The amount of breast milk a mother should aim to pump per session depends on a few factors, including:
- Baby’s age: Newborns need smaller, more frequent feedings. As baby gets older, they take in more milk at each feeding.
- Time since last pumping session: The longer between sessions, the more milk accumulates in the breasts.
- Time of day: Milk supply is typically higher in the morning and lower in the evening.
- Stage of lactation: Milk supply is still being established in the early weeks and is variable. It regulates around 6-12 weeks.
- Individual variation: Every woman’s body is different – pumping output ranges quite a bit.
Here are some general pumping guidelines by baby’s age:
|Goal per Pumping Session
|Newborn (0-1 month)
The most important thing is to aim for a total of 25-35 oz per day on average. As long as your daily total output is within normal limits, the amount you pump per individual session is less important.
How milk supply and pumping output changes over time
In the early days after giving birth, a new mom’s breasts are still figuring out how much milk to make. Supply is driven by baby’s feeding demands. In the first 2 weeks, mothers may only pump 1-2 oz per session. Don’t be discouraged – this is normal for a newborn’s tiny tummy size!
By weeks 2-4, as the breasts ramp up production, pumping output typically increases to 2-4 oz per session. By weeks 4-8, many mothers can pump 3-6 oz per session. Keep in mind every woman’s journey is unique – some regulate more quickly and others more slowly.
Around weeks 12-16, milk supply typically “regulates” to match baby’s demands. At this point, pumping output is often more consistent from session to session. Many moms can pump 4-8 oz per session around the clock.
As baby begins eating solid foods around 6 months, your pumping output may start to decrease since baby needs less breastmilk. It’s normal to see a slight drop to 5-8 oz per session between 6-12 months.
Factors that influence pumping output
Time of day
Milk supply follows circadian rhythms and is highest in the early morning hours. Pumping output is typically highest in the morning, between 4-8am for most women. In the evenings, supply tends to be lower. Aim to pump every 3-4 hours if separating from baby for work/errands.
Stage of lactation
When lactation is still being established in the early weeks, pumping output is variable. Hormones are signaling the breasts to regulate milk production to match baby’s needs. Between 6-12 weeks, supply typically evens out. By 12 weeks, most mothers have an ample, consistent supply.
Being hydrated is key for milk production. The extra fluid supports your milk glands. Aim for 80-100 oz of water daily when breastfeeding. Limit caffeine and alcohol which can cause minor dehydration.
Pump settings/collection system
Using the right flange size ensures your pump extracts milk efficiently from ducts. Check for proper fit. Double pumps draw more milk in less time. Hands-free pumps allow you to massage breast while pumping to maximize output.
The more often breasts are emptied, the more milk they make. For supply maintenance, aim to pump every 2-3 hours. Going longer stretches between pumps signals to the body it needs less milk.
Breast massage and compression
Massaging the breasts before and during pumping helps loosen milk and mimics baby’s suck. Once flow slows, compressing breasts pushes more milk out of ducts.
Skin-to-skin helps increase prolactin, the milk-producing hormone. Try skin-to-skin before pumping for a boost in output.
Being stressed inhibits let-down. Do some deep breathing or listen to calming music while pumping to get into a relaxed “zen” zone.
When to be concerned about pumping output
While normal pumping output can vary widely, consult your doctor or lactation consultant if:
- Total daily output is consistently under 20 oz by week 4.
- Production is declining significantly and suddenly.
- You’re having trouble keeping up with baby’s intake needs.
- Pumping output is consistently asymmetrical from breast to breast.
Sometimes a nipple tie, breast infection, poor latch, or hormonal issues can impact supply. But low output isn’t always a cause for concern. Focus on ensuring baby is gaining weight appropriately and meeting wet/dirty diaper counts based on age rather than pump output.
Tips for increasing low pumping output
If your pumping output seems consistently low, try these tips:
- Nurse or pump more frequently, at least 8-12 times in 24 hours.
- Ensure you’re using the right flange fit and pump settings.
- Massage breasts while pumping.
- Pump after feedings or cluster feedings to fully empty breasts.
- Stay hydrated and eat oats, green leafy veggies and beans.
- Try skin-to-skin before pumping.
- Reduce any nipple confusion – pace feedings when supplementing.
- Rule out any anatomical variations with an IBCLC.
Increasing milk supply when returning to work
Heading back to work can be worrying when it comes to your pumping output. To boost your supply:
- Try to pump on your normal nursing schedule, about every 2-3 hours.
- Look into getting a portable, discreet pump to use at work.
- Add a nighttime pumping session after the first morning feeding.
- Maximize output each session – massage breasts, compress during let down.
- Practice paced bottle feedings so baby still gets practice nursing when home.
Make an effort to nurse more often on days off from work. Skin-to-skin time also helps signal your body to ramp up production. Staying hydrated, eating well, and resting are key too.
Maintaining supply when baby begins solids
Around 6 months, as solid foods are introduced, your pumping output may decrease since baby relies less on breastmilk. To maintain supply:
- Offer breast before solids at feedings.
- Nurse between solids as a “top up.”
- Ensure baby finishes meals ending on breast.
- Offer more daytime nursing sessions.
- Maintain a consistent pumping schedule.
- Make up missed sessions by adding a pump after the first morning feeding.
Also watch out for things like improper bottle use, teething discomfort, and milk supply dips due to illness which can all lead to a nursing strike.
Using your pump correctly
To ensure your pump is operating effectively:
- Review manufacturer guidelines for proper use.
- Make sure all parts are thoroughly washed and assembled correctly.
- Use the right size flange with good nipple fit.
- Double pump for efficiency.
- Use highest comfortable vacuum setting to mimic baby’s suck.
- Try breast massage and compression during let downs.
- Empty each breast fully until flow tapers off.
Watch for signs of inefficient pumping like lots of dripping/spraying milk or soreness after pumping. Having the right settings maximizes output while keeping you comfortable.
Setting realistic expectations
Having realistic expectations prevents feeling disappointed with your pumping sessions. Keep in mind:
- Output is highly variable and may not align with averages.
- Sessions may yield less than baby would remove at breast.
- Outputs fluctuate through the day and as baby’s intake changes.
- Aim for overall daily totals rather than individual sessions.
Focus on the incredible benefits breastmilk provides, like nutrients, antibodies, and bonding. As long as your pediatrician is happy with baby’s growth, trust in your body’s ability to produce what your baby needs.
Should I pump after every feeding?
Pumping after every feeding is usually not necessary unless:
- You’re working on establishing supply in the early weeks.
- You need to build a freezer stash before returning to work.
- Your body doesn’t respond well to a few big daily sessions.
- You’re prone to clogged ducts and engorgement.
For most women, pumping after just the first morning feeding lets you store any extra milk not taken during that high-output session. You can also add a session after the first feeding at night if you’ll be away from baby the next day.
How long should I pump each session?
Aim to pump for 15-20 minutes per session, but let your body be the guide. Typical pumping guidelines are:
- Pump 5 minutes after let-down to empty milk ducts.
- Go until flow slows to dripping or stops.
- Add 5 minutes of pumping while massaging any lumps.
- Never pump longer than 30 minutes to avoid damage.
Sessions where you feel very full and engorged may go slightly longer. If you’re still ejecting lots of milk after 20 minutes, you likely need to increase session frequency.
Should I pump the same amount of time on each side?
It’s normal for one breast to produce more milk than the other. To account for asymmetry:
- Pump each side equally at first until let-down occurs.
- Switch to the higher output side and pump until flow stops.
- Switch back to lower output side and pump another 2-5 minutes.
- Return to higher side for another brief emptying.
This ensures each breast is emptied without overtaxing the lower producer. Only pump for the minimum time needed per breast to avoid discomfort or damage.
How can I store the most breastmilk possible while pumping at work?
To store the maximum amount of milk while pumping on the job, you can:
- Double pump to cut pumping time in half.
- Pump directly into freezer bags to conserve space.
- Get a mini fridge or cooler bag to store milk nearby.
- Add flax or chia seeds to your diet to fatten up your milk.
- Massage breasts while pumping to eject more milk.
- Compress your breasts after let-down to empty ducts.
- Pump on your drive into work to take advantage of morning fullness.
Storing milk in 2-4 ounce increments allows for age appropriate bottles. Transport milk home in a cooler bag with ice packs.
Tips for nighttime pumping
Here are some tips for pumping at night:
- Pump right before you go to bed, after the last nursing session.
- Add a pump after the first morning feed when supply is highest.
- Keep the pump parts and storage bottles near your bed for convenience.
- Use a hands-free pump so you can massage breasts while pumping.
- Keep the room dim with minimal stimulation for continued melatonin production.
- Pump for 5 minutes after let-down then return to sleep.
Night pumping takes advantage of hormones that peak overnight. Even a short session can provide 2-3 oz without much disruption to your sleep cycle.
How can I make pumping sessions more productive?
To make each pumping session as productive as possible:
- Review manufacturer guidelines for proper pump use.
- Massage breasts before and during pumping.
- Visualize milk flowing to trigger let-down.
- Compress breasts after initial ejection to empty ducts.
- Double pump and pump after feedings when supply is highest.
- Ensure you have the right size flange for nipple effectiveness.
- Listen to relaxing music or watch videos of your baby to aid let-down.
Making sure your pump parts fit correctly and are working efficiently optimizes pumping output. Using relaxation techniques prevents stressed inhibited milk ejection.
Should I pump while engorged?
It’s best not to pump when feeling overly full and engorged. Heavy pumping can lead to:
- Clogged ducts from being unable to empty all milk.
- Increased engorgement from overproduction.
- Nipple damage or vasospasms from strong suction on tender tissue.
Instead, try the following when engorged before pumping:
- Apply warm compresses to ease milk flow.
- Massage lumps gently in shower or while nursing.
- Express just enough milk manually for comfort.
- Pump lightly just until engorgement softens.
- Stop pumping if nipple blanching occurs.
Frequent feeding or pumping is better for relief than extended engorged pumping. Seek lactation support if engorged often.
How can I safely build a freezer stash?
Building a freezer stash of milk is convenient but avoid oversupply. Try these tips:
- Add only one daily pumping session, like after the first morning feed.
- Only pump when breasts feel reasonably full, not engorged.
- Stop or reduce pumping once you have an adequate stash.
- Freeze in daily use amounts like 2-4 oz.
- Donate excess milk rather than continually stockpiling.
Frozen milk maintains nutrients for 6-12 months in a deep freezer. Date milk bags and rotate new with old when feeding to use within ideal time range.
When it comes to pumping, no two women have the same experience. The most important factor is that your baby is getting enough milk, not the exact ounces per pumping session. Aim for pumping around 2-6 oz per session based on your baby’s age and appetite. To optimize output, double pump at times of peak production, use proper flange sizing, massage breasts while pumping, and know your pump’s ideal settings. With a consistent schedule tailored to your body’s needs, you can provide your baby with all the amazing benefits of breastmilk.