How Much Milk Should You Be Pumping? (What’s Normal & What’s Not)

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Worried you aren’t pumping enough milk? Or maybe you were pumping a lot before, but now you’re not pumping as much. Here’s what a normal pump output actually looks like and why.

Most of us don’t begin breastfeeding with realistic expectations about what a “normal” or “typical” amount of pumped milk looks like. We’re used to seeing baby bottles full of milk, our breast pumps come with collection bottles we expect to fill, and we see photos on social media of breastfeeding parents filling freezers. 

Boost Your Milk Supply & Keep It Up

Our FREE guide will give you 5 simple, proven tips to boost your milk supply and increase your pump output. Get results in as little as just a couple days!

But we shouldn’t think about “good” pump output in terms of our ability to fill an arbitrarily-sized bottle (or freezer)!

Instead, we should think about how much milk baby needs.

Are You Pumping Enough Milk? What's normal and how to boost pump output)

So How Much Milk Does Baby Need? 

Would you believe me if I told you normal pump output is only about 2-4 ounces BOTH breasts combined? It’s true! Let’s look at how we know this is the case:

Research looking at thousands and thousands of babies has shown that, on average, exclusively breastfed babies consume about 25-30 oz. of human milk in 24 hours (less if they are over the age of 6 months and also consuming solid food). 

How much milk does baby actually need

We can use the amount of milk babies consume in 24 hours to determine how much milk you need to pump in a given session to keep up with baby’s needs. We know that babies nurse typically 8-12+ times in 24 hours. So let’s look at a bunch of possibilities:

  • Baby nurses 8 times and consumes 25 oz of milk in 24 hours = 3.125 oz per feed
  • Baby nurses 12 times and consumes 25 oz of milk in 24 hours = 2.08 oz per feed
  • Baby nurses 8 times and consumes 30oz of milk in 24 hours = 3.75 oz per feed
  • Baby nurses 12 times and consumes 30oz of milk in 24 hours = 2.5 oz per feed

Now of course, babies aren’t machines that take in EXACTLY these amounts per feed. This is an estimation. But it is pretty reflective of how much babies drink at the breast when left to their own devices. 

Now it’s important to note that if a baby’s bottle is not pace fed, babies will drink a LOT more milk than this! It is EXTREMELY easy to overfeed babies from a bottle if bottles aren’t pace fed, and this can give us really unrealistic expectations about how much milk our babies want and need. You can learn more about the benefits of paced bottle feeding—and the risks of not doing it—in this post here.

Normal pump output is only 2-4 ounces both breasts combined when pumping for a missed feed.

Are You Pumping Enough Milk?

It might be surprising to you that babies drink so little so often. Many parenting books and pediatricians encourage parents to feed their babies less often as they age, with the assumption that baby will drink larger volumes at each feed. But this isn’t what babies do naturally, and it isn’t how the breasts make milk! 

If you’re used to pumping larger volumes of milk (5+ ounces both breasts combined) and find yourself suddenly pumping less, you may not need to worry. As we’ve established, babies don’t actually NEED large volumes at one time. Feeding large bottles is a cultural norm, not a biological one. 

And if you’re worried that one breast produces a lot less than the other, you may not need to worry about this either. It’s pretty normal to have a “stud and a dud.” This is the reason we measure milk output in terms of “both breasts combined.”

It is normal to not pump the same amount of milk from each breast
It is NORMAL to not pump the same amount of milk from each breast.

So when should you be worried about milk supply?

Pump output is not a reliable sign of low milk supply. Let me say that a little louder for the people in the back: 

Pump output is not a reliable indicator of low milk supply.

Some people aren’t very sensitive to a pump and may have trouble getting one to work well (if you have very stretchy, elastic nipples that get pulled far back into your pump even when you’re using the right breast shield size, these pump inserts or these pump flanges may help you pump more effectively). 

Some people aren’t using the right breast shield size, which can negatively impact how much milk they’re able to pump. You may need a larger or smaller shield size than the standard 24mm shield that comes with most pumps. 

Diagram demonstrating appropriate nipple shield size

Sometimes your plastic pump parts get cracked, torn or ripped and need to be replaced, and sometimes pump motors fail (this is a risk if the pump you have was previously owned by someone else). 

Even anxiety about how much you’re pumping can prevent you from being able to relax enough to let down! (If this is you, try putting socks over your collection bottles when pumping—it can sometimes help reduce anxiety)

It’s also not unusual for milk supply to naturally down-regulate around 3-5 months postpartum (sometimes later). As long as you are not also pumping less often or for shorter amounts of time, this regulation is totally normal. Many breastfeeding parents report no longer feeling letdowns and no longer feeling full. This is all normal!

TL;DR:

If you are consistently pumping 2-4 ounces both breasts combined (for a baby 1 month old and over) AND you haven’t recently decreased the number of times you drain your breasts in 24 hours AND you are pace feeding all bottles, you are most likely pumping plenty of milk! (Remember: You don’t need to feed the freezer).

Breastfeeding parent holding three bags of appropriate amounts of human milk (about 4 ounces per bag)
Many breastfeeding parents are able to successfully exclusively breastfeed without a large freezer stash–even many who return to work full-time!

What if you’re an exclusive pumper WHO IS having trouble?

If you are exclusively pumping, then pump output is still only an indicator of what you can pump, and not necessarily an indicator of what your breasts are capable of producing. So there is a really good chance you can boost your pump output with the right tricks and support! Spoiler alert: These milk boosting tricks almost NEVER involve lactation cookies or body armor! These can sometimes waste time, which can make supply problems worse.

READ MORE: Why I Don’t Recommend Lactation Cookies & Body Armor For Low Milk Supply

Be sure to check out my guide for boosting pump output. If you try everything in this guide and are still having trouble, I encourage you to make an appointment with a qualified lactation consultant as soon as possible so you can get to the bottom of things. Milk supply problems rarely (if ever) get better on their own, and time can be of the essence. 

Boost Your Milk Supply & Keep It Up

Our FREE guide will give you 5 simple, proven tips to boost your milk supply and increase your pump output. Get results in as little as just a couple days!

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out our digital library of helpful resources that quickly teach how to avoid common breastfeeding problems and give you the peace of mind and confidence you need to meet your breastfeeding goals.

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