums, do not force feed your baby — looking out for hunger cues will help you understand your baby’s feeding pattern.

Also keep in mind that different babies may not finish the same amount of breastmilk for every feeding — each baby is a unique little person and his or her feeding patterns and milk intake will be unique to him/her too.

Most babies will demand more breastmilk during the week of growth spurts and some may choose to do cluster feeding during a particular period of the day for that growth spurt week, reminds Jophia. Also, do choose a good breast pump as this can make a huge difference in how much milk you are able to express.

We hope you have found this article useful. theAsianparent would like to thank Jophia for her input to this article.