You are going back to work in a few weeks time.
You are excited to meet your colleagues.
Yet, feeling frustrated and overwhelmed about all the things you need to prepare.
You want to start pumping to build a stash, but you got so many questions to begin with.
When should I pump?
How long to pump?
How much EBM should I have?
Would my baby still gets enough milk if I pump in addition to nursing him?
And so on…
But rest assured.
This post will help you to understand:
- the role of your breast milk stash
- various school of thoughts about how to prepare your stash
- when to squeeze pumping sessions while breastfeeding
- and finally, a guide to choosing the most suitable method for you and execute it.
First of all, what is your freezer stash for?
Well, It’s for baby’s feeding during your first day of returning to work.
Assuming you are able to express enough milk to meet your baby’s demand daily, you won’t need to worry about what baby drinks on the second day (because you’ve pumped enough milk during day 1 at work to be given at day 2) and so on.
But, taking into consideration the stress level of first days of work, emergency in case of spilling etc, it would be safer to have a 3-day worth of milk stash (for feeding times when you’re away at work).
If you know how long your typical business trip would last for (say 1 week), then it is better to save 1-week worth of milk stash (note that you need to take into account all the feedings in 24 hours since you won’t be home in the evening).
What if I don’t pump enough milk at work?
I mean, of course, I trust you that you’ll do your best to spare enough time to pump at work.
But let’s get real.
Often, you caught up on work, you get too busy such that you forgot to pump.
Or you get a higher workload such that you can’t afford to pump as often as your baby regular feedings.
This is why some moms opt to have a much much bigger milk stash.
As a safety net, to give them enough warranty that their babies would still get enough breast milk in case their pumping plan does not work out as they wished.
As a result, they are aiming for a much more bigger stash (say, one month reserve, 3-month, or even more).
Use this freezer stash calculator to calculate exactly how much stash do you need and design your pumping plan to meet your goal.
How much breast milk stash should I have?
As said before, it depends on your plan.
You can have as low as three-day worth of reserve or as much as one-month stash (or even more) as how you feel comfortable.
Now, let’s convert it to ounces.
The general rules is:
One ounce if he still nurses through the night, and 1.5 ounces if he already sleeps through the night (source: kellymom.com).
Now, how long will you be away at work?
Let me give you an example.
My working hour is 8.30 am – 6 pm.
But I need additional time for commuting (40 minutes each) and pumping right after work (30 mins). That makes me away from my baby for roughly 11.5 hours.
During the day she would need around 11.5 hours x 1.5 oz = 17.25 oz
If I want to follow plan A, I need 3-day stash and therefore need to have about 3×17.25= 51.75 oz of milk stash.
If I am on plan B and wants to have, say 1-month stash, then I will need 20 day* x 17.25 oz = 345 oz of milk stash.
*One month has roughly 20 working days. Saturday and Sunday are excluded here.
When should I start pumping?
It depends on what do you want.
If you are on plan A, you can start as late as 4 weeks before returning to work, pumping once a day in the morning and you’ll get a decent stash the moment you start working.
But if you are on plan B, most pumping moms would suggest starting as early as possible.
Some even started pumping after giving birth in the hospital.
This may sound extreme, but it’s real.
What’s the reason?
The milk production is calibrated within the first two weeks postpartum and in that period, your breast is busy producing milk-making cell to meet your baby demand.
After these two weeks (which is also known calibration phase), your breast will stop producing milk-making cell and your milk production will stabilize to meet your baby’s demand.
Kellymom has a great graphics that illustrate how your milk production looks like in these early weeks. Check it out here.
If you start pumping during this phase (in addition to nursing your baby), you will have a better chance of producing more milk making tissues in your breast.
You will maintain an over-supply state and thus when your baby experiences a growth spurt or when your milk supply is slightly depleted, you won’t need to worry so much that your baby won’t get enough milk.
You still have a lot of reserves and more importantly, since your milk production was in over-supply state, slight decrease means it is still able to produce enough for baby’s feeding.
A quick note, though.
Oversupply moms are more prone to breastfeeding problems such as clogged ducts and mastitis.
They also tend to have a forceful let-down which babies dislike.
So, if you choose to pump early, watch out for possible oversupply problems.
Learn more about the ugly truth of breast milk oversupply here.
How to squeeze some pumping sessions into my daily routine?
Let’s talk about the bare minimum.
No matter which plan you use, you should utilize the golden hour of milk production, so pump early in the morning, after your baby’s first feed.
Don’t worry about the amount of pumped milk that you get.
You may only get 2 oz of milk in a single pumping session, and you only pump once in the morning every day.
But in 4 weeks, you will get 28 x 2 oz = 56 ounces of breast milk!
Hey, it even more than enough for the 3-day stash!
Easy to do, right!
Now, let me tell you that some moms even get more than 2 oz per pumping session.
I pray that you are one of them.
For these moms, it is even easier to prepare a 3-day stash in 3 weeks or so.
Now, what if you want more stash?
Simple, add more pumping sessions.
Here are your options:
(1) At night after your baby sleeps
You may get a lower amount of breast milk as compared to the morning, but don’t underestimate that. It all adds up together.
(2) In between your baby’s nap time.
PS: if your baby naps in irregular intervals, pump as early as right after you manage put your baby down.
Once your baby has fallen to a nap time routine (say one hour nap), you can aim to pump at half of the nap stretch.
E.g.: If it is an hour nap, aim to pump at the 30-minute mark.
From my experience, a typical newborn takes a nap (with slightly longer stretch) at least twice daily, as so you can aim for 1 or 2 nap-time pumping daily.
Let’s stop for a while here and take a deep breath…
I want to tell you something important when building your milk stash.
Even if you are only collecting 10 ml (0.3 oz) per nap-time pumping / night-time pumping, if you add it all together: 2 nap-time pumping at 0.3 oz each + 1 night-time pumping at 0.3 oz = ~ 1 oz.
Hey, you already get 1 extra ounce daily (not taking into account your morning pump!).
In 4 weeks, those extra ounces add up to 28 extra ounces, isn’t that great?
Now, add your morning pump, in total, you’ll get 84 ounces of breast milk!
Note that in this calculation, we use a fairly minimum pumping amount, which I believe, most of you will be able to exceed that!
Now let’s explore some other pumping options.
(3) Pump while nursing.
I love doing this when my baby was a newborn.
It takes less time (compared with if you pump and nurse separately).
You may not get much in one nursing / pumping session, but if you do this consistently throughout the day, you will get a decent milk stash in no time.
Case study 1:
One of my friends solely used this method to build up her milk stash.
In one nursing session, she managed to express around 10-20 ml.
Let’s take the average to simplify the maths, make it 15 ml or ~0.5 oz per nursing session.
By diligently pumping in 8 nursing sessions throughout the day (which is a very typical number of total daily nursing sessions), she managed to get 8 x 0.5 oz= 4 oz in 1 day.
After one month, she managed to save 30 x 4 oz = 120 oz of breast milk stash!
Enough for 7-day reserve!
Case study 2:
My other friend used solely Haakaa breast pump while nursing her baby. Within 6 weeks postpartum, she collected 20 bags of frozen breast milk. Literally with no effort because you just need to stick Haakaa (no squeezing, no button etc).
(4) Pump in the middle of the night
Still want more pumped milk?
A lot of moms swears by MOTN (middle of the night) pumping.
Do you feel that your boobs are hard like rocks when you wake up in the morning?
That’s because we have our highest milk production occurring in the wee hours and early morning.
If your baby already sleeps through the night or only does comfort nursing, it may be better if you could wake up and pump in the wee hour to maintain your milk production.
TIPS: use a silent breast pump with a night light, such as Spectra S1, to make pumping more comfortable.
(5) Pump on a 2-3 hour schedule.
This may sound extreme, but some moms do set a 2-3 hourly reminder to pump milk.
Every time their pumping alarm goes off, they would pump, not a single session is missed.
If the baby is hungry at the same time, they would pump and nurse simultaneously.
As a result, they have a gigantic amount of freezer stash.
Don’t be surprised if they have a chest freezer full of pumped milk, say, like 1000 oz in total, or even more.
This method may be good if you need to build up your milk supply from the start.
But as I mentioned earlier, you will have an oversupply and may be more prone to having mastitis and clogged ducts if you didn’t pump regular enough.
Another thing is, you may feel that for the entire day you’re just nursing and pumping and the cycle goes on and on, which can be very tiring.
But for some moms, they look at it as a sense of accomplishment for their hard work in providing breast milk for their babies, especially once they have achieved their breastfeeding goal.
Will my baby get enough breast milk if I pump in addition to nursing?
When you start pumping, you may notice that your baby may nurse longer and can be a little bit fussier than usual.
That’s totally fine and is a signal to your breast to produce even more milk to fulfill the baby’s need and the pumping as well.
Remember the golden rule of milk production:
The emptier the breast, the faster the milk production is.
Conversely, the fuller the breast, the slower the milk production is.
However, not all babies are the same.
Some babies may be less patient than others, and get cranky easily when he doesn’t immediately get the milk that he needs.
In this case, you may try to see if pumping only one side (and reserve the other side to nurse the baby later) may work.
Or, you can limit the duration of your pumping session, so that your baby still gets some milk while waiting for the rest to be produced at the time he nurses.
If you have a history of low milk supply, you may want to monitor baby’s weight gain as you add pumping to your daily routine.
As much as we want to have enough stash, our baby’s development is still on our higher priority list, and thus, we should make sure our pumping routine does not make him losing the opportunity to get enough breast milk from us.
How long should you pump?
Well, different moms have different routines.
You can start pumping for 10 minutes, and gradually increase to 15-20 minutes.
Some moms pump longer than that (e.g. 30 minutes, or even 1 hour), and some pump faster (5 minutes).
Some don’t rely on exact timing, but prefer to rely on how many let-downs she attempts during a single session. Say, for morning pump, I aim for 2 let-downs, which translates to 10-15 minutes pumping.
Really, it depends on which part of the day you are pumping, whether you are in a rush to take care of the baby, and so on.
Establishing Your Pumping Routine
Now that you have learned possible ways to squeeze in pumping sessions to your daily routine, I want you to look at your current routine.
Here are some questions to help:
- When is the time when your baby is most content (or in longest deep sleep)? If your baby is like mine, the most peaceful time is in the morning, and that’s why morning pump is the easiest to do.
- Does your baby has a predictable nap routine so that you can squeeze in some pumping while he naps?
- Have you ever tried pumping and nursing at the same time to see if your baby gets bothered by the pumping noise? If not, you may get a better luck in doing pump and nurse simultaneously.
- Does your baby sleep through the night, so that you can wake up without disturbing his night nursing routine?
By answering these questions, you will have a better understanding of how you are going to plan your pumping session.
If necessary, draft your plan, try it out, adjust as needed, and be consistent with it.
Use this freezer stash calculator to calculate exactly how much stash do you need and design your pumping plan to meet your goal.
Excess lipase issue: Test this before you build up your stash
Have you ever heard a story about a mom need to throw away (or donate) their frozen milk because it tastes so horrible that the baby won’t drink it?
That’s excess lipase issue.
Basically, the mother has higher lipase level in her body such that it will affect her expressed breast milk taste after refrigerating / freezing.
Is there anything I can do to avoid excess lipase in my body?
Unfortunately no, it is something that we can’t control.
How to identify excess lipase issue?
After pumping, mark down the date and time of expression and divide it into small quantities. Store some in the chiller and some in the freezer.
Taste your pumped milk after 2 hours, 4 hours, and in incremental 2 hours until 24 hours mark and beyond 24-hour mark and see if your milk has changed in taste. Do the same with the frozen milk (PS: Some moms tests in one-hour increment).
Here are some possible results…
Some mothers noticed the taste changes only after 24 hours and therefore the chilled milk can be fed to the baby at the next day without any treatment.
Some moms may notice that her chilled milk tastes okay while the frozen milk not.
Some moms noticed a change in taste as early as 2 hours after expression.
In this case, the expressed milk needs to be treated (before storing in the fridge) to avoid the horrible taste later on.
This is done by scalding the milk up to certain temperature for a few minutes. Here’s a handy step-by-step guide on how to do it with a bottle warmer. Super practical especially for working moms.
If you want to read further about excess lipase issue, Rebekah has a great little book that explains all things that you need to know. Check it out here or watch her on her video.
Storing your milk stash: a quick guideline
Now how are you going to handle your pumped milk?
You may have a few bottles of milk that you pumped throughout the day.
Here’s the guideline:
- You can combine milk from several pumping session, as long as they are within 24-hour window.
- Store them in a small amount (preferably just enough for a single feeding), e.g. 3-4 oz per bottle or breast milk bag.
- Label them with date and amount of milk (especially if you store different amount per bottle / bag) so that you can use the one with the oldest date first.
If you use a breast milk bags, lay them flat to freeze, and once frozen, you can stack them together in a shoe box / disposable loaf pan to maximize space.
If you use a breast milk storage bottles, freeze them vertically, and once frozen, combine a few bottles in a zip-lock bag so that you can stack them up against each other.
PS: If you are still wondering whether you should store your breast milk stash in bags or bottles, check out the detailed pros and cons of the two options here.
If you are still confused about how long frozen / chilled milk will stay good, check out this wonderful article about milk storage guidelines from Nancy Mohrbacher.
Create a stash journal
To keep yourself motivated, keep a simple sheet of pumped milk earning that you can stick onto your fridge door.
Every morning, as you combined EBM from all the pumping sessions, you can write down the date and the total amount of milk that you have achieved that day.
This way, it is also easier for you to track how much frozen-stash do you have, and what is the oldest date that you need to use soon.
From my experience, this list became very handy when I returned back to work, as I crossed off the stash that I have used so I know how much stash remained in the freezer.
(Nothing fancy here, just a hand-written note, but enough to keep my motivation up).
Now, we all love reading real stories, don’t we?
So, to further pump you up, I have compiled a few freezer stash building stories (complete with what they did to get that amount of stash).
Let’s dive in!
- How I stockpile 266 oz breast milk – my own story
- How I built ~300 oz breast milk stash even though I only pumped 0.5-1 oz per session (very inspiring!)
- How I pumped a freezer stash of 1000 oz breast milk – JD’s story
- How to build your breast milk freezer stash: 1500+ oz – Krystal’s story
- Tips on building a breast milk stash: 1300+ oz and more – Adrianne’s story
- How I built 100+ oz freezer stash during my maternity leave – Meghan’s story
- How to built a breast milk freezer stash -224+ oz – Ibsen’s story
- Building 200+ oz freezer stash – Jenn’s story (excess lipase found later)
Lastly, I want you to know that each mom has a unique perspective and preference when it comes to building a breast milk stash.
Some are fine with a minimal amount of stash, while other prefers a much bigger amount.
Also, a pumping method that works for someone may not work for you and vice versa.
So, never compare what you get and how you do it with others.
And always remember, no matter how much freezer stash you have, you are doing a labor of love for your baby!
Be proud of yourself!
If you enjoy this post, please share! Let others get the benefit too.
PS: You may also be interested in this >> 30+ Pumping Hacks for Working Moms.