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.
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.
To Pump or Not to Pump Breast Milk
While it’s almost automatic for new mums who want to exclusively breastfeed their child to purchase a breast pump, the truth is that not all mothers need one.
According to Gina Wall, a lactation expert based in Seattle, a breastfeeding mother should consider a pump “only if she anticipates regular separations from her baby, separations of more than three to four hours.”
This is the case for those mums who need to go back to work a few months after giving birth but still want to continue to give breast milk to their babies.
Then there’s also a case of when infants have a medical condition that makes it hard for them to breastfeed directly, such as preemies who struggle with the suck-swallow reflex or those born with cleft palates.
Pumping is also advisable for women who want to increase their milk production, but this will only work if along with pumping, they are regularly breastfeeding their babies.
“Pumping increases milk production if a mother is pumping in addition to nursing her baby. But if she is pumping and then skipping breast feedings, the pumping will decrease her milk production,” said Wall
Side Effects of Pumping Breast Milk
Meanwhile, there can also be some cons to pumping your breast milk, including:
- breasts engorgement
- blocked milk ducts leading to a risk of mastitis
- bottle-feeding your expressed milk reduces bonding between mum and baby, which is one of the best effects of breastfeeding
- insufficient milk supply if direct latching is eliminated completely
While pumping can be very beneficial for those who want to feed their babies with breast milk even when they are not around, they need to do it in moderation. Always try to breastfeed your baby directly every chance you get.
That said, let’s find out how much milk is a breastfeeding mum is expected to express according to their baby’s age.
How Much Milk Should You Expect to Pump When Your Baby Is…
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 millilitres 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)
Remember that a newborn can only take in a tiny quantity of milk.
2 to 6 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 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.
For 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).
You can reduce the milk-feeding sessions once your baby starts solids.
6 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 mums are encouraged to continue to provide breastmilk until their babies reach at least 2 years old.
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 or 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.
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.
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 at night in keeping with the age of your baby.
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How to Hand Express
No breast pump? One way to get breast milk and a great way to prevent breast engorgement is to hand express. Wondering how to pump breast milk with your hands? It’s fairly easy. Try the Press, Compress, Release technique from the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding:
- Hold your breast with your fingers and thumb cupped around your breast in a C shape, near but not touching your areola. Then,
- PRESS your fingers and thumb back towards your chest.
- COMPRESS your breast between your fingers and thumb, moving them slightly towards your nipple without lifting them from your breast.
- RELEASE without moving your hand from your breast.
- REPEAT, moving your hand to a different place around your breast after every few compressions or whenever milk flow stops, so that you compress all of your milk ducts. Releasing and repeating rhythmically helps to mimic the action of a baby breastfeeding.
The process is basically trial and error. Experiment and keep trying to find what works for you. One way to know if you’ve found it is when the milk sprays from the nipple, and you’re not just getting drops or a dribble. A little gravity can help – bend forward with your breasts suspended to increase the letdown.
The whole process can take 20 to 30 minutes for both breasts. Don’t worry about stopping if you need to. Also, make sure you wash your hands and get a clean container to catch the milk. Check out this guide on how to store breast milk after pumping.
Finally, hand expression should feel comfortable. Best to look for a private place where you won’t feel conscious and you can relax. Take some deep breaths and keep your shoulders back.
Here at theAsianparent Singapore, it’s important for us to give information that is correct, significant, and timely. But this doesn’t serve as an alternative for medical advice or medical treatment. theAsianparent Singapore is not responsible for those that would choose to drink medicines based on information from our website. If you have any doubts, we recommend consulting your doctor for clearer information.