Last Updated on November 9, 2022 by Jada Glover
Are you returning to work after having a baby recently? I so get it, mama! So many mothers return to work just a few short weeks or months after having their baby.
It always seems too soon. You can never spend enough time with your newborn baby snuggling and nursing.
Sometimes the days may feel long, but the years are short. But, it is inevitable that you will be back at work, and that’s why I’m sharing with you how to build a breast milk supply stash while nursing.
You can start building up your freezer supply of breast milk a few weeks before you go back to work.
How Soon Should You Start Pumping For Your Freezer Stash?
Because it takes up to three months for your milk to regulate, you may see increases in your milk supply during this time. If you don’t need to return to work before 3 months, I suggest you don’t start pumping until your baby is at least 6-8 weeks of age.
This is because you want to establish a successful breastfeeding journey. The first several weeks (and even more so, the first several days) are so crucial. You and your baby are still learning about each other during the first few weeks.
You also don’t want to introduce any artificial nipple (like a bottle) or pacifier in the first few weeks. Feel free to read more about when to introduce a pacifier, if you choose to do so.
Why Build a Breast Milk Supply Stash?
You may want to build a stash even if you’re not returning to work or school. You may just want some time for yourself a couple of hours a week.
If you have a few ounces of milk available, you can step away if someone is able to watch your baby for you. You will want to pump every time that your baby would normally nurse, or he/she receives a bottle while you’re away.
Generally, that means every 2-3 hours when your baby is one year or younger. Once your baby is over a year and/or eating complementary foods and over six months of age, you can go a little longer in between pumping or nursing sessions – usually 3-4 hours.
Here is a list of reasons moms might choose to build a breast milk supply stash while also nursing.
- Back to Work – If you have to go back to work, you will want to build a supply so you have breast milk available for your baby. Even if you can’t nurse your baby, breast milk still contains all of the same wonderful properties that your baby needs. If your baby is going into a daycare setting or a setting with other children, breast milk will help him/her maintain a healthy immune system as well. Studies have shown babies are less sick and have fewer ear infections when they consume breast milk.
- Back to School– If you are returning to school, you will want to build a milk supply freezer stash so you can be away from your baby without having to worry about
- Mama’s Day Out – Sometimes you may just need some time to yourself. If you have breast milk and a babysitter available, you can go get your hair done, get your nails painted, or simply go to the grocery store in peace.
- Medical Procedures – Sometimes you may have to undergo unforeseen medical procedures where you’re not able to breastfeed. If you have a breast milk freezer stash available for your baby, you can still provide breast milk. It’s interesting to note that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most medications are deemed safe to use during lactation.
- Milk Baths – This is a fun way to celebrate your baby’s milestones. There are lots of ideas on Pinterest and other mama blogs that show babies in tubs or basins with everything from flowers to cookies and diluted breast milk.
- Milk DIY Products – Breast milk is great for topical skin issues like eczema. You can even make your own lotion out of breast milk.
How To Build a Breast Milk Supply Stash While Nursing
If you’re trying to build up your breast milk supply stash, there are a few ways you can go about producing more milk without adding too much stress to your life. Realistically, you only need a few days extra worth of milk for your baby.
It’s best if you’re giving your baby the freshest milk while you’re away, as it is made exactly for his/her current growth and nourishment needs. Here are my tips on how to build a breast milk supply stash while nursing.
- Use a milk catching device like a Haakaa or something similar on the opposite side while your baby nurses.
- Try hand expressing to produce more milk than pumping. Your baby is much more efficient at getting milk out than any pump will be.
- Make sure your flanges or shields fit properly. Aeroflow has a great article on proper flange size fitting.
- Pump first thing in the morning when your breasts are the fullest.
- Pump before going to bed to ensure your breasts are less full. They will never be “empty,” because your body constantly works to produce milk as more milk leaves your breasts.
- Utilize double stimulation (pump on both sides at once) to increase prolactin levels by three times and stimulate greater milk production.
- Ensure you’re eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated and nourished.
How Much Breast Milk Should I Store Before Returning To Work?
It always makes you feel good when you have an ample supply of breast milk in the freezer just in case. You truly only need enough for the next day.
So every time your baby takes a bottle, you will want to pump. Typically that is three pumping sessions in a day that you won’t be there to nurse.
The amount of milk a baby consumes changes based on their age and weight, but if your baby is around 3-6 months old, they will typically consume 2-4 ounces in a feeding session. So if you multiply that by the number of days you want to store, it would look like this:
3 pumping sessions (away from home) x 2-4 ounces in a feeding = 6-12 ounces per day x the number of days you want to have stored.
Don’t overwhelm yourself with pumping when your baby is first born. Wait until you are about two weeks away from going back to work, and slowly start incorporating one pumping session a day or use a Haakaa or similar silicone milk catching device to catch milk on the opposite breast while you nurse.
However, you may learn that you get stressed returning to work and adjusting to a new schedule and routine. This can affect your supply, so I suggest moms try to have a week’s worth of milk for their baby just in case this does happen to you.
This will give you a little cushion and then you won’t be stressed about making “just enough” for the next day. Babies sometimes go through a growth spurt around month three also, so many moms think their milk supply is dropping but really, baby is just growing and wants to eat more.
This is also the time that you may return to work. Nursing more when you are with your baby can help your body produce more milk (the more milk removed by nursing or pumping, the more your body will produce).
How Do I Know How Much Milk I Need While I’m Away From My Baby?
The amount of milk a baby drinks during a feeding session is based on their age and weight. Babies typically consume about one ounce for every hour that you are away from them.
For an eight hour work day, you may be away for 9-10 hours, so you’ll want to pump approximately 9-10 ounces during the course of that day. Usually this is split up between 3 nursing sessions. If you have a day shift, you may pump mid morning, lunch time, and mid afternoon.
Some moms have a long commute, so they may pump on the way into work using a car adapter with their pump, or on their way home. Each of those nursing sessions should be about 15-20 minutes, pumping long enough for a second letdown.
Be sure you and your caregiver are knowledgeable about paced bottle feeding as well. This is important to avoid overfeeding your baby with a bottle or developing a bottle or nipple preference.
How Do I Use The Breast Milk Freezer Stash I Make?
When you’re at work or away from home pumping, you can store your breast milk in a cooler bag with ice packs up to 24 hours before putting it into a freezer or refrigerator. So even if you don’t have a refrigerator available to keep it cool during the day, keeping it in a cooler bag is an option.
Once you have access to one, be sure to freeze it or refrigerate it with the date and ounces written on it. This will allow you to quickly use the older milk first and then the newer milk based on the date you’ve written on the storage container.
It’s best to offer expressed milk that is nearest to when you pumped if your baby is sick. Your baby’s saliva sends signals to your body to produce special milk with extra antibodies and other vitamins to help your baby feel better faster.
When you use the milk that you’ve put in the freezer, you can take it out of the freezer the night before and put it in the refrigerator to thaw. Storing 2-3 ounces in breast milk storage bags or glass jars is ideal just in case your baby doesn’t drink more than that at a time. This prevents milk from being wasted.
Never put your milk in a pot of boiling water. You can warm up the water on the stove, but don’t put the bag directly into the hot water in the stove until it’s cooled a bit.
Warm water is ideal to prevent your bag from breaking/melting and to preserve all the goodness (vitamins, minerals, antibodies, etc.) inside your breast milk.
Tips for Pumping At Work
Let’s take a look at some helpful tips for pumping at work.
- Once you return to work, pump every time your baby would typically nurse to maintain supply. You may notice a slight dip when you return to work, this is normal and happens to some women. Don’t lose hope! Just keep pumping every 2-3 hours and as needed.
- Set an alarm or add a calendar notification to remind you to pump at work, otherwise, you may get busy and forget. This is when your supply may dip because you’re telling your body not to produce as much milk.
- Listen to music, daydream about your baby, watch videos of your baby, use visualization techniques, and cover up your bottles so you aren’t focused on the amount being pumped.
- You don’t need to sanitize your pump parts 3 times a day, just rinse them after each use and put them in the refrigerator in between pumping sessions. Bring them home each day and wash them with warm soapy water.
- Buy milk bag adapters that allow you to pump directly into the milk storage bag. This way you don’t have to wash bottles also. I used these storage bag adapters when I pumped at work, and they worked great!
- Bring a small lunchbox/bag to store your milk in the refrigerator. If you don’t have a refrigerator to use, just bring a couple of ice packs to keep your milk cold. Here is a great breast milk cooler option.
Tips for Storing Your Breast Milk
What are the best ways to go about storing your breast milk? Check out my tips here.
- Buy freezer safe, sanitized bags. You can get disposable ones that come pre-sanitized or reusable ones that you sanitize yourself.
- Only freeze the amount of milk in each bag that your baby typically drinks in one bottle or session. This will prevent unnecessary waste.
- Freeze your bags flat in the freezer to maximize storage space. Once the milk is frozen, you can move it upright to make more room.
- Get a deep freezer if you want to store it for a longer duration.
- Write the date and ounces on the bag.
Figuring out how to go about building a breast milk stash while nursing can seem tricky. But, if you follow the steps above, it will all come together.
It may seem overwhelming at first, but give yourself a practice run or two before your big day returning to work. And remember, if you think you are struggling with supply, the more milk you remove from your breasts, the more your body will produce.
Try to take your days off to rest and relax with your baby – following your baby’s lead and nursing as much as you can.