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Breast-Feeding: While Baby Is Hospitalized

If your baby is premature or ill, he may not be able to nurse properly. This means that you will need to pump your breasts regularly to keep producing breast milk.

The amount of milk that your breasts can produce and release is affected by your emotions, your health, and your pumping routines. These tips should help increase your milk supply and condition your let-down reflex. They will help you to provide enough breast milk for your baby and to prepare for breast-feeding when your baby is ready.

  • Ask for help from a lactation professional.

Seek the advice of a lactation professional as early as possible. Many hospitals have lactation experts on staff who can help. This person will also be able to help adjust your plan to your baby's changing needs and abilities.

  • If possible, get a hospital-grade electric breast pump.

It is best if you can use a hospital-grade electric breast pump. These pumps have a double collection system that allows you to collect milk from both breasts at once. This saves you a lot of time. To find where you can rent a pump, contact Medela at 1-800-435-8316 ( or Ameda at 1-866-992-6332 (

The fully automatic electric pumps sold for personal use generally work well and are comfortable. You can also get small electric, battery-powered, hand-operated, or foot-operated pumps. Although these pumps are cheaper, they often do not work as well and are less comfortable than rental electric pumps or fully automatic personal pumps.

  • Follow a pumping schedule that is similar to a healthy newborn's feeding schedule.

This means you will need to pump every 2 to 3 hours. You will pump at least 8 to 10 times each 24-hour day.

  • Pump each breast at least 10 minutes.

Pumping each breast for 10 to 15 minutes is usually enough to drain the breasts well. However, some women need to pump longer. If milk is still flowing well after 10 minutes, pump another 5 minutes. Even if milk stops flowing before 10 minutes have passed, keep pumping for at least the full 10 minutes. If you pump both breasts at once you not only save time but also may raise the prolactin level in your blood. Prolactin is the hormone that tells your body to make milk. You can increase the amount of milk you make by massaging and hand expressing more milk after a pumping session.

  • Relax.

Relaxing can help trigger your let-down reflex. Sit in a comfortable position and relax your entire body. Practice the relaxation exercises taught in childbirth classes. When you start pumping your breasts, think about your baby, look at your baby's picture, play soft music, or read a good book. If milk flow does not start after 5 minutes of pumping, stop. Focus on getting relaxed and then start pumping again in 5 to 10 minutes.

  • Massage your breasts.

Gentle massage of your breasts can help start milk flow. Start at the chest wall and gradually move toward the nipple. Use a circular motion about the size of a quarter.

  • Warm your breasts.

Taking a warm bath or shower before pumping can improve the flow of milk. Placing warm washcloths on your breasts can also help trigger the let-down reflex.

  • Drink a lot of fluids.

Drink an 8- to 12-ounce glass of water each time you sit down to pump.

  • Eat a healthy diet.

Try to eat fewer processed snacks such as cookies, cake, and candy. Instead, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, non-fat dairy products, and other sources of protein. Keep taking your prenatal vitamins.

  • Keep a diary of the amount of milk you pump each time.

You may get different amounts of milk each time you pump. It depends on the time of day and how long it has been since you last pumped. However, the total amount of milk you pump in 24 hours should steadily increase during the first 2 to 3 weeks of pumping.

By 2 weeks after delivery, a good milk supply for a single baby is about 24 ounces every 24 hours. (Mothers of twins or triplets need to produce more milk.) You should produce at least 20 ounces every 24 hours by 7 to 10 days after the birth, even if your baby takes little milk now. It is easier to produce plenty of milk from the start than to increase your milk supply later when your baby begins taking more.

Even if your pumped volumes are lower than you want, don't give up. Often your milk production gets better when you can start breast-feeding your baby.

Check your diary to make sure that you pump at least 8 times each 24 hours and that the longest time between pumping sessions is 4 hours once at night.

  • Start breast-feeding your baby as soon as you can.

Spend skin-to-skin time with your baby while in the hospital. Even if the baby is not able to nurse, this helps the baby to link comfort and warmth to nursing.

Start breast-feeding as soon and as often as your baby's medical condition permits. Offer your breast to your baby during your hospital visits to help your baby learn to nurse.

Always pump after nursing to express any remaining milk. This will make sure that your breasts are emptied well and that you keep producing plenty of milk. Once your baby is breast-feeding every time and gaining weight well, you can pump less often.

You will probably need to keep pumping until your baby weighs at least 7 pounds and is a few weeks past his due date.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-02-01
Last reviewed: 2011-11-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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