Since before Olivia was born I knew I wanted to try to breastfeed her for as long as I was able to. After a little bit of formula in the hospital and a few tweaks in the early days, we turned a corner and have had a successful breastfeeding journey. I’m very thankful for that, and I’d like to continue providing for her after I return to work. I read a lot about pumping upon returning to work, and it’s something that I plan to do. In order to alleviate some of the pressure of producing enough, I’ve been building a freezer stash on my maternity leave.
Even though I went to a breastfeeding class at the hospital where the lactation consultant talked about how you really only needed a day or two’s worth of milk prepared to send to daycare on the first day back to work, I wanted to make sure that I had enough to last more than a day or two just in case the adjustment period to the pump caused any dip in my supply. I decided that I would start pumping during maternity leave to build a freezer stash as a back up in case I had trouble pumping enough for Olivia’s demands in the early days back to work.
I feel the need to say here that I tend to be a worrier and like to do anything that I can to prepare for things to go wrong. I don’t think that it’s absolutely necessary to build up a freezer stash during maternity leave, but I think it’s a nice comfort to know it’s there so there isn’t any added pressure while learning to get into the routine of pumping.
I have a bit over 100 ounces in my freezer right now and imagine I’ll get a few more pumps in before returning two weeks from today. I thought I’d share some some tips based on what I’ve learned from talking to friends paired with my experience. I’m not a lactation consultant or an expert, and I’d love to hear your tips in the comments if you do or did something differently.
Tips for building a breast milk freezer stash:
Don’t overpump in the first 5-6 weeks.
One of the things I learned in our breastfeeding class was that your supply begins to understand demand in the early weeks. I didn’t start pumping (besides our time in the hospital) until 6 or 7 weeks after Olivia was born because I didn’t want to end up with a huge oversupply. I didn’t need my body to think we were feeding twins. Some people pump at night if they have a good sleeper, but I wanted the sleep.
Pump during the morning nap.
I got this tip from Meghann when I was asking her about her freezer stash. Once Olivia started being put down for a morning nap I would pump during that window of time about an hour and a half since last feeding her. This is not fail proof. There were times she took forever going down and other times she’d wake up early from her nap. If she took a long time going down I would skip the pump that day because I knew she’d wake up shortly after and would need everything that I had.
If you give a bottle, leave the milk out for a bit.
I do this during many morning naps in case Olivia decides to cut the nap extremely short. If your baby is a consistent 2 hour nap in the morning baby, then first of all I’m jealous, and second of all you probably don’t need to do this. If she cuts the nap short and I just pumped a few minutes prior then I will have backup milk to give her. If she has settled down for a long nap, then I’ll bag it up and freeze it then. That said, your body will produce enough milk for your baby, but I alway did this to help me feel more confident that I had access to milk if Olivia got fussy and needed more milk than I could immediately provide.
Label your freezer bags.
I put the date, time, and amount in each bag on the label. This way I know the date by which I need to use it. Kellymom is a great resource on storage time and how to defrost and use the milk.
Pour the milk into freezer bags and store.
This opinion will vary, but most of the time I chose to store what I pumped immediately after pumping as long as I got over three ounces. If I got less than three ounces then I would put it in the refrigerator and wait until the following day and combine to make a larger bag. I know some people choose to store in the increments that their bags hold, but I normally store three, four, or five ounces at a time. I figure that I’ll pull what I need and the different amounts will make it work for me to get only the number of ounces that I’ll need for each day (my bags hold five ounces, but I’ll need more than ten ounces per day but less than 15).
Freeze so the oldest milk stays at the front and you’re using the oldest first.
So that you can cycle through your milk and not let any go to waste, you’ll want to put the newest milk in the back of the freezer so that you can access the oldest first. I haven’t dipped into my freezer stash, but once I go to work I plan to use freezer milk each Monday and freeze on Friday so that I can cycle the milk and make sure none of it goes to waste.
Don’t pump extra during growth spurts.
I can tell when Olivia is going through a growth spurt because she eats much more frequently and spends more time eating. I made the mistake of pumping during a growth spurt a month or so ago, and she spent the next little bit fussy because there wasn’t enough milk for her when she woke up from her nap.
Other times I’ve pumped.
In an ideal world I’d pump at every morning nap, but that’s just not realistic because a little baby doesn’t follow the same schedule every day. I have pumped at other times both to have milk for Tim to give to Olivia and to make extra milk to either make 3 ounce increments or because I knew I could get away with it without depriving her of what she needed each day.
When I’ve pumped and gotten extra milk:
- If Tim gives Olivia a bottle, I pump to replace the feeding and usually get more than three ounces to replace the three we gave to her.
- I’ve gotten a few plugged ducts, and if Olivia is unsuccessful in getting it out, I’ll pump after she eats to get out the plugged duct. The only way to get rid of a plugged duct is to feed and pump more, so I’ll store that milk.
- If Olivia has slept well and not fed as much at night (which hasn’t happened lately), she will sometimes only eat one side in the morning and doesn’t want more. I will then pump the other side and end up with quite a bit of milk to freeze.
- I use a hand pump sometimes if I can tell that Olivia didn’t empty one side..
Building a freezer stash is an art, not a science.
I hope you can tell from reading this that it’s an art, not a science. I used my maternal instinct to decide what mornings worked and didn’t and when I could pump later in the day and when I couldn’t. You’ll just be able to tell.
Ultimately I’m not an expert and don’t claim to be, but this is what has worked for me and why I’ve been doing it. I do believe that having this stash will make me feel less stressed about pumping at work when going back, because I know if my supply dips from the stress of adjusting to the return I’ll still be able to provide my milk for Olivia.
I would really love to hear what has and hasn’t worked for you in building a stash, as I’ll also be maintaining the stash when I go on summer break.
Did you find any of the things that I did didn’t work for you?