How Much Breast Milk Does a Baby Need?

6/27/2018

Congratulations on making the decision to breastfeed your newborn, Mama! We know you’ll have a lot of questions as you become adjusted to life with a little one, and we’re here to help you ease into it all. After your baby is born, your pregnancy hormones will dissipate. This allows your milk-making hormones to officially kick into high gear. Beginning breastfeeding within the first hour or so following your newborn’s birth helps provide valuable colostrum from the moment your baby first latches on to feed. Colostrum, a thick, immune-building and antibody-rich early breast milk, is immediately available during and sometimes even shortly before the first phase of a mother’s lactation journey: The Initiation Phase.

The Initiation Phase

The first five days after birth, while your body learns to make larger quantities of milk and your baby learns to feed, are extremely important in setting up the rest of your breastfeeding journey - but don’t expect your supply to be plentiful immediately. On average, your baby will consume about a teaspoon of colostrum per feeding in the first 24 hours, which is ideal for his or her tiny stomach. In fact, your baby’s stomach is only about the size of a cherry on day one and holds just 5 – 7 mL or 1 – 1 ½ teaspoons of breast milk during each feeding! Don’t worry – it’s normal for babies to lose some weight after being born, but your doctor and nurses will be carefully monitoring your newborn to make sure they are healthy.  

In addition to the nutritional and wellness benefits of colostrum for your baby, removing it by pumping or feeding tells your body that your baby will be getting hungry soon, so larger volumes of milk must be produced to meet your baby’s growing needs. By day 3, your newborn’s stomach will have grown to about the size of a walnut. This means that the amount of breast milk that a baby drinks will have increased exponentially in just a short time, with their tummy now able to hold between 22 – 27 ml or ¾ - 1 ounce per feeding. Feeding your newborn at least 8 – 10 times per day in the first week after birth helps to promote a healthy and ample milk supply going forward.

The Secretory Activation (or Building) Phase

This phase happens when your body switches from producing colostrum to releasing more mature milk to meet the evolving needs of your growing newborn. While the timing is different for each mom, this typically occurs in the 24 – 120-hour range after birth. However, it can take longer for some moms, in which case you should work with your doctor or nurse to ensure your newborn is receiving the correct amount of nutrition until your milk volume increases. Often by the end of the first week, mothers are producing about 500 mLs or 16 ½ ounces of milk per 24 hours. Also around the 1 week mark, your baby’s stomach will have grown to about the size of an apricot with the capability of holding around 45 – 60 mL or 1 ½ - 2 ounces of milk

By about 2 weeks old, babies will generally be back up to their birth weight and will typically have at least 6 wet diapers and 3 or more diapers with bowel movements per 24 hours. Also around this time, your baby’s stomach has grown to about the size of an egg and can now hold between 80 – 150 mL or 2 ½ - 5 ounces per feeding. Your newborn will likely gain about 4 – 7 ounces per week in the first month and as you enter the Maintenance Phase of your lactation journey.

The Maintenance Phase

From the 4-week mark through the time that additional foods are introduced into your baby’s diet at about 6 months of age, your milk supply won’t change much if your feeding and pumping routine remains consistent. Because new foods will eventually replace some of the breast milk in your baby’s diet starting around 6 months old, your supply may start to gradually decrease at this point unless you’re pumping to build a stash. Babies usually gain about 4 – 7 ounces per week, or 1 – 2 pounds per month, for the first 6 months. This usually then tapers down to about a pound per month from roughly 6 – 12 months of age.

It is important to remember that breastfed infants take fewer but longer feeds as they get older, though their daily consumption remains about the same. This means that your little one may have less nursing sessions through the day, but will typically nurse for a longer period when they do. During the 3 – 6-month-old period, babies start to grow more slowly, so they don’t need a lot more milk at this time.

So, How Much Breast Milk Does a Baby Actually Need?

We try to make feeding as simple and straightforward as possible, but that’s not always easy. Every baby is different and, in most cases, there isn’t a specific intake amount that an infant must meet each day. Here are a few guidelines for what to expect:

  • The amount of milk that a baby drinks from a single breast ranges anywhere from 30 – 135mL, though the average volume is about 75 ml.
     
  • Your number of breastfeeding sessions per day may be anywhere from 4 – 13, depending on his or her appetite and how much milk is removed from the breast during each session.
     
  • A single breastfeeding session can express anywhere from 54 – 234 mL of milk.
     
  • Boys typically drink about 831 mL daily while girls usually drink about 755 mL each day.

With that in mind, the range of daily milk intake of growing, exclusively breastfed infants is anywhere from 478 – 1,356 mL. So, answering the question of how much breast milk a baby needs isn’t so easy. While guidelines like the above help give a little bit of context around your feeding experience, every mom, every baby and every breastfeeding journey is unique. As long as both mom and baby are happy and healthy, you’re doing things right!

Looking for more breastfeeding resources? Download our MyMedela app for personalized tracking of all your unique breastfeeding goals or take a look at the handy resources below:

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