Breast Milk Guide
Newborn babies have tiny tummies that are perfectly suited to their small breast milk intake in the first few days of life.
As they grow, so do the size and capacity of their tummies. By 6 months of age, your baby’s tummy can hold more than 20 times the amount of milk that it could at birth.
This article provides information as a breast milk guide and covers topics such as, volume, supply and breastfeeding frequency for breastfed babies.
Breast milk volume for newborn babies
When your baby is born, the size of his tummy is about the same as a marble, with a maximum capacity of about 5-7ml.
This is about the same as the volume of colostrum your breasts will be producing. Colostrum is the thick, golden, first milk your baby receives.
Colostrum is low in volume, but highly concentrated. It is packed with protein, vitamins, immunological components and growth hormones.
You can read more about how colostrum benefits your baby in BellyBelly’s article Colostrum – 5 Important Ways It Helps Your Baby.
Due to their tiny tummies and the fact that breast milk is very easily digested, breastfed infants need to breastfeed frequently.
Breastfeeding frequency for newborn babies
Most breastfed babies will feed about 8-12 times in 24 hours.
Feeding your baby very frequently is important when you are exclusively breastfeeding, not only to make sure your baby is getting enough milk in a 24 hour period but also to support your breast milk production.
When your milk ‘comes in’, the volume of milk your baby drinks at each breastfeed will increase in relation to the capacity his tummy can hold.
Mature breast milk is different from colostrum. It is lower in protein but higher in volume and fat content.
Breastmilk volume and frequency guide
As previously stated, the total capacity for the tiny tummy of a newborn baby is about 5-7ml.
Your baby’s stomach capacity increases as your production of milk increases.
From 1 to 6 months of age, the total milk intake for a breastfed baby in a 24 hour period remains around the same; however, the frequency at which a baby feeds varies according to the mother infant dyad (each mother-baby pair).
In a study on the volume and frequency of breastfeeding throughout the day, Jacqueline C Kent et al found that the 24 hour milk production of mothers of exclusively breastfed infants from 1 to 6 months of age did not relate to the number of breastfeeds per day.
In the study, clinicians collected small milk samples to determine the fat content before and after the infant breastfed, as well as recording the infants’ weight pre and post breastfeeding.
One of the conclusions of the study was that advising breastfeeding mothers on a certain number of times they should be breastfeeding in 24 hours is not appropriate. What is more helpful, is to advise breastfeeding mothers to breastfeed ‘on demand’ or according to their babies’ needs.
For information on recognising your baby’s hunger cues, you can read BellyBelly’s article Baby Hunger Cues | How To Tell If Your Baby Is Hungry.
How your milk supply adapts to your baby’s needs
In the first few weeks of your baby’s life, the amount of milk your breasts produce starts to regulate, according to the amount your baby feeds.
Although milk production is initially hormonally driven, it is maintained on the principle of supply and demand. By around 3 months postpartum, the volume of milk your breasts produce in a 24 hour period is roughly the same amount of milk consumed by your baby each day.
For breastfeeding mothers with an oversupply of breast milk, this means their supply will start to decrease – regulated according to their breastfeeding frequency.
Mothers with low milk supply might need to increase their breastfeeding frequency; they might also need to incorporate a temporary plan to use an electric breast pump, to help increase milk supply.
If you think you might have an oversupply or undersupply of breast milk, it’s important to seek help from a qualified professional in the field of lactation. An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is the most appropriate health care professional in either case.
What time of day is breast milk production highest?
Most breastfeeding mothers find that their milk supply is higher in the morning; the amount of milk they produce gradually tapers off throughout the day.
This is due to the level of prolactin (a milk-making hormone), which peaks in the very early hours of the morning. This is a part of normal lactation and there is nothing more you need to do to help your breasts make more milk later in the day or early evening.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article How Does Breastfeeding Work? An Explanation.
When your breasts feel fuller in the morning, the breast milk you produce is higher in water content. Later in the day, when your breasts feel softer, the milk you produce is higher in fat content. Both types of milk are important for your baby.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article Foremilk Hindmilk | What Are They? All You Need To Know.
Most babies breastfeed more frequently during the early evening to make up for the lower volume. This is completely normal. Night breastfeedings also make an important contribution to total milk intake in the 24 hour period.
Did you know?
A study conducted on the comparison of milk output found that left and right breasts rarely produced the same volume of breast milk and, interestingly, the right breast was most often more productive than the other breast.
How much pumped milk should I feed my baby?
If you are exclusively bottle feeding your baby expressed breast milk, or even just offering the occasional bottle, you might wonder, ‘How much pumped milk should I feed my baby?’
The following chart gives a guideline to how much milk babies should be having in 24 hours, according to their body weight. To determine how much milk to offer your baby at each feeding, divide the total amount by the average number of feedings per day. The example of 10 feedings in 24 hours is displayed in the chart below: