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Storing Breast Milk

Storing Breast Milk

When I was first learning how to breastfeed (because let’s face it, no one has any idea what that will be like until she starts!) I realized quite quickly that I needed to figure out how to store my breast milk for when I went back to work. At the same time, I wanted to keep up my regular feedings with my son. I really didn’t want to use formula, so I wasn’t up for swapping out a regular breastfeeding with a formula feeding in order to store my milk. I was very lucky in that I had about a four-month maternity leave, so I knew I had some time to figure it out.

But, in that new mom way, I was obsessed and had to find the answer as quickly as I could. I found myself trying every different kind of search possible on the internet, every book, La Leche League (I thought for sure I would find it there), even on the back of my awesome breast milk storage bags.

I was beyond frustrated to find out that this information was not to be found. I mean zero, nada, nothing, no where.

So this was one of the first articles I wanted to write for this site. I want moms to be able to have this information! I will share here what I did. I really hope it helps! I will also say that for many lucky women, it won’t be quite as challenging as it was for me. It turns out I had a very limited supply of milk. The most I was ever able to pump was five ounces, and that was when he was about six-months-old — the time he actually needed more like seven or eight ounces. So I hope most of you will have a much easier time! Either way, I’m sure the below will help, as I still haven’t found tips for doing this anywhere else.

Here are the basics of feeding the baby, as far as quantity. Now, I’m no doctor, and of course you should check with yours first, but I know that this tends to be the general rule. Also, every child is different and this is just an estimate. If your baby seems hungry, keep feeding him or her. No need to stop at two ounces of milk just because the child is two-months-old. If your baby is telling you he or she wants more, chances are you should pay attention to those signals.

For the first several months of life, give or take as every child is different, babies eat about every three hours, and drink about three ounces per pound a day. So if your baby weighs twelve pounds, he will need thirty-six ounces of milk a day. Thirty-six divided by eight (eight being the number of meals a day if your baby eats every three hours) is four and a half. So each meal is about four and a half ounces. Once you introduce solid foods at around six months, this may vary a little bit, but the serving will be about the same.

As for actually storing the milk, the bags I liked the best are Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags. (They’re not expensive either, around $8.00 for 50 bags.) You can write the date, and the amount on the bag before you put them in the freezer. There is also room to write any notes about the milk if you need, such as “cabbage” if you happened to eat cabbage that day. You’ll know that the baby may be gassy after drinking from that bag. There are also great handling instructions on the back of the box they come in, and the bags have an all important double ziplock. When you’re ready to thaw the milk you’ve stored, place it in lukewarm water about five minutes before the scheduled feeding. Right before serving, put it into warmer water (never hot) so you can serve it at a temperature slightly higher than room temperature. (Important note: never to mix milk from different pumping sessions. The milk you get when you pump at 1:00am should go in one bottle when you feed your baby, and the milk from the 4:00am pump should go into another. Never mix them.) If you are going to feed your baby the milk within 48 hours of pumping it, you can simply put it in the refrigerator, no need to freeze it. However, if it will be longer than 48 hours, freeze it. You can store milk in the freezer for six months, more than enough time! 

This is helpful information as you’re planning ahead for how much to store, how many meals you’ll need to leave for your baby and how many days you’ll need stored by the time you go back to work. It’s also helpful if you will have a weekend or day away from your baby and you want him or her to have breast milk while you’re away from your baby. For my example, I knew I needed five meals of five ounces for my first day back at work. I made sure that was stored up before I went back to work. Then, on my first day, I pumped those same meals while I was at work, so he would have them for the following day. That’s the pattern I continued throughout the week.

Once I started to understand this feeding stuff, I came up with a plan. As my milk was pretty low to begin with, I thought that pumping after every feeding might be a way to trigger my body to produce more milk. So that meant that after every feeding, I would pump. Yes, even at 1:00 and 4:00 am, I would stagger my exhausted body down the stairs and pump for 10 more minutes after my boy had fallen back asleep. Sometimes I would get an extra ounce, sometimes I would only get ½ an ounce, but it was something. If he seemed hungry after a feeding, at least I could supplement with this little bit. And I did that often. But because I was pumping after every feeding, my stored milk started to actually add up!

By the time he was about three-months-old, my little store of milk was doing pretty well. The 1:00am feeding had started to disappear, so after the 4:00am feeding, I could get as much as four ounces sometimes. I was tired, but it was working and that’s all I cared about.

Once I had to go back to work, I found creative ways to create his six ounce meals. Some consisted of two bags of three ounces, others were three bags: two one ounce bags and one four ounce bag, or three bags of two ounces. But I didn’t care, the boy was getting fed, and I had done it. And once in a while, there was a single bag with five or six complete ounces!

Now, some women like to pump a few ounces before a feeding, instead of after when they want to increase their supply. This is fine too, and the baby will not starve, as the milk produced at the end of a feeding has much more fat than the milk at the beginning of the feeding. It’s called the “hind milk” and our smart bodies save it for the end of the feeding so the baby gets that wonderful full feeling and (hopefully) that helps them go back to sleep and feel sated. If you pump at the end of meals, as I did, keep in mind that you are storing the hind milk, so it will be a heavier meal. The baby may eat just a little bit less at each meal time, as the feel full faster, so don’t be alarmed by that. I did this because it was another way for me to store just a little bit less (as I had so little) and know that he was still feeling full.

So, that my friends, is what I did in order to keep my son on breast milk as long as I could. He didn’t taste formula until he was about five-months-old, when I just couldn’t produce enough. I was still feeding him until he would pull off, and then pumping whatever I could afterwards, but it just wasn’t enough. So that’s when we began to supplement with formula.

Sadly, my milk disappeared altogether when he was about seven-months-old, which was really hard for me. But the great news is that he was exclusively on breast milk until he was five-months-old and that’s not bad! My goal was to be able to breastfeed until he was nine-months-old, and well, that just didn’t happen. It was one of those mom moments where I just had to let go of what I had wanted, and of my own expectations.

The good news is, that was my experience! Most everyone else will have a much easier time keeping the milk flowing. And I think that because I had such a hard time keeping my milk supply up, this idea of pumping after feedings will work even more effectively for most women.

I hope this helps! Congrats on your new little one and I wish you uninterrupted sleep soon!

Sarah

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