May 3, 2023 • 6 min read

What to Do If You’re Only Pumping 1 or 2 oz Every Few Hours

Medically Reviewed by Kim Langdon, MD on 05.03.23
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When your breast milk is the sole source of nutrition for your baby, you want to do it right. Being committed to breastfeeding your baby means watching your fluid intake, your diet, and even stress.

If you are pumping your breasts and are only producing 1 or 2 ounces of breast milk every few hours, you might become stressed that it isn’t enough or isn’t normal. But you can relax.

According to the Journal of Gynecology and Neonatal Nursing, women produce about 440 to 1220 milliliters (15 to 41 ounces) of breast milk per day once lactation is established. This is just 0.5 to 1.7 ounces per hour.

Pumping just 1 or 2 oz of breast milk in a few hours is normal. This includes pumping both breasts. The amount you can pump depends on many factors, including the number of attempts you make, your hydration status, how much your baby is drinking, and the type of pump you use.

This guide goes over what you should do if you’re producing 1 to 2 oz every few hours when pumping your breast milk. We will talk about what affects your breast milk volume, how to produce enough breast milk and how a lactation consultant can help.

What is the normal amount to pump every 3 hours?

Women pump their breast milk for many reasons:

  • To save for a later date while exclusively breastfeeding.
  • Because they are working or on vacation.
  • Because the baby is sick and cannot nurse for a day or two.
  • Because the baby is premature or has health issues and won’t be nursing for some time (if ever).

The amount of breast milk produced by pumping varies widely. When you begin nursing, it takes about two weeks to establish a lactation pattern.

Women who nurse, or those who both nurse and pump, will produce the most milk. Those who only pump, such as when the baby is premature, have the most difficult time making milk and often have shorter lactation durations.

Mary Allers-Korostynski, IBCLC, a board-certified lactation consultant, says, “The range is half a milliliter at about 24-48 hours of age to around eight ounces for a six-month-old baby.” 

She explains that the considerations that impact the amount of breast milk pumped are many, including: 

  • the age of the baby.
  • medical interventions during childbirth.
  • type and age of pump.
  • proper fit of flange.
  • how long the pump session is.
  • when the baby fed last.
  • breast storage capacity.
  • time of day.
  • medications taken.
  • if you’re exclusively breastfeeding.
  • the start of solids.
  • return to work.

“Any of these singly can profoundly affect output,” she says. “If you have any concern, please contact a lactation consultant for reassurance.”

She adds, “I can tell you that there is almost always a simple explanation and fix—if it is, indeed, a problem.”

How to produce enough breast milk if you’re producing 1 to 2 oz every 3 hours

Even though pumping 1 to 2 oz of breast milk every few hours is normal, there may be situations where you want to produce more breast milk. There are several tips and tricks you can use to increase your breast milk supply:

  • Pump more frequently. More milk can be produced simply by pumping your breasts more often. Pumping five or more times a day seems to be optimal for producing enough milk between nursing. If you are not nursing the baby, you may need to pump up to 12 times in one day.
  • Make sure your pump is working optimally. When you are nursing repeatedly, you will need to keep your pump in optimal working order. This means checking the valves and membranes, observing the degree of suction, and making sure all parts are cleaned per the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Use a double breast pump. A double breast pump is known to produce the most milk. Hospital-grade pumps are very efficient and allow you more time during your day; however, they are less convenient and potentially more expensive.
  • Get advice on using your pump. Using the pump, even after reading all of the directions, can be confusing. For this reason, you should consider seeing a lactation consultant to learn tips for optimizing your specific pump.
  • Use breast shields of the correct size. The breast shield size matters in the efficiency of the pumping process. You need a shield with an opening in the middle that optimally elongates the nipple area during suctioning, much like the baby’s sucking action. Practice with different nipple shields to see which works best. The breast or nipple shield must create the correct-sized “tunnel” from which to draw the breast milk.
  • Use warm compresses before nursing. Warm compresses before pumping will enhance the circulation of the breast, allowing for a greater letdown reflex and an improved breast pumping experience. They can also help you avoid or treat clogged milk ducts.

Things that affect how much breastmilk you can pump in a session

Why is it that sometimes you can pump a great deal of breast milk and the next day be unable to get the same amount?

Breastfeeding is a complex art involving the interaction between you, your baby, and your environment. Even when pumping, the recent behavior of your baby and their age affect your ability to pump breast milk.

Here are some factors that affect your ability to pump breast milk efficiently:

  • The frequency of feeding and/or pumping. The more often you feed and/or pump your breasts, the more milk you’ll make. Breast milk will ramp up when you increase the demand by pumping or nursing.
  • The ratio of pumping and feeding. If you only pump and never breastfeed from the beginning, your breast milk production will not be as good as if you nursed from the beginning. If you pump and nurse at the same time, however, you will often be more efficient when you are exclusively pumping on any given day as long as you have a good breast pump.
  • The baby’s age. If your baby was premature and you didn’t get to nurse right away, your overall milk production might be reduced. On the other hand, once your milk is fully established and your baby is gaining weight, your breasts will produce more milk, and you may get more when pumping.
  • Your hydration status. Dehydration does not affect milk volume as much as you’d think; however, hydration will help you produce plenty of high-quality breast milk. Staying hydrated in general is a good idea, but you can also learn specifically what to drink to increase breast milk supply.
  • Calorie restriction. Too little energy intake by dieting may reduce your overall milk volume.
  • The time of day. You will be able to pump more first thing in the morning, so if you need a lot, do it after waking. Also, if you pump right after nursing, you will have less breast milk when pumping.
  • Your emotional state. Stress will reduce the letdown reflex and will lessen the amount of breast milk you produce. Make sure you are relaxed when pumping, if possible.
  • The pump’s effectiveness. Pumps differ a great deal in their effectiveness. A good electric double pump is much better than a hand-held portable pump, for example. Make sure your breast flange or shield fits and draws milk into the flange’s suction tunnel in the most effective way.
  • The amount your breast can store. While breast size and the amount of milk you produce are not related, a smaller breast will naturally store less milk. In addition, the right breast statistically produces more milk than the left.
  • Substance use. Cigarette smoking inhibits breast milk production. And while a little alcohol can be relaxing, it is not good for the baby to consume the alcohol in your breast milk, and it may block your letdown reflex by reducing oxytocin.

How a lactation consultant can help with making sure you’re pumping enough

Breastfeeding is natural and is generally a simple task once you get the hang of it. On the other hand, there is an art to doing it more effectively and with greater efficiency. Having the advice and guidance of a lactation consultant can help you be successful and learn how to do things like properly combining breastfeeding and pumping.

Your lactation consultant can observe you nursing your infant to make sure it is efficient and can show you how to use your breast pump. If you want to pump more breast milk, they can show you tips to increase your breast milk supply fast at any time after giving birth.  

Christine Traxler MD is a family physician, lifelong writer, and author with a special interest in mental health, women’s healthcare, and the physical after-effects of psychological trauma. As a contributing writer and editor for numerous organizations, she brings a holistic focus to her work that emphasizes healing and wellness through daily self-care, connecting with others, and setting stepwise goals toward achieving more balanced and authentic lives.