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how-much-milk-breastfed-babies-eatWhen you’re exclusively pumping for your baby – or even if you’re both nursing and bottle feeding pumped milk – it can be hard to know exactly how much your baby should be eating. How much should your baby get per feeding? How much should he or she eat in a day?

Many people feeding pumped breast milk (including me, when I was a new, confused, and sleep-deprived exclusive pumper) refer to formula feeding guidelines for an idea of how much they should be giving their babies. However, formula and breast milk aren’t the same – for example, breast milk is metabolized faster than formula. And because most breastfed babies are nursed, there is no way to tell how much they are taking in (short of weighing them before and after every feeding with a baby scale).

I recently did a survey of women that exclusively pumped for their babies, and one of the questions that I asked the respondents was how much milk their babies ate on a daily basis. I’ll go through these results first, and then go through the recommendations for formula fed babies to see how they compare.

What is the average milk intake per day for breastfed babies drinking from bottles?

The overall average intake for babies across the first year was 26.8 oz (792.5 ml); after one month of age, the minimum reported daily intake for was 16 oz (473 ml) and the maximum was 48 oz (1,420 ml). Below is a chart showing how the results were distributed:


Here we can see that most babies eat between 24 (710 ml) and 30 oz (887 ml).

As one might expect, breast milk intake varied slightly with the baby’s age, with it averaging slightly lower in the first month of life and then increasing up to between 26 and 28 oz (770 and 828 ml) until about 10 months of age. At this point, presumably, solids are making up a more substantial part of the baby’s diet, and the average drops down to 25 oz (740ml) at 10 months and 19.5 oz (577 ml) at 11 months.


I also looked to see if breast milk intake varied by any other factors that I had asked about in the survey, such as the age of the mother, whether the baby was a first baby or a subsequent child, and race. I didn’t find any statistically significant differences based on maternal or child characteristics, except for the age of the baby as described above.

The one relationship that I did find with regard to a baby’s intake of breast milk was the amount of milk that the mother pumped. Mothers that pumped more milk tended to feed their babies more milk.

This could be for a few different reasons. For example, mothers that switched from nursing to exclusive pumping might be closely in sync with the amount of milk that their baby needs. Additionally, women with supply on the low end of the spectrum that have babies that also don’t need as much milk might not work to bring it up as much as mothers whose babies take in more.

How does this compare to formula feeding guidelines?

I was curious whether or not the results that I got in survey would be similar to formula feeding guidelines, so I looked up the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. Reading them is a bit confusing, as the descriptions of appropriate intake use three ranges – the age of the baby (i.e., 1-3 months), the amount of formula (i.e., 2-3 oz), and the number of feedings (i.e., every 3-4 hours).

To simplify things, I broke the guidelines down into the below table:


Here we can see that the total daily recommended intake is fairly close to the averages reported above for babies by age. The recommendation is slightly lower in the beginning, but on par with actual totals for breastfed babies by six months.

The guidelines specifically state not to feed a baby more than 32 oz (946 ml) of formula per day. I’m not sure whether or not that recommendation would also apply to breast milk, but over 10% of the respondents’ babies drank more breast milk than that on a daily basis.

(Including mine! The baby that I exclusively pumped for was a really big baby who ate 40 oz of breast milk on the regular, so hopefully it’s not an issue for breast milk.)

Note: The typical feeding schedule for breastfed babies may be very different from that of formula-fed babies. It’s more common for breastfed babies to eat more often and less on schedule than formula-fed babies, likely because (as noted above) breast milk is metabolized more quickly than formula. This discussion is only about total intake.

So, what should you do with this information?

I get frequent questions as to how many ounces should be in a baby’s bottle at given ages. My goal with this post was to be able to give mothers a ballpark as to what is “normal” for breastfed babies to eat in a given day, and if you want, you can use this as a starting point that you can tweak based on your baby’s needs. As you can see from the first chart, there is a huge variation in what breastfed babies will eat in a given day – your baby might be one that only needs 20 oz per day or one (like mine) who needs a lot more.

Ultimately, though, I would let your baby be your guide. If he finishes his bottle and still seems hungry and isn’t soothed by a pacifier or any of your other tricks, then I would go ahead and feed him more. If he’s on the other end of the spectrum and just doesn’t like to eat much, I wouldn’t push it unless there is an issue with weight gain (and then I would discuss the best approach with your pediatrician).

Note: If you’re a data geek like me and interested in more survey data, I wrote an e-book about exclusive pumping and milk supply that makes extensive use of it; you can check out here. I’ve also written this post and plan on additional ones in the future.

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In December and January, I did a survey of exclusive pumpers – I put a link to a survey on the sidebar and was very pleasantly surexclusive-pumping-adviceprised at how many people filled it out. (If you took the survey, thank you!)

One question that I asked was “[w]hat advice would you give to someone starting to exclusively pump?”

All of the advice was awesome, though today I wanted to highlight some great thoughts that some of the women had that I haven’t covered elsewhere on this site.

The Importance of Habit

Be patient. It will become habit quickly but exclusive pumping is time-consuming at first and has a big learning curve. Pay attention to how much you are producing and how much baby is eating so that you always know where you stand. I keep a notebook next to the sink where I clean the pump parts after each pumping and just write down what I produced, what baby had eaten, and at what time. I total it each day or so, and this has proven really helpful. I also track other things necessary to feeding on this notebook (lots of spit-up, changes in pump supplies, how baby is feeling, if baby is demanding more milk, etc.).

I think that this person hit on something important – a lot of what makes exclusive pumping easier is habit. It is so much easier when you have figured out the learning curve that she mentions – a pumping and feeding schedule that works for you, a way of cleaning pump parts and bottles that works for you, and a way of managing  your milk supply that works for you. Once you have gotten all this stuff down, you’re set, so just work on getting there and know it will be easier.

Keeping track of your milk output and your baby’s needs is also great advice, whether you do this the low-tech way (paper and notebook) or using an app on your phone. Being able to see trends can help you realize whether your supply is dropping, if you’re just having a normal fluctuation, or if your baby is having a growth spurt.

Learn Hand Expression

Learn to hand express and do it after every pumping session. You’d be surprised how much additional milk you can get this way. It’s also extremely helpful if you are out and about and don’t have a lot of room for the pump. With practice, hand expression became more efficient for me than pumping if it has only been a few hours since my last pump (e.g. 2-3 ounces in 5 minutes rather than 20 minutes or more pumping).

I have to confess that I have never mastered hand expression. Once, when I was stuck in a hotel room with an almost dead pump battery and no way to recharge it, I watched a few YouTube videos in a desperate attempt to learn. While I wasn’t very successful, I think that having the ability to remove milk from your breasts without a pump is a wonderful skill to have as an exclusive pumper, because you will never be stuck without a working pump. When my baby is born, I am going to work a lot harder to learn how to hand express, both as a backup and to build supply.

Grieve Nursing (if applicable)

It gets easier once you let go of any residual attachment to the idea of nursing. I was stuck on this notion that I absolutely had to nurse because I had been looking forward to it for so long. Once I realized that nursing was not the path our story was taking (my son refused to latch and attempting to nurse was too emotionally stressful for both of us), and that it was not the only way to feed my baby my breast milk, I felt at peace with exclusively pumping. Now we have a rhythm and routine, and my husband and others can help feed the baby.

If you wanted to nurse your baby and couldn’t, it can be really difficult. When nursing didn’t work out for me, it felt like my body was failing me, like I was failing my baby, and like I wasn’t going to be able to have the bond I wanted with my baby. I needed to let go of what I had expected (that nursing would be a success) to move on and feel proud of myself for exclusively pumping. Give yourself time to grieve what you wanted, and then do your best to embrace your new reality.

Consider Using Pumpin Pals

Use Pumpin Pals as they are more gentle on the nipples. I had been in so much pain with the regular shields and these fixed the problem.

I haven’t mentioned Pumpin Pals on the site before because I personally haven’t used them yet, but I have heard over and over again from other exclusive pumpers (both in this survey and in emails) how great these can be. Aside from being more comfortable on the nipples, they allow you to lean back while pumping (versus sitting up straight or hunching over). I am definitely going to buy some for pumping with this baby – I will report back with a review when I do!

Just Do Your Best

Just do the best you can do. Don’t get caught up on comparing amounts. Don’t get massive anxiety about missing pumps. Don’t freak out about not having a freezer stash. Just do the best you can.

When I started exclusive pumping, I was an extremely nervous first time mom, and I wanted to do everything perfectly for this new baby that I loved more than anything. “My best” didn’t feel good enough – I thought I needed to be perfect, because that’s what my baby deserved.

That baby is now 4, and I have realized that I am, regrettably, not perfect at anything I do, especially parenting-wise. My kids rarely eat vegetables, they watch too much TV when I’m exhausted from being pregnant, and my youngest is still obsessed with her pacifier. While this isn’t necessarily what I’d do in an ideal world, on some days it is my best, and I’m confident that in the end they will be just fine.

As long as you feed your baby, he or she will be just fine too. You may not be able to feed them as much breast milk as you’d like, but they will be okay and grow and flourish. Just do your best.

If you have any other advice to add, please feel free to do so in the comments!