Often, when moms start pumping breast milk, they can get very discouraged when they only see the bottle only fill up to the 1 oz. line or even less per breast. Many times, moms start freaking out, assuming that there’s something wrong with them and they won’t possibly be able to pump enough milk for what their baby needs.
If this is happening to you, don’t panic. Pumping only a small amount per breast in a session is completely normal. In fact, most women will only pump between 0.5 oz. and 4 oz. of breast milk total (meaning coming from both breasts) in a 15 or 20-minute pumping session.
Although many things can affect how much milk you pump in a session, the biggest factor is usually how much breast storage capacity you have in your breasts. This means how much milk your breasts can hold between feedings (or pumping sessions) and is strictly related to how many milk-producing glands (also known as mammary glands) you have in your breast. This varies from person to person and has nothing to do with how large or small your breasts are.
Having a smaller breast milk storage capacity does NOT mean that you’re not making enough milk for your baby or that you need to supplement with formula. It simply means that you’ll probably have to breastfeed or pump more often than other mothers.
For example, someone with small breast storage capacity might only produce 1 to 2 oz. per feeding, and their babies may feed every 1 to 2 hours. While someone with a large storage capacity may produce 4 to 6 oz. every 2 to 4 hours. (Women with super large storage capacities may pump as much as 8 oz. in a session, but this is very rare!)
However, the average mom produces about 2 to 4 oz. every 2 to 4 hours.
And just because your baby is crying doesn’t indicate that you’re not pumping enough milk. Babies can cry for a lot of reasons, but as long as they are gaining weight, you’re most likely doing fine. But just to give you some peace of mind, here’s how much breast milk babies need by age and how to calculate how much breast milk you need to pump per day.
In addition to your natural storage capacity, there are other factors that can affect how much you pump as well.
- How old your baby is
- What time of day it is
- How long it has been since your last pumping session or feeding
- How stressed you are
- How well your pump fits
- Whether or not your pump is working properly
Here’s how those things may affect your pumping output:
- Baby’s Age
Babies who are less than a month old have very small stomachs, so your body won’t produce as much milk in this stage as it will later. Babies who are less than a month old will only drink about 1 to 2 oz. at a feeding. After that, their stomachs will grow large enough to drink about 3 to 4 oz. at a time, and they’ll usually drink about 30 oz. per day.
- Time of Day
Did you know that the time of day that you pump can affect how much you produce? According to an article from Ardo, a breast pump manufacturer, morning milk is usually higher in volume than evening milk, and it contains more water and less fat. It also contains higher levels of cortisol — a hormone that promotes alertness. When you pump milk at night, you won’t pump as much, and the milk will be thicker and creamier because it is higher in fat and melatonin to help your baby fall asleep.
- How Long It Has Been Since Your Last Pumping Session
If you are trying to pump after you just fed your baby, you probably won’t produce as much milk because your milk glands haven’t had a chance to refill yet. On the other hand, if you’ve skipped a feeding or a pumping session, you will most likely produce more than normal. It is NOT a good idea to miss feedings or pumping sessions, however, to get a bigger output. This can lead to clogged milk ducts and can also reduce your milk supply by signaling to your brain that you need to produce milk less frequently.
- How Stressed You Are
Your emotional state can directly affect your ability to pump enough breast milk. That’s why it’s important to try take a deep breath and try to get as relaxed as possible when you’re pumping. Here are some tips on how to de-stress while you pump.
- How Well Your Pump Fits
If your breasts don’t feel completely empty when you’re finished pumping, you’re probably not pumping as much as you could be. And one cause could be that you don’t have the right breast shield size for your breasts. If you have the correct size, your nipple will be able to move freely inside the flange and your areola won’t enter the tunnel part of the flange. Follow this guide to see if your flange fits correctly.
- Whether Your Pump Is Working Properly
If you’ve noticed that the amount you have been pumping has gone down recently (and it’s not related to the time of day or how stressed you are), then there might be something wrong with your pump itself. Start by checking the batteries and checking that all of the parts are fitting together correctly. And make sure to replace your valves and tubing on a regular basis so your pump can work at maximum capacity. Here are some things to check if you notice that your breast pump is losing suction.
Still not sure why you are producing less milk than you used to? Here are some other reasons why your milk supply may have dropped.
Remember, it takes time to get used to breast pumping, so be patient with yourself. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. We promise!