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Every breastfeeding mother on Pinterest seems to be able to produce hundreds of ounces of breastmilk that she hordes away in her deep freezer.
But what is the secret to building a milk stash? And can it be done during those precious weeks of maternity leave?
Don’t you worry. I’ll share the big secret with you and show you how to do it before you have to go back to work.
Why you need a milk stash
First of all, I’m just going to say it. There is absolutely no reason you need to have a freezer full of milk. Ok? So stop putting pressure on yourself to start lactating like Bessie the cow.
Sure you could say, “but what if something happens to me?!”
If something happens to you, your family will have bigger problems than what to feed baby.
Stressing over producing an abundance of milk can actually hinder your ability to produce. So, let’s stop worrying about it, shall we?
The main purpose of a stash is to provide a supply of milk for your baby that will keep for a long time. This is very handy if you’ll be away from baby for a while - whether for work, travel, or just an evening out.
It is also handy in case Grandma comes to visit and wants to feed baby.
As a nursing mom, you’ll want to have at least some milk stashed away just in case.
Drawbacks of a massive stash
Truth be told, having a great big stash of milk isn’t necessarily all that and a bag of chips.
Freezing breast milk actually damages the milk and lowers the quality as time goes on.
Frozen milk has significantly less fat and energy concentration than fresh milk (via this source).
This study showed a significant decrease in antioxidants as the breast milk aged, regardless if it was refrigerated or frozen - though frozen milk deteriorated much more quickly.
Another study noted that levels of vitamin C began to decline significantly as soon as the milk was expressed!
Finally, some frozen milk might undergo lypolysis. Basically, that’s a biological process that makes your frozen milk taste rancid! Fun right?
This means that, even if you plan to exclusively pump, it’s probably better to keep a fresh supply refrigerated instead of frozen in order to preserve as many bioactive components as possible!
Things you need to know before getting started
Ready to start pumping?
Not so fast mama. There's a few things you need to know before we get started. These are game-changers!
Don’t pump right away
There’s a lot of advice out there that promotes pumping immediately after birth.
As usual, I’m going to have to go against the grain on this one and say... no. That’s not really ideal.
This is why.
Your milk changes rapidly in those first couple weeks after birth. There are three primary phases, if you will: colostrum, transitional, and mature.
Your colostrum is packed with immunity boosting components (science geeks, these are secretory IgA, lactoferrin, leukocytes, and epidermal growth factors). Basically, awesome milky magic that helps your baby fight off infections and illness.
But... there is very little nutrition in it. This is why babies lose weight those first days, and why it’s normal and expected for them to do so. They packed on extra fat in that last month of your pregnancy to prepare for this.
Mature milk, on the other hand, is mostly lactose (milk sugar) and fat, with a small amount of protein. It is also full of vitamins and nutrients.
The high energy content of mature milk helps baby grow rapidly.
Obviously, transitional milk is what you produce between these two distinct milks, and is a progressive gradient between the two poles.
Now, if you start pumping right away, first of all, you’ll limit the immobenefits of your colostrum. Exposure to air and storage can deteriorate this milk.
You won’t get very much of it anyways!
You might be able to get a lot of transitional milk, but do you really want to save this stuff?
“Feeding an older baby transitional milk means providing her with less nutrition than she actually needs.”
- Our Happinest -
Past the newborn stage, baby’s body is developed past the need for colostrum, and craves the energy packed mature milk in order to feel full and happy. Feeding an older baby transitional milk means providing her with less nutrition than she actually needs.
Not ideal right?
It’s really best to wait at least two weeks before pumping for a stash so you’ve got good fatty milk. Your supply is totally in flux during this time, and you’ll be able to ramp up supply rapidly if you want to.
What time you pump matters
Did I mention that your milk actually changes for every feed? Unlike formula which is a constant stable mixture, mother’s milk is a biologically active compound.
It is SO awesome.
Your milk will change depending on your baby’s needs - whether he needs more of certain nutrients, higher levels of sugars or fats, or antibodies to fight off illness.
Another really cool thing it does? It boosts melatonin levels in the evenings, and lactose levels in the mornings. Melatonin is the hormone that tells your body that it’s time to sleep, and lactose is an energy packed sugar.
That means that milk you pump in the evenings will help baby sleep, and morning milk helps baby wake up!
How cool is that?!
If you really want to build a pro-level stash, you should make sure to write the date and TIME you pumped on your storage baggies. That way you don’t accidentally energize baby at night!
How to build a stash on maternity leave
So now you know the basics of what kind of milk you make and why. You know to store only mature milk and to mark the date and time on your baggies.
So how do you go about building your milk stash?
Well, you don’t need to pump like crazy first of all. Let’s be sane mama. Being a new mom is exhausting! Ain’t nobody got time for that!
What you want to do is pick a time of the day - either first thing in the morning, or last thing at night - and add in a full pumping session with both breasts.
If you really want to maximize, you can pump both morning and night.
The reason I suggest pumping late at night or early in the morning is because baby will likely be going down to sleep for the night. Ok not the WHOLE night (don’t you wish?), but for more than a cat nap hopefully.
You don’t want to pump before nursing, obviously because baby is going to need that milk. Pumping immediately after nursing won’t give you much milk to save and can lead to overproduction.
So, you just “add in a feed” so to speak. Baby gets her last nursing session and goes to sleep. Give your body about an hour, and then try the pump.
Or if you want to pump first thing in the morning, ideally you want to do it about an hour before baby will want her first feed.
Honestly, I sucked at waking up early, so I nursed first, then pumped the opposite breast only. You do what works for you.
Generally speaking, you will produce more milk in the morning, BUT remember that morning milk helps to wake baby up. So, strategize your pumping as needed.
How long should you pump for?
This will vary woman to woman, but typically 10-15 minutes is plenty of time.
You can estimate it will take about 1-2 minutes to trigger your let-down response, and then 5-10 minutes to drain your breasts.
Once the milk mostly stops flowing, or slows down a lot, you can stop. If you are making plenty of milk, you might want to stop once you have enough milk for two feeds (about 4 ounces per breast) instead of waiting to be empty.
Personally, I hated pumping and stopped after I had about 4-6 ounces, and I still have a massive stockpile of milk anyways.
Let’s do some quick math.
Say you wait two full weeks before you start to pump. You can barely make 3oz per breast when you pump.
“If you pump twice a day and get 6oz total per session, that’s 336 ounces you’d have stored up by the end of six weeks postpartum!”
- Our Happinest -
If you pump twice a day and get 6oz total per session, that’s 336 ounces you’d have stored up by the end of six weeks postpartum!
Not too shabby right?
Even pumping once a day, you’d have over a hundred ounces easily. It’s really not terribly hard to do IF you actually know how.
Storage best practices
In order to reduce waste, it’s best to store breastmilk in 2-4 ounce quantities.
Fresh milk can be stored at room temperature for about 4-6 hours. Just make sure to toss out any milk leftover in the bottle after a feed within two hours.
Breastmilk will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. The milk fat may separate some during this time.
While you definitely want to mix this back in, just remember not to shake the container! Strong agitation can damage a lot of the biological components in the milk.
Instead, simply rock the milk back and forth like a see-saw, until the fat is reincorporated. This will help preserve the quality of your breast milk as much as possible.
When you are pumping at work, make sure to keep this fresh milk refrigerated or in a cooler with ice packs until you can get it home. Save this fresh milk in your fridge to feed baby the next day in order to keep the nutrients as intact as possible.
If you are going to freeze your milk, make sure to do so in high-quality bags that are meant for breastmilk. Not only are these sterile, they are usually sealed up very well.
It would SUCK to have your milk leak all over the freezer.
I’ve used NUK bags for both of my babies and love them. They are inexpensive and easy to use. They’ve also never leaked on me.
Make sure to freeze your milk laying flat (versus standing up). It makes storing your milk so much easier this way, since you can easily stack the bag. It’s also much easier to defrost.
When defrosting or warming your milk, do not microwave it! Instead, fill a small bowl or wide mug with warm water, and set the bag of milk into it to warm up slowly.
Make sure the water isn’t much hotter than your body temperature. Scalding the milk severely damages its nutritional and immunological qualities.
You’ll want to use this defrosted milk within a couple hours and toss out the rest. Don’t try to freeze it again.
Because breast milk is so dang fragile, that’s why. All those bioactive components will break down ever further and make it not really worth drinking.
A final tip: make sure to label all your baggies with the date, time, and quantity of milk with a permanent marker before storing. If the milk will be going to daycare, make sure to also include your child’s name.
The secret to a great milk stash while on maternity leave
The big secret to getting an awesome stash is having an awesome pump.
If you are trying to make it work with a manual pump or some knockoff pump you found on Amazon, you’re going to have a hard time.
The thing is: pumping takes time. New mamas don’t have time.
You aren’t going to want to pump if the whole process takes 30+ minutes to do. Multiple complicated pump parts that need to be hand washed are the things of nightmares.
If you have a subpar pump, it won’t be able to stimulate a good let-down and it won’t be able to draw out milk as efficiently and effectively as a high end pump.
Nothing worse than sitting there for twenty minutes and only seeing a slow trickle of milk flowing the whole time.
If your breast pump is not mobile, you won’t be able to extract milk on the go, which tethers you to your baby. Or you’ll have to cower near an outlet attached to tubes and a machine. Sounds fun right?
Loud pumps can wake up your baby or your partner, and make the whole experience stressful.
Finally, not having a good pump could backfire and hinder your ability to produce enough milk for your baby.
That is seriously NO FUN.
I know high end pumps are pricey, but consider this. A breastfeeding mother saves about $3000 per year just by not buying formula.
The moral of the story is: don’t settle for less when it comes to your breast pump. It matters more than you think.
If you want to make pumping a quick and efficient process that is relatively stress-free and actually produces good quantities of milk, you need an awesome pump.
The leader of the pack here is the Spectra S1. It’s battery powered (option to plug in as well), easy to use, and powerful! Yes, you still have tubes and equipment to assemble, but most moms see amazing output with this super quiet pump.
If you want something SUPER EASY to use, you should spring for the Willow Pump.
You can pump directly into the bags, and many moms say that milk output is equal to the Spectra. Plus, there are no tubes or anything to fuss with and the pumps just slip into your bra -hands-free and fabulous!
I could rave about this thing forever.
The only drawback is that you have to buy their bags and most insurances won’t pay for the Willow.
A close competitor of the Willow is the Elvie. The main difference is that the suction isn’t as high and you don’t pump directly into bags. It’s still totally mobile and discreet, and can be at least partially covered by insurance.
If you would like to see which pump your insurance will cover, you can visit Aeroflow Breast Pumps to found out. They do all the work for you and have the widest selection I’ve seen. Plus their customer service is pretty great!
As an affiliate for Willow, I occasionally can snag exclusive deals for my readers. If you want to see if there are any current promotions, drop your email below and ask me!
Did this article help you? Is there anything I forgot to mention? Let me know in the comments!
You might also be interested in How to Nurse a Baby 101 and The Best Pumping Tips and Strategies. Also, if you are concerned about your milk supply, make sure to read How to Increase Your Milk Supply - The Ultimate Guide.