Comprehensive guide to breast milk storage capacity: tips and best practices

Comprehensive guide to breast milk storage capacity: tips and best practices

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There are so many little things to learn about breastfeeding that it can sometimes begin to feel overwhelming! One of the many questions mums may have is regarding their breast milk storage capacity. 

We spoke with Ashleigh Foy, IBCLC, midwife, registered nurse and ABA breastfeeding counsellor to understand what storage capacity is, why it matters and how it impacts breastfeeding. The ability to produce breast milk is so individual from mum to mum. All breasts are different and their ability to produce breast milk can be different based on their storage capacity. That’s why understanding it can help tailor a successful breastfeeding experience for you and your baby.  

What is breast milk storage capacity? 

Breast milk storage capacity is the amount of milk available in the breasts when they are at their fullest. Contrary to popular belief, this capacity is not dictated by the size of the breasts but by the space available in the milk-secreting glandular tissue. 

 Estimating a mother's milk storage capacity by breast size is impossible. Each mother has a unique amount of fatty tissue and milk-secreting glands. Studies show significant variability, with some mothers having as few as three milk lobules/ducts and others having as many as fifteen. 

How does storage capacity affect breastfeeding patterns? 

An example that Ashleigh uses to help explain breastmilk storage capacity is as follows: There are two mothers with babies of the same age with an established milk supply. One mother can store 75ml of milk per breast, while the other can store 150ml. Both babies consume approximately 750ml of milk per day. The mother with a lower storage capacity will need to breastfeed more frequently to meet her baby's needs, while the mother with a higher capacity can feed less often. 

Both babies receive the necessary milk for growth and development, but their feeding patterns differ. Problems can arise when mothers are given generalised advice, such as breastfeeding eight times in 24 hours or following specific feeding and sleep routines that do not account for these differences. A mother with lower capacity following this advice may end up with a hungry baby and a decreased milk supply because the breasts are not emptied frequently enough to stimulate production. 

Mothers with higher storage capacity have more flexibility in their feeding schedules, while those with lower capacity need to feed more frequently to avoid breast fullness and maintain milk production. Typically, babies feed 8-12 times in 24 hours, and frequent milk removal in the early weeks is essential for sustaining milk production in the long term. Ashleigh shares,  

“the best advice a new mother can follow is to be responsive to their baby's feeding cues.” 

Can you increase storage capacity? 

While it's not possible to significantly increase storage capacity, it does not impact overall milk production. There is some suggestion that storage capacity can increase with subsequent pregnancies as more glandular tissue develops. It's important to remember that your milk storage capacity does not affect your ability to successfully breastfeed; it only impacts how often your baby will need or want to feed. 

Understanding and adapting to storage capacity 

As milk storage capacity varies, it emphasises the importance of personalised care and understanding your baby's needs. Trusting your body's ability to nurture your baby and seeking support when needed are essential to a successful breastfeeding experience. Whether your storage capacity is high or low, with the right approach, you can ensure your baby's needs are met. 

By understanding and adapting to your breast milk storage capacity, you can create a feeding pattern that works best for you and your baby. Monitoring your baby's feeding cues, feeding on demand, and being aware of nappy output (ensuring plenty of wet and dirty nappies) Ashleigh points out are key indicators of a healthy breastfeeding relationship. If you have any concerns about milk supply, professional assistance can provide personalised, evidence-based solutions. 

Breast milk storage capacity highlights the uniqueness of each mother's breastfeeding journey. Understanding and adapting to your own capacity can help you create a feeding pattern that ensures your baby's growth and development. Trust in your body's ability to nurture your baby and seek support when needed. With the right approach, you can enjoy a successful and fulfilling breastfeeding experience. 

By recognising and responding to your baby's needs, you can tailor a breastfeeding routine that works for both of you, ensuring your baby thrives and grows well. 


Other blogs you may find helpful: 

How to handle reverse cycling in breastfeeding: expert tips and advice

Understanding cluster feeding: Essential insights for breastfeeding success

Help – I think I have low milk supply!

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