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 in order 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, mom's milk supply can keep up.

Pumping Breast Milk in the Early Days

If you're pumping breast milk for a premature baby, or if you plan to feed your newborn pumped breast milk only, then you may wonder how much breast milk you should pump.

You may also wonder how often you should be pumping in order to keep your milk flowing. In the second case, you may find it's more than you expect ... in some cases, a lot more.

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.

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 was born, 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.

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: If you're pumping less than 25 ounces of breast milk per day, you may need to use interventions to increase your milk supply. Between 11.5 and 25 ounces daily is considered borderline milk production.
  • 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, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't detailed standards for "hospital grade," so pumps with this moniker still can vary in quality.

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.

You should be careful 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. 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

  • Hurst, N. "The 3 M's of Breast-feeding the Preterm Infant." J Perinat Neonat Nurs July-Sept 2007. 21; 234-239.
  • Mohrbacher, N and Stock, J. The Breastfeeding Answer Book, 3rd Revised Edition. January, 2003; La Leche League International, Schaumburg, IL.
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Breast Pumps: Don't Be Misled - Get the Facts fact sheet. 
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Choosing a Breast Pump fact sheet.