A Simple Guide to Building Your Breast Milk Stash
Breastfeeding • by Rita Tarnate • Sep 9, 2020 • 6 min read
TL;DR for Busy Parents
- Set an intention for the milk you’re saving. Working towards a specific goal will make the task feel more attainable.
- Work backward from your goal to determine how much you need to save each day.
- Stock up on storage supplies and make space in the freezer to accommodate your stash.
- Pump after feeding sessions or use drip catchers to capture extra milk.
- Label your milk and place it as far from the freezer door as possible to ensure a deep freeze. Always rotate your supply by placing new milk in the back and pushing old milk to the front.
- When you’re ready, start with the oldest milk and cold thaw it in the refrigerator.
- You can donate unused milk to a milk bank.
You’ve hit your breastfeeding stride but now you’re thinking about that upcoming trip and wondering how to keep it up while you’re away from your baby.
Milk stash, freezer stash, emergency milk – simply put, it’s any extra milk you’ve set aside in your freezer. We like to compare stashing breast milk to saving money, and having extra on hand gives you flexibility and peace of mind. After all, breast milk truly is liquid gold. But how do you even begin?
Good news! It doesn’t have to be an ordeal, and you’re not alone – 85% of breastfeeding Americans have used a breast pump by their baby’s 2-month mark.
Where there’s a plan, there’s a way and we’ve put together a simple guide to help you save. Before we get started, here are some important things to keep in mind:
- Crying over spilled milk is real. Avoid mishaps and make sure that you and anyone handling your milk are on the same page.
- Consistency is key. Make a schedule and stick to it. If you need to, set alarms or create calendar invites!
- Replace your stash. Unless you’re weaning or no longer need to save milk, plan to replace what you take. This keeps your goals manageable and your schedule intact.
- Don’t stress. Take care of yourself and do what works best for you and your baby. There are countless benefits to breastfeeding but we believe that “fed is best.”
- Find your tribe! Support is important, and as we said, you’re not alone! If you need help, consult a lactation specialist, join a local breastfeeding support group or talk to family and friends.
Create a Savings Goal
All good plans start with an end goal in mind. Knowing what you’re saving milk for makes it easy to figure out how much you need and when you can stop saving.
At Zazu, our world revolves around traveling, and sometimes you have to travel without your baby. If you have multiple work trips coming up, you can plan for all of them at once or you might get through one trip before preparing for the next one. Approach goal-setting in a way that makes you comfortable.
- Do you have upcoming work travel planned?
- Are you taking a vacation without your baby?
- What if your supply tanks or you get sick and can’t nurse?
Crunch the Numbers
Don’t feel pressured by social media images overflowing with an abundance of breast milk. Unless you’ve been blessed (or cursed!) with oversupply, take comfort in the fact that the majority of women pump 3 to 4 ounces, total, per session.
On average, babies consume 25 ounces of milk per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics further states that babies between 2 and 6 months of age drink 4 to 6 ounces per feeding, every 3 to 4 hours.
So just how much milk do you need to save? It’s generally a good idea to save 2 to 3 days’ worth of milk for emergencies. Otherwise, just think of the goal you set – you only need enough to cover the time you’re gone.
The following scenarios calculate savings for a 3-day work trip that’s 3 weeks away. It assumes this baby consumes 25 ounces a day and allows some wiggle room for the unexpected.
You should hopefully have a decent amount of time in between trips, so don’t fret over having hundreds of ounces saved by your first time away. Remember, you’re replacing whatever your baby consumes so you’ll have a head start on your next goal.
If you already have enough to cover your next need, nice work! Keep pumping to maintain your supply and breathe easy knowing you’re ahead.
Channel Marie Kondo
You set a goal and made a plan to achieve it. The next step is all about preparation.
First, you’ll need a freezer (or a deep freezer) with enough space to fit the total number of ounces needed. You’ll also need freezer-safe breast milk storage bags and ice cube trays or special 1-ounce trays for freezing smaller amounts.
Lastly, plan your organization method. You can store bags of milk in a gallon-sized freezer bag or other freezer-safe containers. We recommend getting a storage bin or a breast milk storage system.
Ready, Set, Pump
Slow and steady wins the race. Stick to your schedule and make every drop count. Luckily, there are many ways to capture extra milk.
Your supply is at its highest in the morning. Take advantage of the morning high and feed your baby on one breast while pumping from the other. Switch sides each morning to keep it even. If you feel like your baby’s not getting enough, do a normal feeding then pump afterward.
Pump 2 to 3 times a day, after you’ve breastfed. You’ll know that baby is getting what they need and you can happily save the rest.
Use a drip catcher. The Haakaa is great for easily collecting extra ounces. Just put it on whichever breast baby’s not feeding from and it catches any letdown that may occur.
Nursing cups, breast shells, milk cups, and milk savers can be inserted in your bra to catch milk that leaks early on when your supply is still regulating.
If you’re exclusively pumping, don’t change a thing. Stick to what you’re doing and freeze whatever baby doesn’t need.
Properly label storage bags. Use a sharpie to write your baby’s name, the date, and the number of ounces. When combining milk, go by the oldest date.
Freeze your milk flat. Don’t overfill the bag and squeeze all the air out before sealing. You can lay the bag on a flat surface or use storage systems specially designed to freeze milk in sheets. Flat bags take up much less space and you can stand them up once they’re frozen.
Combine milk from different sessions. You can combine milk from different pumping sessions to save waste and fill a full bag. Make sure the milk is the same temperature – if you refrigerated milk from a previous session, refrigerate the new milk before combining.
Minimize waste. Once breast milk is thawed, it can’t be re-frozen so vary the amounts you freeze. 1 to 2-ounce portions can be helpful during growth spurts or if you have a spill (the horror!). You can freeze bricks in an ice tray, save them in a freezer-safe bag and date it by the oldest brick.
Keep it frozen. Freeze expressed milk within 24 hours to lock those nutrients in. Breast milk can be stored in the freezer for 6 to 12 months.
Store your milk as far from the freezer door as possible. This ensures the deepest freeze and prevents thawing whenever the door is opened.
Rotate your milk. Just like the grocery store, you’ll want to put fresh milk in the back and have the oldest milk up front. This also ensures your baby is never too far behind from getting the age-appropriate nutrients they need.
Ready to Eat
When it’s time to pull from your stash, start with the oldest milk and cold thaw it in the fridge or place it in a bowl of warm water for more immediate use. Remember to only thaw what you need because you can’t refreeze it – this is when smaller portions come in handy.
If you still have milk leftover after all your goals have been met, consider saving a premature infant’s life by donating to a milk bank. If you don’t meet the donation guidelines, you can support a friend in need or post to local breastfeeding message boards.
Got any tips on building a breast milk stash? Please share in the comment section below!