Or why you don’t have to have one as large as you think!
Updated February 2nd 2023
When I gave birth to my son and started breastfeeding, I felt like I was supposed to be storing milk. No one explicitly told me to do this. I just thought it was something you did. I saw other moms on social media storing loads of breastmilk in the freezer. So I thought I needed to be doing that to.
The problem though, was that my son was tongue tied and it was creating a low supply. I was pumping on top of feeding at the breast and my son was drinking it all! PLUS we needed to supplement with formula until my supply increased. Because of this, there was no way I was going to be able to save any milk. If you want to know how I turned my supply around, keeping reading.
My reality was though, I was going to be home for the next 50 weeks as I live in Canada so there really wasn’t a urgent back-to-work need for me to store milk. I did however feel societal pressures (largely from social media) and let’s be honest, a lack of proper prenatal education.
Having a freezer stash seems to be something on every new parents mind. I work with many parents who ask about freezer stashes in our first consult which is usually in the first 3 weeks after delivery even when these parents live in Canada with long maternity leaves.
Even if you’re returning to work quickly (to anyone in the US or anywhere with a short maternity leave) you still don’t need a huge stash. You may be thinking there’s no way this applies to you and that you do in fact need a large supply in the freezer but I’m going to share with you why you may need less than you think.
Creating the stash
In order to create a freezer stash in the first place, and keep your baby exclusively breastmilk fed, you have to have an oversupply. Between 1-6 months old, a breastfed baby consumes an average of 3-5 oz each feeding. That’s it assuming they are eating 8-12 times in 24 hours. The volume does not need to go up because your body is constantly changing the nutritional composition! This averages to around 25-30 oz per 24 hours. To store milk on top of this, you need to be producing more than this number.
This would require pumping on top of feeding at the breast to tell your body to make more milk. This means washing, sterilizing and drying pump parts as well as bottles. In addition you may also need to be warming milk before feedings. You might be realizing at this point how much extra work it is to store milk on top of exclusively breastfeeding your baby.
That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, I just want to you think about your situation to help determine if you really need a freezer stash.
But what about the haakaa?
If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, that’s ok! The Haakaa is a brand name of a silicone pump. It can be used while your baby is feeding often for the purpose of collecting the milk let-down on the opposite side. While in theory, it sounds like a great way to collect milk for storage, I need to caution around this type of use. If there are concerns over your supply or your baby’s weight gain, the Haakaa (or other silicone pump) should not be used while your baby is feeding.
Because it is still a pump, there is a continuous suction that can remove beyond just the initial let-down. When the time comes for baby to feed on that side, you have now removed milk they need to eat to grow. If this milk is going into storage and not going back to baby, it can impact their weight gain. There’s some more info about this kind of pump here. It’s use, just like anything else related to your feeding journey should be individualized.
Creating a stash for back to work
One option is to pump after the first nursing session in the morning and store whether you collect, even if it’s half an ounce. The volume will add up over time and after several days of doing that consistently, you’ll begin to produce more.
Now, if you are returning to work after a short period of time (such as a few months) I highly recommend working with a lactation consultant. Ideally you’d want to work with them 2-4 weeks before returning to work to create a plan for collecting milk. Once you have 1-2 work days worth stored, the pumping you’ll do away from your baby provides milk for the next day.
I want to point out the 1-2 days worth is not 50-60oz because you’re still going to breastfeed your baby when you’re with them. The stored milk is to be used by the care provider while you’re away from your baby during the day. This could be 8-12 oz per day (keep reading to find out why).
And just like that, you don’t need to have 50oz in the freezer before returning to work! I hope you’re already feeling less anxious about creating a large supply.
Tips & things to consider when creating a freezer stash:
If you’re returning to work or spending a long day away from your baby, you should plan for 1-1.5oz for every hour baby is away from you. So, for an 8 hour work day that’s anywhere from 8-12 oz which could be 2-4 feedings depending on your baby. This means you may only need to collect an extra 3-4 ounces (or one feeding) per day as you build your storage supply.
It’s helpful to freeze in 2-4 ounce portions as well as 1oz portions. Just like adults, a baby’s appetite is not the same day to day. Some feedings they’ll drink more than others. Rather than always freezing 4 oz and possibly having to (gasp!) throw some away, storing in smaller portions will reduce any waste.
In order to maximize and make the most of the milk you collect, consider thinking about the following questions:
Can you nurse your baby when you drop them off with the caregiver? *If you exclusively pump this option won’t apply and you may be someone who does benefit from a larger frozen stash – always a great reason to work with a lactation consultant.
Can you nurse upon pick up? Of course, if you’re not the one picking up your baby, this won’t apply. Everyone’s situation is unique.
Are you close enough to go nurse on your lunch?
Being able to do any one of these things would reduce the amount of milk you have to leave. Reducing the amount of milk you have to leave, reduces how much extra to have to pump and store.
The care provider should use paced bottle feeding to avoid over feeding. I hear many stories of parents who receive phone calls that their baby ate everything that was sent and to please send more. For a demo of what paced feeding looks like, check out my instagram reel below.
If you live in a country where you have a longer maternity and parental leave, the longer you’re with your baby, the less need for a large freezer supply.
But what if something “happens” ?
I hear this from parents all the time. They want milk “incase something happens”. In case something happens means different things to different people. If you’re having surgery for example, most medications are compatible with breastfeeding and once you’re alert after general anesthesia, you can safely breastfeed.
If you get sick, have a cold or are feeling under the weather you can safely continue to breastfeed your baby. Your body actually would have begun producing antibodies for your baby long before you even felt symptoms. You’ll feel rundown so I always encourage as much rest as possibly and drink plenty of fluids but there’s no need to have to have a supply in the freezer for a situation like this one.
If you’re still thinking about how this post started out and wondering what I did to increase my supply, you can get all the tools and techniques I used HERE.
I hope you’re feeling much less anxious now about having to pump and store large volumes of milk. Focus on feeding your baby first, not the freezer and work with a professional when it does come time to head back to work or be separated from your baby.
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Campbell, S.H., Lauwers, J., Mannel, R., & Spencer, B. (2019). Core Curriculum for interdisciplinary lactation care. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Newman, J. & Pitman, T. (2014). Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.