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Simple and Easy Guide to Building Your Breast Milk Stash
I was working in labor and delivery when I got the dreaded call from my husband. I was working an eight-hour shift and baby Nicholas had polished off all the breast milk I had left.
This was a problem. We didn’t keep formula around the house for “just in case.” I believed “just in case” is just poor planning. And that is exactly what this was. I had not planned for him to eat more than the three bottles of milk that I had left. And, I did not have a freezer stash of breast milk.
We only had one car and I had it. My husband couldn’t run out and get some formula. I had to leave work early. Fortunately, it was a very quiet evening and my leaving early didn’t cause a problem.
Most working moms know they need to have some breast milk stashed in reserve. The truth is that they are not the only ones who need to stockpile some breast milk in their freezer.
Who Needs a Stash of Breast Milk in Their Freezer?
The answer to that question is easy. Every breastfeeding mom should have a breast milk stash. Having extra milk on hand is not just for working moms.
The reason you need a freezer stash is because of emergencies. The unexpected happens, often with frustrating regularity.
I will always remember the mom I saw who had emergency gallbladder surgery. Her 3-month old baby had never even taken a bottle before. That was a lot of firsts that little girl had to deal with all at once. She had never been away from her momma either.
They all did fine. But having a freezer with a stockpile of milk would have helped decrease the stress.
I am sure you have all kinds of questions about this magical breast milk stash. I’ll do my best to answer them.
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How to Stock Up on Breast Milk While Breastfeeding
Momming is hard. It is so time-consuming. It may have made your head want to explode to think there is one more thing that you have to think about.
The truth is you just gotta start somewhere. Start pumping for your stash once breastfeeding is well established for you.
There are lots of ways to multitask to build a stash of breast milk. Pick the one that seems like it will work best for you.
I want to give you some guidelines so this doesn’t stress you out.
- The most important one is don’t compare yourself. You know how some moms post pics on Facebook of massive amounts of milk they have pumped? Most moms are only pumping moderate amounts of milk. That just doesn’t make an attention-grabbing picture. So most moms aren’t posting a picture of what they pump.
- Make sure you are not taking food away from your baby. This seems obvious. In fact you probably read it and thought, Duh! But it is a common mistake I not only see moms make, I probably made it myself.
- Pump right after a feeding. Don’t pump 1-2 hours after a feeding.
- It will depend on how much milk you make if you have to pay attention to this.
- Moms with tons of milk often can pump whenever they want and still have plenty to feed their baby.
- Take advantage of the time of day when you milk supply is most abundant. For most moms, this is in the morning hours. That makes sense because our prolactin levels are highest in the wee hours of the morning. “Most” moms is not all moms! If you have more milk at another time of day, just take advantage of your best time. Remember, don’t compare.
- Some moms collect milk with a Haaka Breast Pump or Milkies Milk Savers during feeding when they leak on the other side from their let-down.
- If your baby starts sleeping stretches longer than 4 hours you can pump after a couple of hours.
- It’s ok if your milk stash is a work in progress and it takes a while to get it to where you want it to be. Which brings us to…
How Much Milk Should You Stash?
The amount of milk you keep in your freezer is an individualized amount. It depends on your comfort level. It depends on whether you can pump lots of milk.
- For working moms I recommend have two weeks the amount of milk that would go to day care.
- This is back-up milk for the unexpected.
- It can also double as your emergency stash.
- For a stay at home mom I recommend two days worth of feedings.
- For a mom who struggles with making enough I recommend doing the best you can. Remember, don’t stress!
These are the guidelines published by the American Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
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Tricks and tips to get more milk for your stash
If you are one of those moms who has tons of milk then you probably can skip this section.
If you are a mom who has more of an average supply you may have to take advantage of some of these tips and tricks.
Power pumping can be done a couple of different ways.
- Pump for ten minutes, rest for 15, repeat for four cycles.
- Watch a TV show that lasts an hour and pump during the commercials.
There is also the Willow Pump, which is a wearable breast pump. This is especially helpful for the mom who just doesn’t have a single extra minute to pump.
Where to keep your milk stash
Keep your stash of frozen breast milk in the back of your freezer. That way it is exposed to less frequent changes in temperature.
If you have a lot of milk you will either need to be mega organized or you will need a stand-alone freezer.
It can be worth it to invest in a freezer. you can take advantage of sales and when you have a lot of things to harvest from your garden.
I recommend an upright. I had a chest freezer for ten years. I used to do freezer cooking. When the freezer was full the things on the bottom weren’t going to be seen for a couple of months. Either will work though. Freezers are great to have if you have space and the room in your budget to purchase one.
Organizing your stash
Once you have more than one bottle of milk you officially have a stash! You will want to keep your milk stash organized. You want to use the oldest milk first and keep that rotation going.
This rule is different than what you do with fresh or refrigerated milk. If you have milk that is not frozen you use the freshest first.
The method used most frequently to store milk in the freezer:
- Put the milk in bags.
- Put the bags in bigger bags or in a storage bin of some kind.
Sounds easy enough!
Milk Stash Essentials
Alternative Method of Stash Organization
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit of an earth mama. I like to minimize my use of plastic, especially disposable plastic.
But this method is not just about my environmental agenda. This method allows you more flexibility in terms of how much you can thaw at one time.
My preferred way is to freeze your milk in tube trays. You can freeze the tubes and then store them in either glass or plastic containers. You can label the containers with the date so that you are sure you are rotating your stash of milk.
What do you do with leftover milk?
Milk in a freezer is good for 6-12 months. Don’t you love a guideline like that? Which is it? Six months or twelve months? Twelve months is twice as long as six months.
Six months is optimal and 12 is acceptable. It’s not that there it is bad the older it is. It’s just not as good. It’s still better than formula.
Even when you stop breastfeeding you can still give your kiddo breast milk in a cup until it’s all used up.
If you find yourself with milk that you aren’t comfortable using or you have so much you know that you aren’t going to use it, you have options.
- You can donate milk to a milk bank. Donated human milk has made the difference between life and death for some babies.
- You can use it in cooking. I have a whole Pinterest board on things to do with breast milk.
- You can sell it to someone who uses it for interesting things. I have a salon near me that does breast milk facials. True story.
Babies love breast milk popsicles!
The Lipase Problem
A very small percentage of women have an excessive amount of the lipase enzyme. This results in their milk having a sour or soapy smell and taste. No mama wants to have a freezer full of milk only to find out her baby won’t drink it. After you have frozen some milk thaw it and make sure your baby will drink it. Make sure it doesn’t smell or taste weird.
The solution to high lipase levels is to scald the milk before freezing. You heat it to about 180˚. At that temperature you should see bubbles forming around the edges of the pan. Don’t boil it!
Simple and Easy Guide to Building Your Breast Milk Stash
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.