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Breast Feeding

Can I run out of milk?

07/27/1999

Question:

If I am using a breast pump while I have to be away from the baby to work or occasionally travel out of town alone for a couple of days, is it possible to run out of milk?

Answer:

Congratulations on your new baby! It is wonderful that you plan to provide your milk while at work. To simplify a complex biochemical process, the answer is "no," you should not run out of milk while separated from your baby if you understand that the breasts make milk based on the amount of milk that is removed from them. The more milk that is removed by an effective baby or pump, the more milk that is made. The converse also is true. The less milk that is removed, the less milk that is made. (However, it takes a mother`s brain and breasts a day or two to translate an increase or decrease in the amount of breastfeeding or pumping into more or less breast milk production.) That is why breastfeeding "how-to" books recommend a mother and baby begin breastfeeding (or pumping if a baby or mother has a health issue to be resolved) as soon as possible after birth and continue with frequent breastfeedings (or pumping sessions) thereafter.

Most fully breastfed newborns or young infants breastfeed 8-12 times in a 24 hour period. To maintain adequate milk production if separated from a baby for hours or days, a mother can pump in a way that copies her baby`s breastfeeding routine. In most situations, this means pumping so that the total number of breastfeedings and pumping sessions is at least eight in 24 hours. A mother can increase the number of pumping sessions if her baby often breastfeeds more than that number. During the day most mothers plan on a pumping session about every three hours and on one at night if travel takes them from home. (The number of pumping sessions usually decreases later in the second half of a baby`s first year as the baby replaces more breastfeedings with solid food feedings.)

If a mother finds pumping is not keeping up with the amount of milk her baby takes while she is away, she should ask herself if she is: 1. pumping frequently enough, 2. using the appropriate breast pump, or 3. experiencing a mechanical difficulty with a breast pump. If separated from a baby due to employment or school hours for several days a week, most mothers find using one of the light-weight, hospital grade, self-cycling breast pumps to be the quickest and easiest way to get increased volumes of milk when pumping. Some of these breast pumps may be purchased, and others are available only through rental. A lactation consultant or La Leche League Leader** in your area should know where you might locate this type of pump.

In most cases when a mother finds milk production is not keeping pace with the amount of breast milk her baby takes while she is away, increasing the number of pumping sessions by decreasing time between sessions usually increases milk production within a few days.

** To locate a lactation consultant or La Leche League Leader in your area, contact: International Lactation Consultant Association, 4101 Lake Boone Trail, Suite 201, Raleigh, NC 27607; phone: 919/787-5181; fax: 919/787-4916; email: ilca@erols.com; web site: www.ilca.org/ Click on the link below to view this web site.

La Leche League International, 1400 N. Meacham Rd., PO Box 4079, Schaumburg, IL 60168-4079; phone: 847/519-7730 or 800-LALECHE; fax: 847/519-0035; email lllhq@llli.org; web site: http://www.lalecheleague.org/ Click on the link below to view this web site.

If you need additional information, please contact me again. Best wishes for you and your new baby.

Karen Kerkhoff Gromada, MSN, RN, IBCLC

Related Resources:

International Lactation Consultant Association
La Leche League International

For more information:

Go to the Breast Feeding health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Karen Kerkhoff Gromada, MSN, RN, IBCLC
Adjunct Clinical Instructor
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati