Find yourself asking, “how long does it take to refill breast milk?” Here’s everything you need to know, plus tips to increase milk supply and to make nursing easier!
If you’ve wondered how breastfeeding works, wanted to understand your milk flow or learn ways to improve milk supply, this post will address all your burning questions. And you’ll find helpful resources and information to ensure your baby gets proper nutrition.
Breastfeeding can be frustrating and confusing for new moms, but once you get the hang of it, it can also be a very special way to bond with your baby.
So, here’s everything you need to know about how long it takes to refill breastmilk, tips to increase milk production and important ways care for your breasts while nursing!
RELATED: 40 of the Best Breastfeeding Tips
How Long It Takes
Did you know your breasts never completely drain of milk? Even after a successful feed, babies tend to remove only 75-80% of the available milk. And, your body is constantly producing milk (not just between feeds).
The amount of milk breasts can store between sessions will vary from woman to woman and is not determined by breast size. So, how long it takes to refill breast milk to capacity will be unique to your particular body, how often you’re feeding your child, and the time of day.
Prolactin levels vary over a 24 hour period. They are usually the highest overnight and in the early morning, and lowest in the afternoon. That means that a mother’s milk supply may replenish faster at 3 AM than at 3 PM.
As mentioned, the breast is never completely empty, but milk flow is greatly reduced by nursing to the point where no significant amount is expressed. It typically takes 20-30 minutes to rebuild to an adequate flow and closer to an hour to rebuild to peak flow.
And, the emptier the breast, the faster your body produces milk. So, feeding more frequently and encouraging your baby to feed for a longer amount of time can reduce the time it takes to refill your breasts between feedings.
As a result, your body will produce more milk to keep up with your baby’s demand.
How Soon Does Milk Replenish After Pumping?
The same information applies to moms who pump.
However, it’s important to note that babies are better at removing breast milk than pumps.
So your breasts may be less empty when using a pump vs feeding at the breast.
Common Worries About Milk Supply
Some new mothers may worry about their milk supply because they’re not used to how a newborn baby feeds. Here are several situations you may experience:
- Baby wants to eat all of the time. This is not necessarily an issue with your supply but with how young your baby is and the fact that breastmilk is easily digested.
- Baby is fussy at the breast. A fussy baby can be an indicator of several issues, including an allergy to foods you’ve been eating or an issue with reflux. If your baby continues to be fussy while eating for longer than a week, you may want to consult your health care provider.
- Baby is suddenly wanting to eat more often. When babies go through growth spurts, they need to eat more often to keep up. These growth spurts are predictable based on their age (usually around 2 weeks, 1 month, 2 months, 4 months, etc.) so you can recognize it as a growth spurt and not a supply issue.
- You have an oversupply of milk. Most moms worry about a low supply of milk, but the opposite can also be an issue. If you have a breastmilk oversupply it can cause issues like breast engorgement and a frustrated baby. (See these tips on how to deal with an oversupply).
- You don’t get much milk after pumping. No pump is as good as what a baby removes from the breast, so you’ll want to look for other indicators (like wet and poopy diapers) to better assess whether your baby is getting enough breast milk or not.
Below are some easy ways to encourage your body to refill breast milk faster by increasing breast milk production and breast milk supply.
Tips to Increase Your Supply
If you’re worried your baby isn’t getting enough milk, there are several easy steps you can take to monitor their feeds and encourage better milk production in your body.
Practicing skin to skin and implementing more frequent feedings are typically the best first steps. And you should also examine your diet, stress levels and medications.
Each of the tips and techniques below with decrease how long it takes for breast milk to refill and stimulate your milk supply.
1. Don’t skip skin to skin
Skin contact is incredibly beneficial to milk supply. This simple act produces oxytocin, also known as the love hormone which helps mothers and babies bond and also stimulates and increases milk production.
Skin to skin is a great way to encourage the let-down reflex to get things flowing. You can also try using a warm compress or massaging the breast during and after feeds.
2. Try more frequent feedings
Breastfeeding works by supply and demand. So, the easiest and most effective way to increase supply is to increase the amount of feeds in day. You should aim to feed 8 or more times a day.
3. Weigh baby before and after feedings
Weighing your baby can help determine how many ounces of milk your baby gets from feeds. Measure these amounts against the recommended intake for their age to see if your milk supply falls short for what they need. If you feel you’re not producing enough breast milk for baby, follow more tips and suggestions below!
4. Ensure baby has a proper latch
A shallow latch (or what’s sometimes referred to as a lipstick nipple latch) can affect the amount of milk your baby receives during feeds and in turn, your milk supply. Improper latch can also lead to painful breast conditions that can deter proper feeds.
Here are some ways to get your baby to have a good latch so they can nurse more productively and improve how long it takes to refill breastmilk.
- Make a “U” shape to compress your breast to help baby get more of the breast in their mouths.
- Encourage baby to open wide (their mouths should fully cover the nipple and areola).
- Point your nipple to their nose so it bypasses their gums and ends up towards the roof of their mouth.
- Try to make baby’s lower lip the first to contact the breast and anchor to the outer edge of the areola.
- Try different feeding positions to find what’s comfortable.
- Check with your pediatrician to ensure baby doesn’t have a lip or tongue tie.
5. Drain as much milk as possible
Offer both breasts during feeds and if you have a lower milk supply, you can even switch back and forth between breasts to get as much milk out per feeding session as possible.
And, if baby is lazily sucking and not actually drinking any milk, try squeezing the breast to get more milk into their mouths and encourage consumption.
6. Pump between feedings
Hand express or use an electric breast pump for 10 minutes or so after each of baby’s feedings. This will signal the body to refill the breast more promptly and increase supply. And, if you’re exclusively pumping, try hand expressing after each pumping session next to baby. This can boost the amount of milk produced even more.
7. Try foods that encourage milk production
Proper nutrition is so important to a good milk supply as well as staying adequately hydrated (at least 2 liters of water per day). In addition, you should plan 3 healthy meals each day with snacks in between. Here are some foods that are believed to increase milk supply to include in your diet:
- Lactation cookies
- Oatmeal or oat milk (contains iron which nursing mothers need)
- Fennel seeds (a licorice flavored seed that contains estrogen-like compounds)
- Lean meat or poultry
Refrain from smoking and avoid excessive caffeine intake (limit to 3 cups of instant coffee per day).
8. Refrain from supplementing between feeds
Providing your baby with extra formula, unnecessarily, can decrease your milk supply. This signals the body to slow down production due to artificially decreased demand.
However, if your doctor has encouraged formula feeding to help with your baby’s nutrition or growth, you’ll need to continue those supplements and use other techniques to decrease how long it takes to refill breast milk.
9. Reduce stress
Stress can decrease your milk supply. If you’re overly concerned about breastfeeding or have other sources of anxiety in your life, you might be shooting yourself in the foot.
Do the best you can to implement more relaxation and stress relief in your life and literally let things flow!
10. Check your medications
Some medications are known to decrease milk supply. Because of that, you’ll need to pay attention to the drugs you use for cold and flu. And, try to refrain from hormonal birth control while you’re actively breastfeeding because it can lower your supply.
11. Make sure baby is staying awake during feeds
If your baby will only nurse for short periods, it’s likely they’re eating and sleeping schedule is off. A drowsy baby is typically not an effective eater. Follow the tips, below, to create more engaged feeding sessions with your baby.
The Best Feeding Schedule
It’s important to establish a set time for feedings to ensure your baby is the most alert and attentive while nursing. Try to establish a newborn sleep and feeding pattern as follows: eat, play, sleep.
According to this newborn sleep schedule, you should nurse baby first thing after they wake so they’re not drowsy and the most focused on the task.
This also prevents baby’s from relying on you to fall asleep. If baby’s become accustomed to being nursed to sleep, it’s much more difficult for them to learn to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own!
While it’s helpful to follow this pattern of eat, play, sleep, you should always pay attention to your baby’s hunger cues. When your baby goes through growth spurts they may need to feed more frequently or longer.
This may disrupt the nursing routine you’ve become accustomed to as your body changes the amount of breast milk it produces and when.
But, things typically realign after a few days as your body meets the new demand with an increased supply of milk.
Baby’s needs change from time to time, so you may need to practice some extra patience when getting up more frequently in the night. Just remind yourself it will pass pretty quickly!
Tips for Maintaining Healthy Breasts While Nursing
If you’ve wondered how long it takes to refill breast milk, you may also wonder what it takes to protect your breasts while nursing.
As a new mom, those virgin nipples can be tender and sore for the first few weeks while you toughen up. Because of that, you’ll likely need help from safe and proven nipple creams and breastfeeding essentials like these:
- Lansinoh cream to help with soreness or to lubricate breast pumps
- Disposable nursing pads or reusable ones to shield nipples and collect milk
- Silicone breast pumps to relieve engorgement
- A nursing pillow to help you get a proper latch
- Nipple shields to correct lipstick nipple and protect cracked or chaffed nipples
- A cold/hot compress to help with clogged ducts
If you ever experience fever, rash, white pimple looking spots on your nipples or can’t empty your breasts, be sure to reach out to your doctor for further care!
And, while nursing can be uncomfortable for a bit, it should never be painful. Bleeding, cracking and open wounds should be reported to your healthcare provider for assessment and treatment.
When should I be concerned?
After trying these techniques, if you’re still having issues with low milk supply and or another breastfeeding problem, reach out to a lactation consultant or your healthcare provider.
They can provide more specific medical advice for your unique circumstances. In some cases, supply issues may be due to other underlying health issues that need to be resolved.
These are some of the factors that can affect how long it takes to refill breast milk and may decrease your supply:
- Increased stress
- Thyroid or pituitary imbalances and other hormone complications
- Insufficient milk-producing tissue
- Breast surgery or augmentation
- Metabolic issues and medical conditions like high blood pressure, anemia or retained placenta
- Certain medications for cold and flu and hormonal birth-controls
- Smoking or excessive caffeine consumption
Signs of established milk supply include:
- Consistent weight gain after the first week.
- Six or more wet diapers and two or more stools each day.
- Baby has a good nursing technique.
- Baby is satisfied after feedings.
- Your breasts are softer after feedings.
RELATED: 20 Important Things to Know About Breastfeeding
Is it okay to stop breastfeeding?
It’s important to understand that breastfeeding is not for everyone. While there are several benefits to breastfeeding like passing antibodies to your baby, possible reduction of postpartum depression and a boost in weight loss, there can also be several downsides.
Some women have very real mental or physical limitations to breastfeeding which make nursing their baby incredibly uncomfortable, damaging and even impossible.
If breastfeeding negatively affects your mental or physical health, it’s okay to stop.
The most important thing is to have a healthy baby AND a healthy mom. There are other viable methods to feeding and nourishing your child.
For instance, some women enjoy and prefer exclusively pumping. Or, you can try baby formula which has come a long way over the years, and even purchase breastmilk from breast milk banks.
Whatever you decide, is what’s right for you.
Milk production continues non-stop, but is based on supply and demand. The more frequently and completely your breasts are drained of milk, the more milk your body will produce. If you want to decrease how long it takes to refill breast milk, simply introduce more feeds or more opportunities to express your milk.
Yes. Using a breast pump in between nursing sessions can help increase milk production and milk supply. Breast milk is produced based on supply and demand. Pumping for 10 minutes or so after breastfeeding increases the demand for milk and in turn your beast milk supply.
It should be noted, however, that pumping is only beneficial to milk supply if it’s done in conjunction with regular breastfeeding. If a mother pumps and then skips a breastfeeding session, that can have a negative impact on milk supply.
The breast is never completely drained of milk even after a successful feed. However, as the amount of milk in the breast decreases, milk flow is significantly reduced. Milk flow typically “builds back up” in 20-30 minutes.
The body will treat pumping the same as if it were your baby emptying your breasts. While the milk is never truly all gone, it typically takes 20-30 minutes to rebuild to an adequate flow and closer to an hour to rebuild to peak flow.
The amount of milk a breast can hold will vary from woman to woman and is not bound by breast size. You can get an idea of the amount of milk your breasts generally hold by pumping into a measured bottle or weighing your baby before and after feeds.
However, weighing baby or measuring milk in a pump can never truly indicate the amount of milk in the breast.
Breast milk works by supply and demand. If you want your milk to refill faster, increase your amount of nursing sessions or express milk in between feeds with a pump or by massaging the breast with your hands.
You should also ensure your baby has a proper latch and doesn’t fall asleep during feeds. Here are some other helpful tips and techniques to decrease how long it takes to refill breast milk:
– Drink plenty of water (2 liters per day)
– Eat 3 healthy meals with snacks
– Try lactation cookies and other lactation-friendly foods
– Decrease stress, caffeine consumption and smoking
– Get skin to skin time and massage the breast during and after feeds or use a warm compress
– Refrain from supplementing in between feeds if possible (formula, juice, etc.)
The Bottom Line
How long does it take to refill breast milk? Here’s the bottom line:
Breastmilk is always being produced and takes 20-30 minutes to rebuild to adequate flow after a feed. However, for the strongest flow of breast milk, you should wait an additional 30 minutes or so.
You can reduce the time it takes to refill breastmilk by increasing the demand for milk and making healthy diet choices.
Here’s how to make breast milk refill faster:
- Practice skin-to-skin.
- Nurse at least 8 times per day for the first 4 months.
- Encourage baby to stay alert during feeds and ensure a proper latch.
- Offer both breasts with each feed and switch back and forth if needed.
- Hand express or pump for 10 minutes after each nursing session.
- Reduce stress, drink plenty of water and eat foods like oats, garlic, lean proteins and fennel seeds.
- Avoid excessive caffeine, smoking and certain medications, as well as hormonal birth control.
If this post was helpful for you, be sure to check out:
- 15 Creative Ways To Use Leftover Breast Milk
- How to Deal with Postpartum Body Changes
- Creative Monthly Baby Photo Ideas
- 3 First Time Mom Books Worth a Read
- The Ultimate List of Mom Hacks
Did I answer all your questions for “how long does it take to refill breast milk”? Let me know if you have more questions or tips in the comments!