Trying to Pump

Kathleen Tackett's picture


Dear Lactation Consultant,
I did not see any answers on the site that would help me with my problem or even if I have one. My daughter is 3 1/2 months old. Breastfeeding is going great. She is feeding every 2 to 3 hours and sometimes goes 4. She is gaining weight and seems satisfied. My question is about pumping. I try to pump when she is on one breast and I only get about 2 ounces out. When I try to pump after she is done feeding I get nothing. When I pump half way through a feeding I get a totally of around 2 ounces. From the books that I have been reading she should be drinking around 6 ounces at a time! I have no idea how much she is getting or if I am producing enough for her.

I have a great pump -- double electric one. It is a Medella.

I am concerned that there may be a problem with my milk supply. Is this normal and what could I do to boost up the amount? I drink a ton of water and eat like a horse already.Thanks for any advice you can give me.



Hi Mollie,
It is possible that you are one of the many mothers who have an adequate supply of milk for your baby, but not a lot of extra milk. There is a wide range of milk production among normal lactating women: some have way too much milk and produce enough for triplets even though they only feed once every six hours, while others only produce drops regardless of how often they nurse or pump. Most women will fall somewhere in the middle of this wide range.

You obviously have plenty of milk to meet your baby's needs because her weight gain is adequate, and she can go several hours between feedings. I understand your desire to know exactly how much milk she is getting from each breast, but calculating how much milk she is getting by pumping and measuring the amounts is not an accurate way of determining her milk intake. A healthy baby nursing at the breast almost always gets more milk out that you can remove with a pump. Also, even though you can estimate how much milk your baby needs during an average feeding based on her weight or her age, that doesn't mean that she will take the same amount every time she goes on the breast. Nursing babies take varying amounts at each feeding. If she is really hungry, she will nurse more vigorously and for a longer period of time than when she is nursing to fall asleep or for comfort when she is upset or gassy. It all averages out over a 24 hour period, but makes it hard to tell exactly how much milk she is taking in at a given feeding. The only way to know exactly how much she is taking in at a feeding is to use an accurate digital scale and test weigh her before and after she nurses. This type of scale is typically used when there is a medical concern about the baby's intake - for example, when a premature baby comes home from the hospital, it can be useful to know exactly how much he is taking from the breast so that supplements can be used as needed. Mothers with healthy babies who are gaining weight well rarely need to test weigh their babies.

Your concern is the fact that you want the convenience of pumping "extra" milk so that you can bottle feed when you want that option, but the reality is that this is not always an easy thing to do.

When you really think about it, breastfeeding is a very simple supply/demand system that has worked well for millions of years, but life for women has gotten more complicated, and so has breastfeeding. Women are spread much thinner than in the past, and the demands of car-pooling, after school activities, managing a household, and still trying to make some time for ourselves make breastfeeding much more challenging, even for stay at home mothers. Having the flexibility of bottle-feeding when it is more convenient than nursing can certainly make your life easier in some ways, but no one ever said that it would be easy. Women's bodies are designed to produce adequate milk for their growing infants, but the system of breastmilk production works best when you are available to nurse whenever the baby wants to feed, and expecting your body to produce extra milk so that you can use bottles when you need a break is actually asking quite a lot.

New technology has developed sophisticated breast pumps that allow mothers who are separated from their infants to maintain milk production even in cases when they aren't able to nurse for extended periods of time, but there is no pump on the market at any price that can equal the stimulation of a healthy baby feeding well at the breast. Even the best electric pump is no substitute for a baby nursing. The most effective pumps are the hospital grade pumps like Medela's Classic or Lactina, but these pumps are so expensive to buy that most moms rent them instead. The next best type of pump is a professional grade double pump like the Pump In Style. There are lots of other types of double pumps on the market, including Medela's Double Up, but these pumps are not nearly as efficient as a hospital or professional grade pump.

Your baby is thriving on your milk and you are trying to increase your production by pumping so that you will have extra milk. Pumping between feedings is generally not the optimal way to go about storing up extra milk (see the articles "Collecting and Storing Breastmilk" and "Returning to Work or School" for more information on how to go about this.)As far as increasing your milk supply, eating more and drinking lots of water has very little to do with how much milk you produce. It really doesn't sound like you have a supply problem, since you have plenty of milk for your baby when she nurses. Building your supply to the point where you have extra milk above and beyond what she needs to grow and thrive may or may not be a realistic goal for you. You can certainly try some of the suggestions in the article "Increasing Your Milk Supply", but don't be disappointed if you aren't able to increase your production significantly.

I was one of those moms who had enough milk for my babies, but pumping extra milk was a challenge for me. I knew there were mothers who could effortlessly fill up bottles when they pumped, but not me. Even with a state of the art pump, I had to really work hard to get a little bit extra stored up so that I could have an occasional relief bottle.

It sounds like you are doing a great job with breastfeeding, and I'm sure that you can overcome the challenge of storing up some milk to have in reserve for times when you are separated from your baby. How much extra milk you are able to produce will depend on your body's individual milk production and storage capacity, as well as your baby's age. Babies go through growth spurts, often at around 10 days, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3 months. Sometimes it gets easier to store up milk when your baby has completed a growth spurt.

-- Anne, IBCLC