May 3, 2023 • 8 min read

Pumping Breastmilk: How Much Milk Should I Pump & How Many Times a Day

Medically Reviewed by Kim Langdon, MD on 05.03.23
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Pumping breastmilk is an option you may want to include in your feeding plan for your breastmilk-fed baby. Pumped breastmilk may be part of a plan to exclusively pump, or pumped milk may supplement contact breastfeeding or formula.

If you are considering pumping, you may be wondering how much milk you should be producing for your baby, how many times a day you should be pumping, or for how long.

This guide explains how much milk you should be pumping during different times postpartum, how many times a day you should be pumping, how to produce more milk when pumping, and more.

How much milk should I produce when pumping?

The amount of milk you pump will vary over the course of your breastfeeding journey. As your baby grows, feeding needs will change. Fortunately, the amount of milk you produce and are able to pump usually adjusts accordingly.

Kenita Chenevert, IBCLC, a certified lactation consultant says, “This amount varies and has a lot of factors. For instance, if mom is pumping to replace a feeding, then the normal amount should be at least the feeding amount for the infant. If she is pumping after nursing at the breast and the baby has effectively removed milk, then anywhere between .5 to 2 oz is expected.” 

Here’s a look at how much breastmilk you should produce by your baby’s age:

  • Days 1 to 3. On the day you give birth and the first few days immediately following, you will produce colostrum. This “liquid gold” is full of antibodies and will start as droplets and increase to 30 mL (1 oz) over the first couple of days following birth. Many new moms worry if they only pump 1 to 2 oz every few hours. This is completely normal, however! Your production will be slow in the early days and gradually increase.
  • Days 4 to 14. At this point, colostrum has turned to mature milk and is white in color. You will produce the appropriate amount of milk for your baby’s age and weight. For a full-term infant, production should increase to approximately 12 to 24 oz of milk per day (baby will consume 2 to 3 oz every 3 to 4 hours).
  • Month 1. By 1 month of age, your baby will be consuming approximately 4 oz every 4 hours or 24 oz of milk per day.
  • 6+ months. At 6 months and beyond, baby will consume 5 to 8 oz of milk per feeding, but only feed every 4 to 5 hours. Most infants will be satisfied with up to 30 oz of milk per day.

It is important to understand that these guidelines are approximate. Babies have the innate ability to show their hunger cues if they need more milk and will experience weight loss if they are not getting enough calories. Your baby will stop eating when they have had enough milk to meet their unique needs.

If you’re worried that you’re not pumping enough, you may want to consider working with a lactation consultant. They can help you figure out why you’re not pumping enough and suggest strategies to help.

How often should I pump breastmilk?

To reach full milk production, pump at least as often as your baby would eat if you were feeding directly from the breast.

Here’s a look at how often you should pump by your baby’s age:

  • Month 1. During the first month of life, you should pump approximately every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Months 2 to 6. From 2 to 6 months, you should pump often enough to maintain 25+ ounces. Typically, this looks like pumping every 3 to 4 hours.
  • 6+ Months. Beyond 6 months of age, you may increase the time between pumping sessions to 4 hours.

How to reach and maintain full milk production

Emptying the breasts fully and often will signal to the body to continue making milk, and this is the best way to reach and maintain full milk production. A double breast pump may maximize the milk pumped.

If you choose to use an automatic breast pump, it may be helpful to have a manual pump available as well to use briefly after using an automatic pump to ensure breasts are fully emptied.

How to pump breastmilk step-by-step

The basics of pumping and storing milk are simple. While there are different types of breast pumps you may try, the general process to pump and store milk is the same no matter the type of pump you choose.

Here are the steps to pumping:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly before touching any pump parts.
  2.  Gently massage both breasts to prepare to pump and for better emptying.
  3. If you have a double pump (this is optimal), pump both breasts at the same time. Start pumping with a low suction, and then increase to the maximum suction that is comfortable for you.
  4. Continue pumping until milk flow slows to a trickle, but do not exceed 30 minutes of pumping on either breast at once.
  5. Massage your breasts again, concentrating on areas that feel full.
  6. Finish pumping by using a manual pump or by hand expressing any remaining milk.
  7. Store your pumped milk safely in the refrigerator or freezer if it will not be used immediately, and wash and store your pump parts according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

What to do if you’re not producing enough breastmilk when pumping

If you find you are not producing enough milk when pumping, there are things you can do to increase the amount of milk pumped, including:

  • Increasing the number of pumping sessions. Try pumping each breast every 2 hours for 15 to 20 minutes, for 2 days. Do not pump for more than 30 minutes on each breast, as this will not increase supply and may cause discomfort.
  • Try power pumping. Power pumping is pumping regularly at all times of the day except for 1 hour. During this hour, pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes and repeat this cycle for a full 60 minutes.
  • Massage the breast. You can also apply a warm compress while pumping to stimulate more milk production and better emptying.
  • Use an automatic double breast pump. You may be able to rent a better hospital-grade pump from a healthcare provider in your area.
  • Read your pump’s instructions. Use your pump correctly according to manufacturer instructions, and check that all parts are working.
  • Check breast shield fit. Sometimes, two different sizes are needed.

A lactation consultant may help you with any of these strategies to increase the amount of breastmilk that you pump.

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

Many things may affect how much breastmilk you are able to pump in a session. The most common are:

  • Pumping frequency. Pumping more often sends signals to your body to produce more milk.
  • Hydration and nutrition. Your body must be well hydrated and nourished to make breastmilk. You can see drinks that improve milk supply here.
  • Stress. Try to minimize stress, especially stress about breastfeeding. If you are finding breastfeeding or pumping particularly stressful, consider working with a lactation consultant to help.
  • Time of day. Most people produce more milk in the morning when compared to the evening.
  • Baby age and stage. You will pump less when your baby is in the first week of life, and your milk supply will also decrease as your baby ages into toddlerhood and is consuming less milk and more solid foods.
  • Pump quality. It is important to use a high-quality and well-fitting pump. A lactation consultant may help you assess your current pump’s fit and make recommendations.

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

A lactation consultant is a healthcare professional who has specialized training in breastfeeding and human lactation. Lactation consultants are certified through the International Board of Lactation Consultants, which holds high standards for training and continuing education for consultants to be able to support breastfeeding persons.

Lactation consultants may help with establishing a breastfeeding plan during the first few days to weeks of your baby’s life but may also help at any time during your breastfeeding journey.

Your and your baby’s needs will change, and lactation consultants can help with common problems such as nipple pain and breast pain from breastfeeding, supply questions, clogged milk ducts, and positioning.

Regardless of whether you are combining breastfeeding and pumping or exclusively pumping, support from a lactation consultant statistically increases success in feeding baby breastmilk for a longer period of time.

Deciding between breastfeeding and pumping vs exclusively pumping

You may be considering feeding your baby directly from the breast while also pumping some of the time. You also may want to exclusively pump with no direct breastfeeding.

This is a personal choice, and while it is recommended that your baby be fed directly from the breast until at least 6 months old, that may not work for you and your family.

Some reasons you may choose to exclusively pump include:

  • Your baby may have difficulty latching at the breast
  • You may be separated from your baby due to a NICU stay or return to work or school
  • You may prefer the convenience of having bottled breastmilk available for baby

Kenita Chenevert, IBCLC, a certified lactation consultant explains, “This decision is solely dependent upon what works best for her and her family! There’s no one size fits all, so Moms should be empowered to make decisions based on their lifestyle, mental and physical health.” 

What works for you and your baby will change over time. Pumping frequency may be adjusted so you have more milk available in “storage” for your baby if you decide to switch from pumping some of the time to pumping exclusively.

If your baby refuses to breastfeed but will take a bottle, pumping is a good solution until you figure out how to get your baby back to the breast.

When you may need to supplement with formula

Baby formula is a breastmilk alternative that may be used to supplement or replace breastmilk. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates and monitors formula production.

Baby formulas are typically cow-milk based, although there are alternatives on the market such as goat or soy milk-based formulas. The milk proteins in formulas are easily digested, and the sugars and fats are modified to closely match those in breastmilk. A pediatrician may help you decide which type of formula is best for your baby.

Formula is supplemented with Iron, which is important for all babies that are not breastfed, or who are partially breastfed. Iron supports the normal growth and development of infants and is strongly supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

While breastfeeding is recommended by the AAP and the World Health Organization (WHO) as the preferred choice for feeding a baby, formula comes with its own drawbacks and advantages.

Drawbacks of formula:

  • Expense. Formula is increasingly more expensive while breastmilk is free.
  • Digestion challenges. Formula-fed babies may have more instances of constipation/firmer stools or may need to try multiple formula types before finding the one that is right for them.
  • Lacks antibodies. Formula does not have mother’s antibodies like breastmilk.
  • Requires preparation. Formula must be prepared, whether from powder and boiling water, or warming ready-to-serve liquid.

Advantages of formula:

  • Convenience. Any parent or caretaker may prepare and feed a baby formula.
  • Variety. Baby formula is available in multiple forms and sizes (i.e., powder tubs or packets, or liquid ready-to-feed large or single-serve bottles).
  • Mom’s diet. While there is no specific diet for breastfeeding persons, there is no consideration of the mom’s diet affecting breastmilk when feeding formula.

Reasons you may choose to use formula include:

  • Baby weight. If your baby is losing weight or not gaining quickly enough, supplementation with formula may be needed.
  • Physical challenges. You may choose to use formula if you experience discomfort breastfeeding—such as trying to breastfeed with flat or inverted nipples—although a lactation consultant may help you through this.
  • Lifestyle. You may choose formula due to lifestyle preferences, such as the ease of your partner being able to take responsibility for feeding, or you simply may not want to breastfeed.
  • Galactosemia. This is a rare condition where the baby is not able to convert galactose in breastmilk to glucose.
  • Medications. You may be on medications that your pediatrician or physician recommends against breastfeeding while taking.

Ultimately, whether or not to exclusively breastfeed, exclusively formula feed, or supplement with one or the other is a personal choice. Seek support from a lactation consultant, pediatrician, or physician that respects your choice no matter what your feeding plan is for your baby.

Jenna Nelson is a Certified Lactation Counselor and has a Masters Degree in Maternal/Child Public Health from Boston University. She is also a working mother with lived experience navigating the maternal health system.