With breastfeeding, no one says that you have to pump and store breastmilk if you do not need or want to. But for many of us there can come a point when you will -sooner or later – have to be away from your new baby – for work, for school, for travel, for alone time, etc. When this does happen, you can keep breastfeeding even when you’re away from baby! Pumping or hand expressing breastmilk are common methods of breastfeeding – some moms may even do this all the time. The thought of pumping and storing breastmilk can be daunting – but here are easy tips and tricks to help you start a breastmilk freezer stash and know just how to handle that liquid gold breastmilk.
In this post you will find:
- When to start pumping breastmilk
- Free printable schedule for building a breastmilk freezer stash of over 100 ounces
- How to pump, store, and thaw breastmilk safely
- Free printable simple rules for feeding, storing, and thawing breastmilk
- Free printable pumping checklist for maintaining your breastmilk stash while working
- 5 quick tips for building a killer breastmilk freezer stash and how to feed frozen breastmilk
- 6 common pumping oops! moments and how you can fix them.
*NOTE these recommendations are for full term and healthy babies – please check with an IBCLC, baby’s healthcare provider, or text us at NurtureTalk for any special needs for your baby.
When should you start pumping for a breastmilk freezer stash?
The first thing to do before even thinking about starting to pump and stash away breastmilk is to ESTABLISH YOUR BREASTFEEDING relationship ( and supply) with your baby.
3 ways to tell if your breastfeeding is ‘well established’
- The baby can latch on easily with no pain felt with breastfeeding.
- You have established a ‘pattern’ with your baby and his breastfeeding (note: there is rarely a schedule with breastfeeding, this is NORMAL, but getting the rhythm of you and your baby’s breastfeeding needs is important). This breastfeeding pattern can be merely knowing when, more, or less, frequent times of feeding are needed.
- Your milk supply is established (not too much or not too little) with baby having plenty of wet/dirty diapers each day.
How long does it take for breastfeeding to become ‘established’ so you can start pumping for a breastmilk freezer stash?
It can take a minimum of 3-4 weeks postpartum, or on average 6-8 weeks postpartum, for you to feel like you have this breastfeeding thing down. So, anytime between 3-8 weeks can be a great time to start building a breastmilk freezer stash.
What if you need to be away from baby sooner than later?
Unfortunately, it can be common for you to need to return to work, or take on responsibilities that separate you from baby, sooner than the ideal >3 weeks to work to establish breastfeeding. In this case, using something called a Haakaa (see below) or slowly adding in one pumping session to your breastfeeding routine can be done safely. See Simple rules for feeding, storing, and thawing breastmilk, week 1, and extend this for a few weeks before progressing to weeks 2-3 in the schedule.
What is the first thing to do when starting to build a freezer stash?
Use a Haakaa (or other milk collection cup like the Kindestcup) during your breastfeeding sessions. These ‘pumps’ are silicone collection cups that can suction to the opposite breast of the one that baby is feeding from. This can catch the breastmilk that is released during your letdown that would normally soak into your shirt or bra. Moms have build up a sizable freezer stash doing this even before opening their insurance provided breast pumps!
When is the best time during the day to pump?
Timing of pumping sessions really depends on you and your baby’s schedule. In general there are 3 times to think about doing a pump:
First thing in the morning.
You will likely find that either due to your biology, or because the baby slept for a longer period of time over-night, you have a lot of milk in the morning. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS! You can stash up some of this milk by pumping one breast at the same time baby is feeding on the other. Say what? Yup, feed the baby in a position (such as the football/rugby hold) and place your electric pump on the other breast through one let-down. If this sounds crazy to you, you can also wake-up an hour before baby wakes and do the same thing – pump from one side through one let-down.
2. ½ hour to 1 hour after breastfeeding.
At some point between 30-60 minutes after breastfeeding can be an ideal time to trigger another let down. At ~45 minutes after a feed (NOT during a cluster feeding or fussy time) you can pump some extra milk from both breasts to help to build up your breastmilk freezer stash.
3. 1 hour before feeding.
This timing is great for the time of day that your baby goes the longest stretch sleeping. Pumping 1 hour before a feed can give your breasts plenty of time to recoup before baby is hungry.
Bonus momma question! >>>> What if I pump and my baby wants to eat right after I am finished?
Well, your body is amazing and just because you pumped breastmilk for your freezer stash does NOT mean that baby will not get any milk! Put baby on the boob (he may have to be a little patient) and when your babies sucking triggers another let down, there will be more milk available for that feed. Do keep in mind that this feed will likely be a little longer, and he may need to feed on both sides multiple times, as your breasts are less like a punch bowl and more like a on-demand soda machine.
Easy schedule for building a breastmilk freezer stash of over 100 ounces
5 quick tips for building a killer breastmilk freezer stash and how to thaw frozen breastmilk
Label Label Label – believe me, when digging though your stash 2-3 months from now, you will be glad when you label ALL your breastmilk bags, jars, or containers with the date that the milk was pumped. This can help you to avoid waste and store the containers in an order so that you can use the oldest first.
Freeze as soon as possible – it is best to freeze milk within 24-48 hours after pumping if you are not going to use it right away. After 48 hours, it is generally not recommended that you save the milk for freezing.
Mom question!>>>>I have frozen milk AND fresh milk available. Which should I feed first?
Well, there is absolutely no reason that frozen breastmilk is not healthy and beneficial to baby. However, research shows that to reap the 100% benefits from the organic properties of breastmilk, you should always choose to feed the non-frozen breastmilk first. The frozen milk can be saved for a later date.
An example of this is when moms are pumping milk for work and also have a freezer stash. Further down this page is an example of a working and pumping milk-stash routine!
Portion sizes matter – Store milk in small amounts to mimic how much baby is getting in one bottle feed (usually around 2-4 ounces). This ensures that less breastmilk is wasted AND helps avoid over-feeding when caretakers are feeding bottles.
Ps. over feeding, or feeding larger bottles of breastmilk while baby is away from mom is a top reason that moms run out of freezer stashes and feeding bottles with too much volume can be tied to baby-breastfeeding strikes.
Thawing can take time – I know when baby wakes up from his nap and is starving, the breastmilk cannot seem to warm up fast enough! But to properly thaw breastmilk, it is best to thaw it gradually by holding the container under running water. NEVER use the microwave and try to avoid using boiling-hot water. You can also float the breastmilk container (sealed) in a large bowl with mildly hot water, switching out the water until the milk is up to body temperature.
There will be floaters – breastmilk is not homogenized like the cow’s milk that comes off the supermarket shelf. This means that the fat in the breastmilk with rise to the top when it is stored in the fridge. This fat will come off the sides of the bottle and can be mixed in by swirling or gently shaking the warmed breastmilk container.
Mom question!>>>>I forgot the milk on the counter overnight, do I need to throw it out?
Well, if it is left out at room temperature for longer than 4 hours, it is best not to feed it to baby. However, there are other great uses for it! Save it for the next bath or to use on that diaper rash! Breastmilk can be great for skin.Pumping checklist_ maintain your breastmilk stash while working
6 common pumping oops! moments and how you can fix them
You’re having a busy day at work or home, but you’re taking multiple short breaks to pump and every second counts. What should you do if you don’t have access to soap or time to scrub pump parts?
Before you express breastmilk, wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Use bins or wet/dry bags to keep your clean/sanitized pump parts separate from the ones you have used. When you are done pumping, rinse the used pump parts with running water and place them in the ‘used’ section and place them in a refrigerator. The next time you pump (preferably within 5 hours), you can use the rinsed parts again, or choose to use fresh parts. As soon as you can, scrub the used parts with soap and water, in a clean basin (not in the sink directly) and air dry or sanitize. More info on pump cleaning here.
You finally sit down to pump and you realize you don’t have your storage bags or bottles – now what?
You can actually store breastmilk in any clean, BPA-free, food-safe container! Did you bring your lunch to work in a Tupperware? Do you have a water bottle? Is there a convenience store to purchase a plastic water bottle? After proper cleaning, you can store your breastmilk in these.
To clean the Tupperware, run some hot water and rinse out any food. Put dish soap on a paper towel and scrub the container. You don’t want to fill the sink with water or use a sponge or dish rag – this can introduce other germs to the container. Rinse out the soap thoroughly with the hot water and use a new, dry paper towel to dry the container. Don’t use a cloth towel or leave it to air dry, for the same reasons as before.
You finish pumping but then have to run to a meeting right away. Later you come back and notice that you forgot to put the breastmilk in the fridge. Do you have to get rid of it?
As mentioned above, if it’s been less than four hours, you can put it in the fridge immediately! Expressed breastmilk can be left at room temperature for up to four hours and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
You need to pump at work but the only fridge you have access to is the communal one in the break room?
As with all items in the break room fridge, be sure to label your breastmilk! Also, let your coworkers know that you’re pumping and ask that they not move your breastmilk in the fridge. Using your lunch box or a breastmilk cooler bag can help to keep your milk all in one place and away from that stinky cheese plate that has been in there for 2 weeks.
You are pumping in one location and then will be away from a fridge for the remainder of the day. How do you keep your breastmilk cool?
When you get to your first location with a fridge, take the ice-pack out of the breastmilk storage bag and place it in the freezer. The breastmilk storage bag with the already pumped milk can go into the refrigerator. Right before you leave for your other destinations, take the icepack out of the freezer and place it into the breastmilk storage bag with the cool milk. The icepack should keep your milk cool for up to one day.
You get to work and realize you forgot an essential part of your pump. What do you do now?
Your first instinct may be to sink down to the floor and curl up in a little ball. Thinking about how painful your boobs are going to be by the end of the day, and how your stash is going to suffer. But next problem solve-
- Do you perhaps leave an extra part in your pump bag stashed. Items that I recommend having extra in your bag are batteries (incase you forget your plug and if your pump has battery back-up), rubber gaskets (the white flat or cone shaped parts that help make the seal for suction), one extra tube (clear long par that connects the phalanges to the motor), and 1 or 2 extra bottle/container caps (so many times the caps can get left in the drying rack by accident!). Also, keeping some of the plastic freezer breastmilk storage bags tucked into your pump luggage can be great if you forget your storage containers all together.
- If you do not have extra parts, for even one-side pumping, take a deep breath, take out your phone, and get on YouTube. If you do not know how to hand express already-it’s time to learn! Find a container a bathroom sink, or even an extra sweater to hand express into. This won’t allow you to save your milk for the day, but it will relieve the engorgement that you would feel without expressing any milk, will not interfere with the supply that you have established, and really, ‘there is more where that came from’ momma!
Pumping, just like breastfeeding, takes practice! It’s OK if it doesn’t go “perfectly” every single time. Pumping is another way to help you achieve your breastfeeding goals!
Have more questions or do you want step-by-step help with pumping, getting baby to take a bottle, maintaining enough milk supply, or learning how to best use your breast pump? Sign-up for on-demand, easy, and unlimited help now!
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“Emily was a huge help to me with the early days and weeks of breastfeeding. I’ve gotten her help with issues that have come up later as well. With her background as both an IBCLC and a dietitian she has the knowledge to help with the many stages of newborn to infant to toddler feeding and is a great problem solver. Texting with Emily as questions came up had a huge positive impact on my breastfeeding journey and the health of my children.”
Emily Sylvester is the Founder or NurtureTalk and has worked as a pediatric Registered Dietitian and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) for over 7 years. She has worked closely with breastfeeding families, NICU graduates, babies who are substance exposed, and children who need help to grow and thrive. Emily specializes in infant and toddler feeding and provides nutrition care in homes, schools, community groups, and outpatient clinics. Emily is the president of the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition and helped to establish a Baby Café in Boston, MA. Emily obtained her master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Rhode Island and graduated from the National Institutes of Health Dietetic Internship. Emily is the proud mother of 2 and 4 year old girls, 7 month old baby boy, and was recognized as the 2018 Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Emily founded NurtureTalk to help fill the need for more affordable, accessible, timely, and tailored infant feeding information; this information aims to support families in their feeding journey, in an unbiased manner, from pre-birth through 1st birthdays.