When I went back to work, I had stashed about 300 ounces of breastmilk in my freezer. Admittedly, that’s way more than the average mama needs… but I tend to be an overachiever. 😉
In all seriousness, I – like many moms – was building a freezer stash of breastmilk for a whole bunch of reasons. I first started stashing milk so my husband could take the occasional feeding while I slept. I also like to stash some extra milk to minimize the stress of pumping enough those first few days back at work. And a freezer stash is a good safeguard against emergencies, like if I go on unsafe meds suddenly or get stuck away from baby longer than I expected.
So how did I do it?
Here is how I started building a freezer stash of breastmilk:
I collected little bits early on
Since the first few weeks of breastfeeding are critical to establishing your supply, I wouldn’t stress about building your freezer stash just yet. That said, there will be opportunities to collect a few ounces here and there even in those early days.
I was blessed/cursed with an oversupply, so even before we left the hospital I found myself engorged with more milk than baby could possibly drink. Whenever I needed some relief, I would hand express or pump just an ounce or two- and those went straight into the freezer. I also noticed that when I was feeding baby, the other boob was soaking through a breast pad; instead of wasting that milk, I would use one of these nifty collection cups or these silicone pump thingies to collect it.
When baby dropped a night feed, I pumped instead
If you got one of those babies who drops a night feeding early on, it might make sense to replace it with a middle of the night pump instead. This does two things: first, it helps maintain your supply so you don’t suddenly see a dip in production, and secondly, it helps build up your backup stash! Yes, it totally sucks to wake up at 2am and attach yourself to a pump while the rest of your house snoozes peacefully, but it’s worth it in the long run to collect anywhere from 20-50 extra ounces a week. I did this from about 3 weeks old to 6 weeks old, when I felt like my supply had regulated enough that I could trust my body to go that long night stretch and not be affected.
When my supply regulated, I added in a daily pump
After I dropped the middle of the night pump and started getting some blissful sleep, I added in a day pump. Milk production is highest during the early morning hours, so most mamas opt to pump right after the first feeding of the morning. For me, that means I feed the baby, get her down for a nap, take a shower and then pump before getting dressed for the day. While I started doing this daily pump pretty early, I would think starting 2-3 weeks before your return date should be sufficient to build a little stash.
I added extra mini-pumps a week or two before returning
When I went back to work with my first baby, my supply dropped pretty significantly after a few days. I think it’s just the body being a little confused and getting used to all the new pumping combined with added work stress. This time around, I’m trying to prepare for that by adding some extra ounces in these last couple weeks of maternity leave. Whenever baby is done nursing, I use my manual pump to just get an ounce or so from each boob. Since I’m using the manual pump, I just plop the whole thing in the fridge between feeding so I don’t fuss with cleaning it every time. This is getting me some extra milk I can use if and when my supply dips, only takes 5 minutes and doesn’t exacerbate my oversupply.
I got organized starting from the get-go
Starting with the very first bit of milk you add to the freezer, get your storage plan in place and stick with it. For me that meant storing milk in a mix of two and four ounce portions, labeling each bag with the date and the amount, laying the bags flat to freeze, and then stacking the bags in large ziplock “bricks” with the date range and total ounces written on them. This makes it easy to count how many ounces you’ve got, and maximizes freezer storage space.
Pumpin’ ain’t easy and it’s definitely a labor of love, so even if you’ve only got 10 ounces in your freezer give yourself a HUGE pat on the back, mama! And when you’re ready to return to work, check out this post for my tips and tricks for making pumping at work just a little bit easier.