Updated: Mar 10, 2020
I’ve talked to many breastfeeding mothers, and one of the concerns I hear most often centers on whether they’re able to produce enough milk to nourish and sustain their growing infant. Each woman and baby is different, which only leads to more uncertainty for some nursing mothers. It would be wonderful if there was a way to magically know how much milk was in each breast and to be assured that it was enough for your baby. Mother nature designed us to work on instinct, which means it isn’t always easy to know if you’re producing enough.
The questions about supply become even more complex when pumping and bottle feeding enter the picture. How much output should you get each time you pump, and does your baby take in the same amount from your breast as she does from a bottle? For something as natural as breastfeeding, it can all be a little confusing.
How Do I Know If I’m Making Enough Milk?
Those first few days of life, it can feel as though your newborn never leaves your breast. Each time you put your baby to your breast, she feeds hungrily – only to seem as though she is starving an hour later. There are certainly instances when a nursing mother’s supply is diminished but in most cases, your baby’s constant hunger is completely normal and something that will regulate itself over the next several days and weeks.
When a baby is first born, her stomach only holds about 5-7ml of breastmilk. Her tummy is about the size of a marble or cherry, and almost as soon as it’s filled it empties out, ready to be filled again. By day three, your baby’s stomach is about the size of walnut. Definitely bigger, but still only capable of holding about 25ml of breastmilk. The amount of milk you need to produce for each feeding during those early days with your baby need only be enough to fill a typical medicine dropper or two. You hear stories about women who are able to pump 6-8 ounces right after their milk comes in. This is great, but it’s also not necessary for your baby to thrive.
Each time you nurse your baby, you’re telling your body to produce more milk. When letting your newborn nurse on demand and allowing your baby to nurse until satiated to the point they pull away on their own, you’re teaching your body exactly how much milk your baby needs to thrive. Your body has an amazing capability to pick up on these cues and adapt for your growing baby’s needs.
That said, there are times when milk supply might be a little low. If you’re concerned about whether or not you’re making enough milk for your baby, there are a few markers to look for.
Pumping and the One Ounce Per Hour Rule
The uncertainties that parenting is filled with can be maddening. When you’re holding your baby in your arms, the last thing you want to be uncertain about is whether they’re getting enough breastmilk to nourish their little growing body. It would be great if you could know exactly how much milk was in your breasts but we’re designed to work according to nature, not a set of numbers.
Many moms are surprised to discover that with a few variances, most babies are similar in how much milk they need to take in, and that this number doesn’t change much over the first six months of life. In general, when a baby is allowed to nurse on cue and until satisfied, they will take in an amount that equals about one ounce per hour. Keep in mind that this is an average, and that each baby is different in exactly how much they’ll take in at each feeding.
For instance, at about one month of age, your baby may be nursing every couple of hours with even more frequent feedings coming with each new growth spurt. With each passing week, your baby’s growing tummy means that they might be nursing less frequently because they can take in more at each feeding. The one ounce per hour rule is an average based on the typical overall daily requirements of infants up until the age of six months. On average, your baby needs approximately 25oz of breastmilk a day.
This of course doesn’t mean that your baby is literally taking in a single ounce every hour. Rather, some babies will take in about six ounces four times a day, while another might take 4-5 ounces, six times a day. What the one ounce per hour rule does do, is establish a guideline for nursing mothers who are pumping and bottle feeding at any point during the day. It’s a helpful tool that helps moms assess how much pumped breastmilk they should leave for their baby during a period of separation.
I know exactly what you’re thinking. When you express milk to leave for your baby during your absence, you don’t want to take the chance on not leaving enough. The last thing you want is for that little tummy to go hungry. However, most experts agree that it’s not necessary to leave more than the average one ounce per hour for your baby during a brief separation. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that sticking to this rule can actually help your breastfeeding success.
At an average of one ounce per hour, your baby isn’t going to go hungry, although he might not be as satiated as he is at the breast – which is a good thing. This sends signals to your baby that there is a limit to the nourishment that comes from a bottle, but that mom’s breast is where he can be completely satiated and comforted. This helps promote a stronger breast feeding relationship when bottle feeding enters the picture.
Signs That Your Baby Is Getting Enough
Of course, saying all of this to reassure you that your baby is getting all that she needs is easy. You, as a loving mother are naturally still concerned about whether you’re producing enough milk for your baby to thrive whether you’re feeding at the breast or with expressed milk from a bottle. Here are the signs that indicate your baby is getting exactly what they need from you.
Your newborn baby is nursing frequently, about 8-12 times per day
Your older maybe may nurse less frequently but releases from the breast on their own
Baby seem content and happy after each feeding
Baby’s body seems to relax after each feeding
You can hear periods of active gulping while your baby is nursing, which encourages letdown
You can see swallowing movements in your baby’s throat as they nurse
Baby is active and alert while awake
In addition to these immediately noticeable signs, the amount of output in the form of soiled diapers is a good indicator as to whether your baby is taking in enough breast milk. During the first day or two of life, your baby might not pass much urine or stool. By the second or third day, urine output should be increasing. By the end of your baby’s first week, you should be changing at least six wet soiled diapers per day.
During the first few days, what counts as a wet diaper might barely be noticeable. Over the next few days as your milk comes in, your babies diapers will become noticeably heavier with urine that should be pale in color. Also, during the first couple of days, your baby is going to pass a dark, sticky substance called meconium. Those first few poops can be visually startling, but it’s your baby’s way of shedding everything he ingested during those months growing inside of you.
Stool soiled diapers are a little more unpredictable. They’re likely to come frequently for a newborn who is taking in adequate breastmilk but after a few weeks each baby tends to develop their own pooping habits. Your baby may go a few days without passing any stools. This is considered normal as long as their stool is soft and easy to pass when it finally does come out.
Weight gain is another primary indicator that your baby is taking in enough nutrition. Average weight gain for babies is:
· 6 ounces per week for newborn babies up to about 4 months
· 4-5 ounces per week for babies between 4 and 6 months
· 2-4 ounces per week for babies 6 months to 1 year
Share Your Breastfeeding Concerns with Other Nursing Mothers
Breastfeeding is a journey that’s filled with both delight and uncertainties. If you’re concerned you might not be producing enough milk for your baby, have a discussion with your lactation consultant to help determine if your baby is gaining weight properly and showing signs of satiation. Sometimes all you need to help ease your concerns is a community that understands exactly what you’re going through. You can find this community with our Luscious Letdown support group on Facebook. Join us and become part of our nourishing community.
Bonyata, K. (2018, January 14). Is my older baby getting enough milk? • KellyMom.com. Retrieved from https://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/enoughmilk-older/
Is my baby getting enough milk? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/is-baby-getting-enough/
Thursday Tip: Newborns have small stomachs! (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.lllc.ca/thursday-tip-newborns-have-small-stomachs