How Much Milk Should I Be Pumping?

Pumping Breast Milk: Keeping Up With Your Baby

No one really tells you about the challenges of breastfeeding, let alone pumping. Figuring out how much milk to pump for your little one can ease your mind.

It’s not called liquid gold for nothing. Breastfeeding your baby is hard work, and pumping makes life with a little one even more of a balancing act. Knowing how much you should pump and how to make the most of your situation can take some of the stress away, giving you a better attitude when it comes to enjoying your baby.

Pumping Breast Milk

Many moms have been there: You go to pump and end up with maybe an ounce of milk from each side. It seems like your baby is growing fine, so he must be getting enough. What’s the problem? You probably do have enough milk, but a number of factors can affect your supply.

The amount of milk your body produces varies throughout the day. You’re more likely to have fuller breasts in the morning than in the evening. If you’re breastfeeding full-time, you’ll pump less in a pumping session than a mom who is exclusively pumping. If your baby is in a growth spurt, he will drink more, leaving less for you to pump. Your baby is also much more effective than the pump. Think of him as your own, personal pump who is likely slurping down quite a bit more than the ounce or two you’re able to pump.

Figuring Out How Much to Pump

There are some general guidelines for how much milk you should pump, but just as every baby has her own personality, each baby also has her own feeding habits. A good rule of thumb for how much to pump in a 24-hour period is 2.5 ounces per pound of your baby’s weight until she reaches 10 pounds. So a 7-pound baby would need around 17.5 ounces in 24 hours. Once your little one is drinking 25 ounces a day, that amount won’t change much, as most babies drink between 25 and 35 ounces a day.

As your baby gets older and starts solid foods, the amount of milk she drinks might go down a bit. She also might drink that milk in fewer feedings. You’ll go from feeling like you’re feeding her every time she’s awake for the first six months to feeding her only three to five times a day for the next six months.

The amount of milk you need to pump also depends on what your mommy life is like. Do you stay at home and primarily nurse your little one, or are you working and away from baby for eight hours a day? If you’re home, a small stash of bags in the freezer is more than enough. If you’re away from your baby, pump for however many feedings you’re missing.

These numbers are a good starting point, but Mommy knows best. If it seems like your baby needs or wants more milk, adjust your pumping to meet her needs.

Pump Options

Take some of the stress out of pumping by making sure you have the best pump for your situation:

  • Manual pumps are an affordable and convenient option for pumping just a time or two a week. They’re small and cost a lot less than an electric pump, but they do require more work since you have to do the actual pumping.
  • Electric pumps are quite a bit more expensive than manual pumps, but if you’re pumping more than a few times a week, they’re much easier to use and get the job done much quicker. Most models are set up so you can pump both breasts at the same time. This not only saves you time but is also better for milk production.

Once you’ve decided which pump is best for your situation, make sure you have the proper-sized flange or breast shield. This is the part that attaches to the bottle and fits onto your breast. The proper shield will save you a lot of discomfort, and, let's be honest, if you’re pumping full-time, you want to minimize your pain. The flange should allow your nipple to be centered and move in and out freely, without rubbing along the inside of the tunnel or pulling in any of your areola.

Increasing or Supplementing Milk

If you’re having trouble keeping up with the demands of your little chugger, try a couple adjustments to increase your milk supply.

Add another pumping session or two if you can find time between taking care of your little one, working and maintaining the home and your sanity. Or add a few more minutes to each pumping session. Even if there’s not another drop of milk coming out, pumping longer tells your body to make more milk eventually. If you nurse and pump, add an extra nursing session or two. You’ll tell your body to make more milk and get to spend some more snuggle time with your baby.

Check your diet. Oatmeal and other protein-rich foods can help increase your milk supply. And stay hydrated. It’s good practice to drink a bottle of water either while you’re pumping or immediately after. If you’re still having trouble producing enough, many moms have eaten herbs such as fenugreek to increase supply. It's best to consult your doctor or lactation specialist before taking supplements to increase your supply.

If nothing is working and you just can’t pump enough, remember you have to do what’s best for you and your baby. That might mean either supplementing with formula or switching completely to formula. You’ve tried your best and are still the best mommy for your little one, even if you’re unable to keep up with breastfeeding. It’s best to transition to formula gradually if you’re able, alternating feedings between breast milk and formula.

Every mom is different, and every baby is different, and so are the needs of each one. Talk to your doctor or a certified lactation consultant if you’re still having issues.

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