Feeding Your Baby Breast Milk in a Bottle

Why and How to Pump Breast Milk for Bottle Feeding

Reasons for pumping

Verywell / JR Bee

If you want to feed your baby breast milk but you are not able to breastfeed, or you don't want to, one option is bottle feeding breast milk. Some parents may wonder if it's okay to use these feeding method, and the answer is definitely yes.

With this approach, you pump your breast milk (or receive donated milk) and give it to your baby in a bottle. Pumping and bottle feeding breast milk is a great way to provide your child with breast milk without needing to put them to the breast. Here's what you need to know about pumping for your baby.

Reasons for Pumping and Bottle Feeding

You may make the decision to pump before your child is born, or you may breastfeed for a while and then move on to pumping as your child grows. There are many reasons you might choose to pump. For example, you may end up bottle feeding breast milk if you have to return to work or school right away. or you have a premature baby in the hospital NICU who cannot breastfeed.

Or, you may bottle feed breast milk if your baby has difficulty latching on to the breast or you are worried about their milk supply and prefer to see how much milk your baby is drinking. (However, note that you can evaluate whether or not your baby is getting enough milk by watching their diapers.)

For some people, breastfeeding is painful but pumping is tolerable. Others have twins, triplets, or more and find feeding time easier to manage when using bottles. Feelings of embarrassment or discomfort with the idea of breastfeeding may lead others to choose to pump breast milk. Some people simply do not want to breastfeed.

Exclusive Pumping vs. Supplementing

You can choose to pump exclusively (pumping for all your child's feedings), give your child both breast milk and infant formula in bottles, and/or breastfeed part of the time. It just depends on which approach works better for you.

Combining Breast Milk Feeding and Formula Feeding

If you've decided to feed your baby both pumped breast milk and infant formula, that's great! Any amount of breast milk that you can give your baby is beneficial. You can pump for some feedings and give formula for others. Or you can provide both breast milk and formula at the same feeding. Ultimately, fed is best, so whatever arrangement you choose is just fine.

Offer the breast milk first if you give your child both breast milk and formula in the same feeding.

By giving the breast milk first, you will be sure your child gets all your milk. Then, if your baby wants or needs more, you can finish the feeding with formula. That way, if there's any left over, it's the formula that you will throw away, rather than breast milk.

Exclusive Pumping and Bottle Feeding

Exclusive pumping is also called EPing and breast milk feeding. For this feeding method, you pump at regular times throughout the day to give your child your breast milk, typically in bottles, as their sole source of food and nutrition. Your child may get your milk through a bottle, a tube, or another alternative feeding method.

However, exclusive pumping isn't necessarily easy. It can be time-consuming and exhausting. And it can often be challenging to continue to keep up your supply while pumping exclusively for a long period of time. Studies show that exclusive pumping is associated with a shorter duration of breastfeeding compared with those that breastfed at least occasionally.

How to Pump

Pumping efficiently helps provide the right amount of breast milk for your baby and keeps your supply strong. Note that your child's needs for breast milk change as they grow.

How Many Times a Day to Pump

How often to pump depends on your baby's age. A newborn will take a bottle of breast milk approximately every two to three hours around the clock. So during your baby's first few weeks, you should try to pump at least every two to three hours (about eight to twelve times per 24 hours) to stimulate your body to produce a healthy milk supply.

As your baby grows, they will take more at each feeding, but go longer between feedings. As long as your milk supply is plentiful, you may be able to go longer between pumping sessions, as well.

How Long to Pump at Each Session

At each session, you should pump for at least 15 minutes on each side. It can take a few minutes for your milk to begin to let down, so give yourself enough time. Also, try to empty your breasts fully at each pumping session. Emptying the breasts is an important part of stimulating the production of more breast milk.

After you drain your breasts and no more milk is flowing out into the collection container, continue to pump for one to five minutes longer. Since breast milk is made based on supply and demand, the extra stimulation will tell your body to make more.

You don't have to go longer than 20 minutes, though. Pumping for 15 to 20 minutes more frequently throughout the day will generally produce more breast milk than pumping less often for more extended periods of time.

How Much Breast Milk to Pump

Pump as much as you can at each pumping session. Then, put the breast milk into bottles or storage containers in the amount that your child takes at each feeding. Newborns drink less breast milk than older children at each feeding, but they eat more often. Based on your baby's age, here is how much they will need.

The First Week

During the first week, your baby will drink colostrum. This first stage of breast milk is concentrated and very nutritious, so a tiny amount is all your baby needs. During the first few days after the birth of your baby, you will only be able to pump and collect a small amount of colostrum.

On the very first day, in fact, so little will be expressed that it can get stuck in the tubing of the breast pump, which is why hand expressing colostrum is the preferred method during that time. After you have hand-expressed a few spoonfuls worth, pumping for a short while is a good way to stimulate milk supply until your milk fully comes in.

The First Month

After the first week, you should be able to pump two to three ounces every two to three hours. or about 24 ounces in a 24-hour period. You would need to double this amount if you have twins, triple it for triplets, etc.

Two to Six Months and Beyond

After about one month, you will need approximately three to four ounces every three to four hours, or about 24 to 32 ounces a day. By the time your baby is six months old, they will need about six to eight ounces every four to six hours, so approximately 36 to 48 ounces a day.

It's easier to overfeed your baby when you're bottle feeding in place of breastfeeding. Give your child what they need every day and in each bottle, but stop if they show signs of being full. Don't prompt them to eat more than they need. Note that, generally, the larger the baby, the more they will need to eat each day.

There's a simple formula you can use to calculate how much breast milk to put in a bottle: The baby's weight in ounces, divided by 6, divided by the number of feedings per day. So if your baby weighs 12 pounds (192 ounces) and eats 6 times per day: 192/6 = 32; 32/6 = 5.33 ounces per feeding.

Managing Breast Milk Supply

It can be tough to maintain a healthy milk supply when you're exclusively pumping. It requires a good deal of dedication because you have to pump regularly, including during the night. To maintain and increase your supply, try the following technique.

Invest in Your Breast Pump

Since you will be spending so much time using your pump, consider buying or renting a high-quality breast pump designed for long-term, daily use. A double pump will save you time and energy since it can collect milk from both breasts at the same time. Whichever pump you choose, be sure it's comfortable and the pump shields fit you well to prevent pain and damage to your breast tissue.

Pump Frequently

Frequent pumping stimulates the production of breast milk. While your child is a newborn, try to pump every two to three hours. As your child grows, you can usually pump less often. However, if you're struggling with low milk supply, pumping more often can help to increase it.

Try Galactagogues

A galactagogue is something that helps your body make more breast milk. There are many breastfeeding superfoods, herbs, and teas that you can add to your daily diet to support and promote lactation.

Returning to Work

You may find the transition back to work fairly easy since your baby has already been used to drinking from a bottle and your body is accustomed to a pumping schedule. However, if you find that your production drops a bit from work stress, there are many ways to increase your breast milk supply.

Pumping and Family Planning

When it comes to the prevention of pregnancy, exclusive pumping is not the same as exclusive breastfeeding. The lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) of birth control often works during the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding, but it is not considered effective with pumping.

So, if you do not want to become pregnant again right away, you should use another form of contraception. Be sure to let your doctor know that you are exclusively pumping, though. Some types of birth control contain estrogen, which can cause a decrease in milk supply.

A Word From Verywell

Pumping your breast milk for your child can be rewarding, but it can also be time-consuming and demanding. Fatigue and stress may make this approach challenging and possibly decrease your supply of breast milk. So it's important to take care of yourself.

Try to eat well, drink plenty of fluids, get rest when you can, and relax with your feet up while you're pumping. Also, don't be afraid to ask for help from your partner, family, and friends. A little support can make all the difference when it comes to how long you continue to pump for your baby.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Spatz DL, Froh EB, Schwarz J, et al. Pump early, pump often: A continuous quality improvement project. J Perinat Educ. 2015;24(3):160-70. doi:10.1891/1058-1243.24.3.160

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Should I breastfeed or bottlefeed?.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Bottle feeding basics.

  4. Keim SA, Boone KM, Oza-Frank R, Geraghty SR. Pumping milk without ever feeding at the breast in the Moms2Moms StudyBreastfeed Med. 2017;12(7):422-429. doi:10.1089/bfm.2017.0025

  5. Meier PP, Patel AL, Hoban R, Engstrom JL. Which breast pump for which mother: An evidence-based approach to individualizing breast pump technology. J Perinatol. 2016;36(7):493-9. doi:10.1038/jp.2016.14

  6. US Department of Health and Human Services. Lactational amenorrhea method (LAM).

Additional Reading
  • Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2012;129(3):e827-41. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-3552

  • Forinash AB, Yancey AM, Barnes KN, Myles TD. The use of galactogogues in the breastfeeding mother. Ann Pharmacother. 2012;46(10):1392-404. doi:10.1345/aph.1R167

  • Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences.

  • Riordan J, Wambach K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning.

By Melissa Kotlen
Melissa Kotlen is an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and Registered Lactation Consultant.