A full milk supply for a breastfeeding mother is considered somewhere between 600 to 1200 mL per 24-hour period. As you would probably think looking at this, that is a huge range. On average though, based on what I have read, it actually should be at least 720 mL per day once your baby is between 1 to 6 months of age. Over 1000 mL per day is considered a bit of an over supply. But alas, every baby is different and has a different appetite level. I was taking a look at my last seven day average of breastmilk output, and I realized that I was averaging 744 ml, or almost 25 ounces. There were days when I made over 25 ounces, and then there were the days when I made just over 24 ounces. And even though I still am not making 100% of what my baby needs, I still couldn’t really believe it when I looked at these numbers.
Once upon a time, within my baby’s first month of life, I struggled to produce even 1-1.5 ounces per pump session. I had a late start to pumping. I had no idea then that a weak suck was preventing my baby from effectively removing milk from my breasts. She was on my boobs all the time that first week, yet I had no clue that she wasn’t eating enough. I only pumped a handful of times in her first week of life… Because I was naïve and ignorant. I thought to myself, I don’t need to pump that much. She’s on my breasts on all the time. She had a good latch according to what the lactation consultant at the hospital said. And the breast-feeding course I took plus all the breastfeeding guides I read said that the latch was the most important thing, so there was no way anything could be wrong, right? So I didn’t really pump much until after she was one week old – that’s when I started pumping 3 times a day… which was inadequate if you read any exclusive pumping guide. I didn’t pump six times a day until she was two weeks old. And I didn’t pump seven times a day until she was over four weeks old. I didn’t use the right flange size until she was five weeks old. I didn’t even start pumping for 30 minutes until she was four weeks old. I didn’t learn my pump settings and how to effectively get the most milk out until about six weeks. I had a lot to learn and teach myself, through my own experience, trial and error, the Facebook pumping mama‘s group, and the exclusive pumping website.
When I was about four weeks postpartum, I seriously considered giving up altogether. I felt like I was a failure. I wasn’t producing enough for my baby to eat, and I felt like I was spending all my time with a stupid breast pump instead of bonding with my baby. I was so angry at the world, at myself, at the crappy lactation consultants I met with in person at the hospital and at the pediatrician’s office. The pediatrician of all people told us our baby had a weak suck that would be inefficient at removing milk from my breasts, not either of the LCs we saw in person. It was such a simple test: to just stick your finger in her mouth when she was hungry to see how hard she sucked, and neither LC did this! I was angry that I missed the window of the first two weeks of my baby’s life to really establish a good milk supply by consistently removing milk from my breasts. If you read any breast-feeding support group, every single person emphasizes that the first two weeks are critical in terms of building your milk supply. You either need to be nursing effectively every 2 to 3 hours or pumping every 2 to 3 hours for the first two weeks, otherwise it will be just that much more challenging to get a full milk supply. Well, I didn’t know that then. I was so bitter and beyond upset. But I was determined not to give up. I had to give all of my new learnings a chance, plus the $60 package of flanges that I just purchased. And, I read that most struggling breast-feeding moms, whether they are nursing or pumping, give up at the six week mark. And there was no way in hell that I was giving up that soon. I ate oatmeal every single day from the morning after we returned from the hospital. I still eat it every single day. I drink an insane amount of water every single day to stay hydrated. I power pumped for over two months every single day to get my supply up (“that is such shit,” said an Australian friend who had exclusively breastfed/nursed both of her babies and only ever had to pump one breast occasionally). Power pumping is likely the only thing that really worked, which makes sense. Because again, milk removal builds milk supply. Nothing else.
Now, when I wake up and do my first morning pump, I produce 8 to 9 ounces; my Spectra bottles are nearly full, which I always dreamt of seeing but never thought was possible at 4 weeks postpartum. And every subsequent pump, I usually get between 3 to 5 ounces. On average now, I am feeding my baby over 80% of her total daily needs. That means that the majority of her diet is breastmilk. I would love to tell that stupid lactation consultant at the doctor’s office that I don’t have low supply like she said. Look at my output now, bitches! I needed to have more milk removed from my breast back then. Because the key to milk supply is milk removal, not the useless supplements that she told me to take. And no, I am not the problem. I never was. My problem was that I didn’t have the right support. I am 21 weeks postpartum now and somehow, against everything that I read, my supply is still slowly creeping up. Most people told me that my supply would regulate at around 12 weeks, which is considered general knowledge. Some people have supplies that continue to increase, but that is rarer than the supplies that decrease or stay the same at 12 weeks and beyond. And also against what I thought would happen, after dropping pump sessions, my supply actually continued to creep up. When I dropped my seventh pump, I was producing about 20 ounces per day, But I told myself I had to start reducing pumps in order to get my sanity back. Twenty ounces per day with seven pumps became 22 ounces per day with six pumps, which then became 24 to 25 ounces with five pumps a day and no overnight pumping.
I am so happy that I kept going and did not give up. Even though I am still not giving my baby 100% of her needs, I am grateful to my body for what it has been able to do, to go against the odds with the late start for exclusive pumping and continue to produce more and more milk to feed my baby. And when I look at the growth over time in terms of my output since January, I feel really proud. The numbers graphed out look amazing. If you told me in January that by May, I would be producing 25 ounces of breast milk per day, I would have told you that you were way too optimistic. But here we are. I am still hopeful that I will produce beyond 25 ounces regularly, but we shall wait and see.
Pumping has been hard as hell. This is not how I imagined primarily feeding my baby, but here we are. Nursing did not work out, but this is the next best thing for her and for me. Pumping is likely one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever had to do, but even in the hardest and most emotional times, I have never regretted doing this for my baby. In some way, I look at pumping as the way that I have mourned not being able to exclusively nurse her. But I also look at it as yet another sacrifice that a mother makes for her child. This time will soon come to an end, and as it starts winding down, I can already see myself getting sad and emotional to think that my breast-feeding journey with her will be ending. But that just means the start of the next era of our life together.