Most moms, myself included, seem to think that you need this crazy amount of milk stored in the freezer (especially if returning to work)… You hear other moms talk about the 1,000 ounces they have saved and you are feeling like you are really behind on your game.
Well, let me share something with you that I have learned after working with various lactation consultants and preparing myself to go back to work: You don’t need 1,000 ounces.
Let me explain why.
There is a fine line between needing a freezer stash to get ahead to be prepared for when you need to leave your baby and using the freezer stash to supplement.
If you think back to breastfeeding basics, then you know that nursing is a supply and demand act. When your baby nurses more often, your body responds by making more milk. On the flip side, when you nurse less often, your body makes less milk.
When you start using a freezer stash in place of nursing or pumping sessions, you are telling your body that you no longer need that amount of milk and your supply will start dropping. Still with me?
So let’s say you are a working mom and your baby goes to daycare for 10 hours a day. Baby eats 4 ounces every 3 hours so they need 12 ounces while you are at work. If you are tapping into a freezer stash for one of those bottles and only pump 8 ounces while working, then your body has no idea it needs to produce the extra 4 ounces.
So you can see how this cycle happens and why moms start struggling with their supply.
The best thing to do is to address the real issue at hand which is having a low supply.
The Right Way to Use a Freezer Stash
So, how do you use a freezer stash without sacrificing your milk supply?
The purpose of a freezer should be for two purposes:
- To have enough milk for the first day back to work or during a time you leave your baby.
- For emergencies. Often times your supply can dip if you get sick, which is temporary, but it is a good idea to have milk on hand just in case. Also breastfeeding on certain medications is not deemed safe and therefore a freezer stash would come in very handy. There are also times where you may need to leave your baby with a sitter unexpectedly and having a stash on hand takes a lot of stress off.
**Remember that any time you use milk from your freezer stash, you need to replace that “feeding” by pumping to ensure your body knows to continue to produce the same amount your baby is taking. Missing a feeding once every so often probably won’t do any harm but it’s good practice to always pump to replace it.**
Again, your freezer stash should not be used to replace feedings where you are not pumping in its place. Your supply will suffer and you will be on the supplementing-crazy train, which can be hard to get off of.
How to Build a Freezer Stash
Okay now to the good stuff… How the heck do you build a freezer stash when you have a hungry baby to nurse?
This is a question I get from readers fairly often.
I can tell you that when I was preparing to go back to work after having my first baby, this panicked me. I had no idea where to start. My nearly four-month-old baby always seemed hungry and I felt I could barely keep up with his demand much less pump extra for a freezer stash.
Well, let me assure you it is possible!
Here is what I found worked best to get those extra ounces:
1 – Start Several Weeks In Advance
If you are returning to work, it is best to start building your stash several weeks before your return date. If you have been exclusively breastfeeding or pumping and only meeting what baby needs, then you need to give your body some time to adjust to pumping some extra.
It can take some time so don’t get discourage if you don’t see the ounces piling up in your freezer right away. So starting early is the key. It will also mean you feel less pressure and stress.
2 – Take Advantage of Your Morning Supply
If you have been nursing for any length of time, then you probably have realized that your supply is most abundant in the mornings. This is a great time to pump and can add some valuable ounces to your stash.
You can go at this a few different ways depending on your schedule:
- Nurse your baby first and then pump – I did this most mornings. This is a great way to not only get a few extra ounces but also to tell your body to make more milk. Rarely did my baby drain my breasts completely in the mornings so I always had a little extra to spare. After nursing your baby, pump for about 20 minutes even if nothing comes out.
- Nurse your baby on one side while pumping the other side – If I was pressed for time, this was a great option to knock out my morning feed and pump for my stash. If you block feed (nurse from one side only per feeding) this is the way I would go about pumping. The best way to accomplish pumping while nursing is to use a nursing bra that doubles as a pumping bra so you can pump hands-free. Nursing while pumping also will lead to a stronger letdown so if you struggle to pump, give this a try!
- Pump one side before baby wakes up and then nurse your baby on the other side later – This is not something I often did since my babies were early risers so I typically got up with them. But if you get up before your baby and need to have that extra time, you can opt to pump one side and once your baby wake, feed on the other side. Just as effective and lets you have some control if you are pressed for time.
3 – Add an Evening Pumping Session
I would say the evenings were the time I felt my supply was the lowest. You may find after returning to work that your baby is attached to you the second you walk in the door. So I pretty drained by bedtime.
It is important to know that your body is always producing milk. Many moms believe that their breasts become empty after nursing but research tells us that is not the case. Your body doesn’t stop producing milk. Breastfeeding just turns on the faucet so to speak. The faster you let the milk out (through nursing or pumping) the faster your body replaces.
So you are never truly empty. So adding an evening pumping session is a great time for the cause of building a supply because by demanding more from your body, you are asking your body to quickly ramp up and produce more milk.
I typically added this pumping session right after my baby went to bed for the night. Again, pump for about 20 minutes even if nothing comes out.
4 – Pump After Each Nursing Session
In most cases adding a session to the morning and night, should be sufficient to get a few ounces a day to freeze. I don’t typically recommend that you pump much more than that as you don’t want to create a huge oversupply as that can lead to other issues like engorgement, clogged ducts, and mastitis. Yuck.
BUT if you find yourself in need of a supply boost, a great way to help your production along is to pump for 15-20 minutes after your nurse your baby. This again, tells your body that it needs to kick production up a notch. You should only do this until your supply comes back up. Trust me, dealing with engorgement issues is NOT worth it!
How to Store Pumped Milk
This is another common question I get about building a freezer stash. The root of the question stems from not wanting to freeze tiny quantities of milk since you likely won’t pump more than an ounce or so each pumping session to start with…
Here are some options for storing the pumped milk for your freezer stash:
- Milk should be stored 1-4 ounce per container to avoid waste
- Combine Milk from multiple pumping sessions – Milk may be combined from different pumping sessions from different days. You need to first refrigerate the milk. You CANNOT add warm milk to cooled milk or cooled milk to frozen milk. They need to be the same temperature. So cool the milk first and combine the milk together until you have the desired number of ounces to freeze. Then pop it in the freezer. You need to use the date of the oldest milk as the date for the milk to be used by.
- Try using ice cube trays – Ice cubes are about one ounce each and make a perfect (and cheap) way to freeze your milk. You can freeze, then pop the cubes into a ziplock bag. Remember to label the milk using the oldest milk’s date as an expiration/use by date. If you use wide neck bottles, then a standard ice cube tray would be fine (you need to find one that is food safe with no BPA or dyes). If you use standard neck bottles or just need a safe brand to use, my favorite is Milkies Milk Trays. They make one-ounce sticks that make slipping into any sized bottle a breeze. You can read about them here.
Use a feeding system – If you pump and work, having a system that you can pump, store, and feed your baby from the same bag is a huge timesaver (money saver too). I used the Kiinde Twist system with my second baby. I often get asked what the best way to go about combining milk is when you use a feeding system. Here’s the long and short, when building a stash, you are not pumping a ton. I opted to pump into a regular pump bottle, cool the milk in the refrigerator, and then combine into one of the feeding system bags to freeze. The reason being is I didn’t want to waste one of the Kiinde bags on half an ounce, you know? The feeding system is great for pumping sessions like when you return to work or pump exclusively but I would stick to pumping into a standard pump bottle when building a stash so you don’t waste a bag. Make sense? But I would still freeze in the feeding system bag so you are ready when you need to feed!
(Related: Want more info on how to store breastmilk and what is safe? Can you use offer a bottle later if your baby didn’t finish? Find out by clicking here!)
Returning to Work
After returning to work, you can continue with your extra pump sessions in the morning and night for a few weeks or so. That way you can gauge if you are getting enough time to pump while at work to meet the demand of what your baby eats while you are away.
If you are like me, then you probably have a ton of questions about returning to work. Here are some additional resources to get you through:
- View a Sample Pumping Schedule for Work – Find out what time to pump during an 8 or 12-hour shift, for how long, how often, etc!
- How Much Milk Does a Breastfed Baby Need – Need to know how much to send per bottle? Find out!
- Timesaving Tips for Pumping at Work – Find out how to pump enough on limited time!
- How to Talk to Your Employer About Pumping at Work – What should you say?
- Find more on our working and pumping page!
Returning to work can be stressful so preparing early is key. You can keep up with your baby but it may take some extra effort in the beginning. Find what works for you and as always, if you have any questions, drop me a comment below! We are in this together!