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What Volume to Expect with Breast Pump

A customer sent us an email recently, which is quite a common question.

"I have a four month old daughter and have recently bought a Medela swing breast pump, thinking is was a good one and would work well, up until now she has been exclusively breastfed, anyway, I haven't had much luck with getting milk out of my breasts, I get a little bit only.

I'd love for the pump to work - my daughter gets left with her grandparents while I go out sometimes and it would be nice to leave some milk for her."

There can be a lot of reasons why you think there is difficulty pumping.

Firstly remember that there is no breast pump that will remove milk from the breast effectively as your baby nursing at your breast.

Most mums who are breastfeeding full-time are able to pump around 25 to 50 mLs (for both breasts) per pumping session - but it takes time to build up to this amount. Mums who pump more milk per session may have an oversupply of milk, or may respond better than average to the pump, or may have been able to increase pump output with practice.

The time of day can also make a difference - lots of mums find they have a better supply in the morning.

We hear from lots of mothers that think they  should be getting 100-200mLs each time they use the breast pump - but this is an unusually large amount if baby is also breastfeeding.

Sometimes mums are simply not waiting long enough and expecting a good flow to start instantly with a pump but in fact let down still needs to occur. This can take a few minutes for some women.   Having a photo of your baby near by will help release the hormones for letdown.

Some mothers may have an oversupply of milk and therefore be able to pump more, some mothers may respond better and feel more relaxed when pumping than others (it is quite an unusual thing to do), and some mothers may be able to increase the volume they express with practice over time.

It is quite normal to have to use the breast pump two or three times in order to collect enough milk for one feed.  Particularly if you are breastfeeding your baby and only expressing with the pump after you have fed baby.  Any milk that you express after feeding your baby, is extra - its over and beyond what baby needs.  If you continue using the breast pump after feeding baby at roughly the same time every day, then over a few days the amount of milk your breasts produce will increase.

Don't be discouraged if you are trying to build up a supply in the freezer (while also breastfeeding full time) because its quite normal to not get a lot of milk each time you express.    It can take a while for supply to adjust if you suddenly starts pumping in addition to regular feeds.

Check that you are using a breast pump that is designed for the frequency you plan to use it.  The Mini Electric pump for example is only designed to be used once or twice per day, and the motor does not handle more than that.  Higher grade electric pumps are designed to be used more regularly and can handle high usage.

Check the breast pump is assembled correctly, and that it has suction.  To check that it has suction, place your hand over the end of the breastshield and you should be able to feel a slight suction over it.

If you reduce the amount of expressing or baby is not breastfeeding or drinking as much, this will also change the volume that you express.  Milk is produced on a supply & demand process - more nursing results in more milk being produced.  Similarly more pumping results in more milk being produced (though a breast pump will never work as effectively as a baby to stimulate milk production).

Some ways to Increase Milk Output:

  • Feed your baby more often
  • Use the breast pump more often
  • Use the breast pump each time after you breastfeed baby
  • Can you add an extra pumping session to your day (and continue at the same time each day?)  Such as at night when baby goes longer between feeds?
  • Are you pumping long enough?  Keep pumping for 2-3 minutes after the last drops of milk.
  • Use breast compression when pumping to assist.
  • Check the  Breast Shield size.  (Or use the Avent Petal massager if you are using Avent brand)
  • make sure that you are drinking lots of water

There is no one size fits all solution to this question as there are a lot of factors which influence successful pumping. Just keep using your breast pump regularly, and allow yourself a week to see if there is any change.

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