Milk production is a demand and supply process. As milk is removed from your breasts your body is signalled to make more milk. The more frequently milk is removed, the faster they try to refill. If your baby isn’t feeding from your breast you’ll need to express to continue to make milk.
Expressing regularly using a breast pump is different to breastfeeding your baby. Babies are often able to remove milk better than a breast pump, but expressing breastmilk is a skill you can learn. See Expressing breastmilk for your baby for more information.
How much milk should I produce?
As a general guide you body should produce milk every 24 hours as follows:
- First 2 days after birth – less than 100 mL*
- By day 4 to 5 – 500 mL
- By day 7 – 850 mL
- From 2 weeks – 750-1000 mL.
*In the first few days, you will have colostrum. It’s common only to express a few drops of colostrum. Milk usually ‘comes in’ between day 2 and 6. It takes at least 2 weeks for milk production to to establish and become consistent.
Milk production can vary throughout the day. Milk supply is usually greatest in the morning and gradually decreasing as the day progresses.
How often should I express?
You will need to express milk regularly: 8 – 10 times every 24 hours. Make sure you have a break of up to 5 hours overnight.
When you start building your milk production, you may not see results for several days. Keep a diary or log to record the volume and when you express, or use an app.
Use a breast pump that is designed for mothers who are expressing often. Speak to a lactation consultant, child health nurse or the Australian Breastfeeding Association before buying or hiring a breast pump.
Tips to build or increase your milk production
- Try to stay relaxed when you express.
- Avoid watching your milk flow into the bottle as it may make you feel anxious. You might find it helpful to cover the bottle with one of your baby’s socks.
- If you feel stressed, cuddling your baby and playing relaxation music can help reduce it.
- Express beside your baby and after cuddles, it often results in more milk being expressed.
- Warm compresses and massaging the breasts can help your milk ‘let-down’.
- Rest and good nutrition are important. Three healthy meals per day, with snacks. Drink at least two litres of water per day. Go to bed early, though you may need to set the alarm to get up once overnight to express.
- Try to reduce caffeine levels to less than three cups of instant coffee per day.
- Avoid smoking or try to reduce the number of cigarettes smoked each day. If you do smoke, smoke straight after an expressing session.
- Enjoy Kangaroo care (cuddles with your baby, skin to skin). Wear a shirt you can unbutton, remove your bra and cuddle your baby close to your chest. Babies benefit from this contact, and your body responds positively to holding your baby close. Skin to skin cuddles are a great way to encourage milk ‘let-down’.
- Double pump for 10 minutes, wait 10 minutes, express again till milk flow stops plus 2 minutes. Each expressing session should be no longer than 30 minutes. Double pumping with a hospital-grade electric pump is more efficient if you are expressing for the longer term.
- Hand express after pumping to drain your breast further and stimulate more milk production.
- ‘Cluster express’ for 2-3 days, where you can express every 1 to 2 hours during the day, with a 5 hour break overnight.
- Express with a double pump by using a pump kit on each breast at the same time, if you can.
- Drinking 2-3 glasses of water before going to bed may help you to wake to express.
Mothers can become worried they will not be able to produce enough breast milk to feed their baby. Most mothers produce enough milk to feed their baby.
Your milk supply may be low if you’re unwell or feel under stress, or if you have a pre-existing medical condition. Some medications, including cold and flu treatments, can impact milk production.
If you have any concerns, talk to your lactation consultant, child health nurse or doctor. In some instances, medication can be used safely to help to increase milk production. The most commonly used medication to increase milk production is Domperidone, available by a prescription from your doctor.
For more information
Children’s Health Queensland fact sheet: Is my baby getting enough breast milk?
Australian Breastfeeding Association | breastfeeding.asn.au