Whether it is to go back to (paid) work because you will be away from your baby for a few days or for other reasons, you may need to pump and create a milk stash or milk reserve, so you can leave breastmilk for your baby while you are away.
There are many questions that you might have, so here are our step-by-step tips on how to begin.
When should I start?
Ideally, you should start between one month and 2 weeks before the scheduled date, when you will need your breastmilk reserves. This will depend on the amount of milk you have calculated that you will need to leave. You will also have to get familiar with your breast pump, check that the cup size you are going to use is the right one for you and try to see if you have any difficulties when expressing or if you are able to pump breastmilk easily.
Will it be difficult for me?
The main difficulty is that, no matter how good a breast pump is, it is never as effective as your baby. It is very easy for babies to stimulate the breast and achieve a breastmilk let-down. Your body may not find it as easy to respond to the stimulation of a breast pump.
This is why, in many cases, if you try to pump milk to store it, the breast pump only manages to extract the excess milk that your baby has left in the breast.
For this reason, you will need to practice and find tricks that help you to achieve a milk let-down: smell your baby’s clothes or your baby, record the sound of your baby crying and play it back while you try to pump, think about your baby, massage your nipple and areola on the breast. All these stimulations can trigger your milk let-down reflex and will make the task easier for you.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it is usually easier to pump breastmilk before your baby is three months old, as compared to after that age. This is because during the first three months, your mammary gland has not yet regulated supply and demand well, and there is a greater surplus of milk available. After 3 months, breastmilk production has adjusted itself, which can make it difficult to achieve the extra breastmilk you need to create your milk reserves.
How much milk do I need to pump?
Count the number of feeds you are going to be away for and expect each one to be between 50 and 100 ml (approximately 1.50 and 3 oz).
If you want to store breastmilk simply to have a reserve of milk, the recommended amount is between 300 and 500 ml (approximately 10 to 17 oz).
Keep in mind that it is best to freeze breastmilk in very small quantities so there is no leftover milk from every feed that needs to be thrown away.
When should I pump breastmilk?
If I pump milk to freeze, will I have enough milk leftover for my baby?
Yes, the mammary gland and milk production work just the opposite of a credit card. When you take out money from your credit card, the amount is deducted from what you have. When you pump more and more milk from your breasts, your body understands that your baby is running low on milk and so it increases your milk production.
You can even pump just before your baby breastfeeds if that makes it easier for you. As we said before, it is difficult for breast pumps to generate a milk let-down reflex, but your baby is able to provoke this in just a few minutes. So you can pump just before your baby feeds if you feel your breasts are full, and then let your baby feed afterwards. Your baby will still manage for sure to get the milk she wants. Sometimes they protest a little when they don’t find breastmilk straight away, but it’s just a matter of being calm and waiting for a few minutes for the milk let-down to happen and get the whole process going again.
In what kind of bags or containers can I freeze breastmilk?
You can freeze breastmilk either in specific bags for this purpose or in other plastic/glass containers that you have at home.
If they are made of plastic, just check that they are suitable for containing food. You can check this as the container should have a sign in the shape of a fork and a cup.
In the case of glass, check if the metal lids are still in good condition and replace them as soon as the lids become rusty and leave traces.
How long does breastmilk keep in the fridge?
Breastmilk will keep in the fridge (in the coldest part) between 3 and 8 days (optimal time: 5 days) without getting off. However, whenever possible, it is better to freeze breastmilk within 24 hours.
You can store little quantities of expressed breastmilk in the fridge until you have reached your optimal quantity of 50-75ml to freeze. Once you have accumulated this quantity, you can freeze those batches together.
And in the freezer?
Breastmilk can be kept frozen at -20 ºC for about 6 months.
Breastmilk does not go bad, but it does get impacted by the cold. You will notice small streaks that form in the milk and ice will form inside the container. To guarantee the best storage and prevent breastmilk from getting off, make sure you always label bags/containers with the date of extraction and always use up the oldest milk first.
Will the composition of the breastmilk I am freezing now be useful for my baby in a few months’ time?
The composition of your breastmilk changes as your baby grows, which is a wonderful fact, as there is no other food that adapts to your baby’s needs like that. But despite these small changes, you don’t need to worry, if you give your baby pumped milk from a few months ago, it will continue to feed your baby in the best possible way.
If you would like to find out more about how to express breastmilk and how to make a milk reserve/stash, download the LactApp app for Android or iPhone to get personalized answers. You can also access our consultation channel with our experts within the app.