Average milk intake

How much milk should the baby take from the breast?

The amount of milk a baby gets from the breast depends on many things, including the baby’s age and rate of growth, the mother’s milk supply, and other sources of nutrition. A newborn may take only 30 millilitres (1 U.S. fluid oz) of colostrum on the first day, but once the milk comes in a few days later, daily intake rises quickly to about 650 ml (22 oz) after eight days. Between one and six months, intake stabilizes at about 800 ml (27 oz). After that, the baby’s need for milk slowly decreases as solid foods are introduced. Between the ages of one and three years, intake may drop to about 350 ml (12 oz) a day, but the milk is richer and provides more calories. Studies on milk consumption show a wide range of results.

A) Milk intake patterns

The amount of milk a baby takes from the breast varies with:

Studies on the average milk consumption of babies have a wide range of results. Because of this, other ways of assessing babies’ growth may be more helpful.

B) Average breast milk intake

Babies of the same age have been shown to take in a wide range of milk. The following table provides a very general idea of the amounts. Our conversion from millilitres (ml) to U.S. fluid ounces (oz) is rounded up or down when appropriate to avoid using fractions of an ounce.

Table: Rough Estimates of How Much Milk a Baby Takes in a Day

Age

Millilitres

U.S. fluid ounces

Day 1

30

1

Day 3

285

10

Day 8

650

22

2 weeks

675

23

1-6 months

800

27

6-12 months

800

27

1-3 years

350

12

 

C) Changes in milk intake over time

1) Newborns

The baby first takes in colostrum, which is present in small amounts and meets all of the baby’s needs. The breasts produce an increasing amount of colostrum during the first few days and then switch to making milk.

Milk produced after the first few days until two weeks after birth is called transitional milk. Milk amounts quickly increase and by two weeks mothers are making about 675 ml (23 oz) a day (Hester 2012).

2) The first year

Between one and six months, milk amounts are fairly stable around 800 ml (27 oz). Although babies keep growing over the first year, they grow more slowly over time. As a result, the amount of milk they need does not increase. 

After six months, the baby’s need for milk slowly decreases as solid food starts to provide nutrition.

3) After one year

Two studies have found that at two years of age, breastfeeding children still take in up to 350 ml (12 oz) of breastmilk a day (Hennart 1981; Kent 1999). This may not seem like a lot, but milk becomes richer in fat and calories after the first year of breastfeeding, so it actually represents a large proportion of the baby’s daily calories. Indeed, studies have shown that breast milk contributed about one-third of toddlers’ total energy intake and 16% of their protein intake (Onyango 2002; Scott 2016).

Milk production stops once a baby is no longer breastfeeding, although some mothers continue to leak after weaning.

D) Studies of milk intake by age

The following chart summarizes the findings of numerous studies.

Table: Milk Intake Each Day by Age

Another way of reporting how much milk a baby takes in is by the amount of milk per unit of the baby’s weight. Researchers estimated the following amounts based on numerous other studies (Arcus-Arth 2005).

Table: Milk Intake Each Day by Weight

E) Newborn milk intake

Newborns are particularly at risk of not taking in enough milk and starving or developing other complications, including jaundice and low blood sugar levels.

Given how important early milk intake is, it is surprising that there is so little research that to tell us how much milk a newborn should take in (Bergman 2013). Therefore, worrying about the actual amount of milk taken may be less helpful than other ways of assessing a baby’s milk intake.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol estimated an average intake per feed for babies up to four days of age (Kellams 2017).

Table: Average Newborn Milk Intake by Feed (Kellams 2017)

Hours after birth

Intake (ml/feed)

Intake (oz/feed)

First 24

2-10

1/15-⅓

24-48

5-15

⅙-½

48-72

15-30

½-1

72-96

30-60

1-2

 

F) Premature babies

The amount of milk a premature baby needs is based on the baby’s weight. A common amount is 150 millilitres/kilogram/day (2.3 U.S. fl oz/lb/day). This may be adjusted by health-care providers depending on how fast the baby is growing and their health and ability to tolerate milk feeding.  

References

Arcus-Arth A, Krowech G, Zeise L. Breast milk and lipid intake distributions for assessing cumulative exposure and risk. J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol. 2005 Jul;15(4):357-65
 
Bergman NJ. Neonatal stomach volume and physiology suggest feeding at 1-h intervals. Acta Paediatr. 2013 Aug;102(8):773-7
 
da Costa TH, Haisma H, Wells JC, et al. How much human milk do infants consume? Data from 12 countries using a standardized stable isotope methodology. J Nutr. 2010 Dec;140(12):2227-32
 
Daly SE, Owens RA, Hartmann PE. The short-term synthesis and infant-regulated removal of milk in lactating women. Exp Physiol. 1993 Mar;78(2):209-20
 
Dewey KG, Heinig MJ, Nommsen LA, et al. Maternal versus infant factors related to breast milk intake and residual milk volume: the DARLING study. Pediatrics. 1991 Jun;87(6):829-37
 
Hennart P, Delogne-Desnoeck J, Vis H, et al. Serum levels of prolactin and milk production in women during a lactation period of thirty months. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1981 Apr;14(4):349-53
 
Hester SN, Hustead DS, Mackey AD, et al. Is the macronutrient intake of formula-fed infants greater than breast-fed infants in early infancy? J Nutr Metab. 2012;2012:891201

Kellams A, Harrel C, Omage S, et al. ABM Clinical Protocol #3: Supplementary Feedings in the Healthy Term Breastfed Neonate, Revised 2017. Breastfeed Med. 2017 May;12:188-198
 
Kent JC, Mitoulas L, Cox DB, et al. Breast volume and milk production during extended lactation in women. Exp Physiol. 1999 Mar;84(2):435-47
 
Kent JC, Mitoulas LR, Cregan MD, et al. Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day. Pediatrics. 2006 Mar;117(3):e387-95
 
Khan S, Hepworth AR, Prime DK, et al. Variation in fat, lactose, and protein composition in breast milk over 24 hours: associations with infant feeding patterns. J Hum Lact. 2013 Feb;29(1):81
 
Onyango AW, Receveur O, Esrey SA. The contribution of breast milk to toddler diets in western Kenya. Bull World Health Organ. 2002;80(4):292-9
 
Saint L, Smith M, Hartmann PE. The yield and nutrient content of colostrum and milk of women from giving birth to 1 month post-partum. Br J Nutr. 1984 Jul;52(1):87-95
 
Santoro W Jr, Martinez FE, Ricco RG, et al. Colostrum ingested during the first day of life by exclusively breastfed healthy newborn infants. J Pediatr. 2010 Jan;156(1):29-32
 
Scott J, Davey K, Ahwong E, et al. A Comparison by Milk Fee ding Method of the Nutrient Intake of a Cohort of Australian Toddlers. Nutrients. 2016 Aug 16;8(8)