How Much Milk Should I Be Producing?

Mama's Got the Milk: Producing Enough Milk for Your Baby

Got milk? One thing many moms spend a lot of time doing after having a baby, especially in the beginning, is breastfeeding and pumping milk for their baby. Yet, despite all that breastfeeding and pumping, you may be wondering if your baby is actually getting the amount that she needs. Here's what you need to know about how much breast milk your baby actually needs and pumping.

The Amount of Breast Milk a Baby Needs

Young beautiful mother, breastfeeding her newborn baby boy at night

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The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that moms exclusively breastfeed their babies for about the first 6 months of life. After that, until at least 12 months of age, breastfeeding should be continued along with solid food. After the first year of life, continue breastfeeding as long as you want.

In the newborn stage, from birth to about 3 months, breastfeed frequently and on demand, which means feeding whenever your baby wants. Frequent breastfeeding not only satiates your baby's hunger, but also helps build up your milk supply, since it works on a supply-and-demand basis: The more you breastfeed or pump, the more milk your body makes.

Most newborn babies need a feeding approximately every two to three hours, which amounts to about eight to 12 feedings a day. In the beginning, since their stomachs are so small, newborn babies usually drink no more than one or two ounces each feeding. By about 4 or 5 weeks of age, your baby will likely take in about three to four ounces at each feeding, or about 30 ounces each day. From this point on, the amount of breast milk your baby drinks may increase, but not by much, because her rate of growth slows. As your baby grows, she may go three to four hours between feedings since she's able to drink more at each feeding. Then, from 6 months of age onward, the amount of feedings and the amount of breast milk your baby drinks at each feeding are likely to decrease because she's eating solid foods.

However, when your baby goes through growth spurts, which can happen at 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months of age, your baby may need more milk. You can meet this increased demand by breastfeeding and/or pumping more.

Since babies' appetites vary, the best way to determine whether your baby is getting enough breast milk is to simply pay attention to the cues he's sending you. If he cries, is fussy, turns his head toward your breast, opens his mouth, roots for your nipple and/or pulls on your shirt, he may want a feeding. Offer him as much milk as he wants and stop when he shows that he's finished, which may include pulling off the nipple or bottle and turning his head and body away.

Signs that your baby is getting enough breast milk are when your baby:

  • Seems happy and contented after feedings
  • Is gaining weight
  • Has frequent dirty diapers
  • Is meeting developmental milestones

Signs that your baby is not getting enough breast milk include:

  • Sleepy or lethargic behavior
  • Not regaining his birth weight and/or slow weight gain
  • Too few dirty diapers
  • Developmental delays

Contact your doctor immediately if you feel as if your baby is experiencing any health and developmental issues because of inadequate milk intake.

Factors That Affect Milk Supply

While you may feel as if you are not producing enough milk for your baby, know that insufficient breast milk production is actually rare. Most women make more breast milk than their baby needs. If, however, you feel as if you really aren't making enough breast milk, you may be able to boost your milk supply.

Low milk supply can be caused by:

  • Waiting too long to breastfeed
  • Not breastfeeding enough
  • Supplementing breastfeeding with formula
  • Ineffective latch
  • Taking certain medications
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking

Breastfeeding as soon as possible after giving birth, breastfeeding often and breastfeeding from both breasts signal your body to produce milk to meet the demand. Try to not give your baby any formula until you have established your milk supply, and breastfeeding is going well: The less frequently you breastfeed and/or pump, the less milk you'll make.

Your emotional state also can affect your milk supply. Negative emotions and stress release adrenaline into your bloodstream, which, in turn, inhibits milk flow. When breastfeeding and pumping, try to do so in a calm environment and relax.

Staying hydrated, eating a healthy diet, exercising and getting enough sleep also help your body produce breast milk and provide the energy to breastfeed a baby.

Pumping Breast Milk

Young beautiful mother, breastfeeding her newborn baby boy at night

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When you first start pumping, you may not get much milk. With time, the more you pump, the more milk your body will produce. It takes as long to pump breast milk as it does to breastfeed your baby. This means that it may take as few as 10 to 15 minutes to pump enough breast milk from each breast for your baby. Pump as often as you would breastfeed your baby, which usually means at least every three to four hours. Follow the instructions included with your breast pump as to how to properly store your breast milk and how long to keep it in the refrigerator.

Breastfeeding and Pumping Tips

The amount of breast milk that you release likely varies throughout the day. Many moms have more milk in the morning than in the afternoon and evening, so offer your baby your breast as early as you can when you wake up. This means a good time to pump is also in the morning, about 30 to 60 minutes after the first morning feed.

Problems With Pumping Breast Milk

If you feel as if you're not pumping enough breast milk, your pump may not fit correctly. If you feel discomfort or pain while pumping, even when you set the pump on the lowest suction setting or squeeze the pump very gently, you may need a larger breast shield. Alternatively, a poor fit may mean you need a smaller shield. Most pump manufacturers also supply a variety of shields in different sizes.

Seeking Help With Breastfeeding and Pumping

Contact your doctor, midwife or a lactation consultant if you have any concerns about not producing enough milk for your baby. They may demonstrate how to correctly breastfeed and pump, as well as check that your baby has a good latch. Most importantly, contact your doctor immediately if you feel as if your baby's milk intake is harming his health and development. Even if you have to supplement or replace breastfeeding with formula feeding, remember that doing so doesn't make you any less a mom. What's most important is that your baby is loved and well taken care of.