How Much Breast Milk Should I Pump for My Preemie?

Breast pump with bottles
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Premature babies may be born too small to breastfeed, so moms must pump breast milk. This allows babies to consume that nourishing breast milk, usually through a nasal tube if they are unable to suck. Pumping is also essential for breastfeeding moms of preemies to establish a milk supply. Although preemies take only very small feedings, it's important to pump often and thoroughly so that, as your baby gets bigger, your milk supply can keep up.

Pumping Breast Milk in the Early Days

Whether you are pumping breast milk for a premature baby, or you plan to feed your newborn pumped breast milk only, you may find that you need to pump frequently.

Often, you have to pump every two or three hours during the day and at least once during the night, for a total of eight to 10 pumping sessions every 24 hours. This pattern simulates how a newborn baby might breastfeed.

In the first day or two after birth, you may only pump a teaspoon or two of milk at a time. This early breast milk is called colostrum. Although moms only make a small amount of colostrum, it is packed with immunities and nutrients, and is very valuable to your baby (premature or full-term).

Within three to four days after the birth of your baby, you should start to see your milk supply gradually increase.

How Much Breast Milk Should You Pump?

By about 10 days after your baby's birth, your milk supply should be fully in. If you've been pumping often and well, you should be pumping far more breast milk than a premature baby needs. You can store the extra milk for later use.

If you are pumping eight to 10 times per day, you should be producing:

  • Optimal: About 25 ounces of breast milk per day, or 3 to 4 ounces per pumping session.
  • Borderline: Between 11.5 and 25 ounces daily is considered borderline milk production. You may need to use interventions to increase your milk supply.
  • Low: If you're producing less than 11.5 ounces per day, talk to a lactation consultant to see how you can increase your milk supply.

Choosing the Right Breast Pump

You'll obviously need a breast pump for this. You should choose your breast pump carefully since a good breast pump can make this task much easier and more efficient.

The best breast pumps for premature babies are considered "hospital-grade" pumps. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't detailed standards for "hospital grade," so pumps with this moniker still can vary in quality. Speak with your baby's caregivers about pumps they recommend or get advice from a lactation consultant.

Ideally, you should obtain a pump that's designed to collect milk on both sides at once, since that will cut your collection time basically in half.

Be careful about purchasing a second-hand breast pump or renting one. Even if a pump appears clean, it still can harbor bacteria that may be harmful to your preemie.

This risk may be lessened by purchasing a new accessory kit for the pump, with new shields and tubing. In addition, some pumps are designed so that they can be used by many women (all of whom have their own accessories) with no risk of cross-contamination; this kind of pump might be available to you in a hospital setting. Nonetheless, you should talk to your pediatrician and your lactation consultant, if you have one, about whether you should rent or buy second-hand.

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Article Sources

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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Providing Breastmilk for Premature and Ill Newborns. Updated November 2, 2009.

  2. Hurst NM. The 3 M's of breast-feeding the preterm infant. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2007;21(3):234-9. doi:10.1097/01.JPN.0000285813.59269.6e

  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Buying and Renting a Breast Pump. Updated January 15, 2018.