by Lexi Sack, Milk Drunk Contributor
A quick search for breast milk freezer storage reveals endless photos of neatly organized bags of pumped milk, ready and available to be thawed if you’re away or unable to breastfeed for a period and your baby needs to eat.
As an anxious new mom with a type-A personality, I remember how compelling this sounded. Not to mention that it seemed like something I could easily ‘achieve’ amid the uncertainty of life with a newborn. But, I quickly learned building a backup supply of frozen breastmilk takes time and energy. From increasing milk supply to pumping, bagging, freezing, organizing, and thawing, creating a stash is an investment.
To try to cut through the hype, I asked a few fellow moms about their experience to find out if pumping and freezing milk on top of feeding your baby is really worth the stress.
Your freezer doesn’t need to be bursting with frozen breast milk. Unless you’re going to be away from your baby for a longer period, pump enough milk for a day or two ahead to ensure you don’t end up wasting your precious milk and time.
Pumping & Feeding
Most of the parents I spoke with froze some milk the first time around. However, many admitted it felt like something they ‘should do’. For others, it reduced their anxiety about returning to work.
Personally, I had an oversupply initially with my first baby that allowed me to quickly freeze around eight feeds worth of milk. It was energy consuming to continue pumping and feeding long-term, and my supply eventually settled down to be in line with what my daughter actually drank. I routinely pumped during one feed so my husband could give her a bottle and I could get a break.
Smaller stashes reduce the risk of waste
I pumped enough for a day or two ahead and kept the milk in the refrigerator. Around the time my daughter turned one, I was pained to see I still had those initial ounces, much more yellow and rich than the milk I had last pumped when she was nine months, still in the back of our freezer.
With my second and third children (twins), I planned to be more diligent about my freezer stash. But the time consuming process of breastfeeding, chasing a toddler around, and then pumping on top of that was more than I had the energy for. And then we ended up moving overseas and the little bit I’d frozen went to waste again.
A few other moms I spoke with also mentioned they were more relaxed about their stash the second time around. One mom shared that she just pumped at work to be able to feed her baby the next day and that she didn’t have the time or supply to freeze much the second time around.
7 Tips and Tricks for Creating and Managing a Freezer Supply
Tips & tricks from experienced milk stashers
- Freeze in smaller volumes: Too often I had to thaw a 10 ounce bag and didn’t need it all so a lot of it went to waste. That’s painful!
- Limit leakage: Purchase freeze bags with double zippers to limit leakage, and also thaw in a bowl just in case.
- Lay flat to freeze: When freezing in bags, lay the bag flat when initially freezing to make them easier to stack later.
- Label well: Be sure to mark the bag with the date and time of day, and use the oldest first. Breast milk changes both over time and throughout the day.
- First in, first out: Even though the milk may last longer, try to use it within 3 months following a first in, first out strategy. Use frozen milk and freeze fresh milk to ‘refresh’ your supply at least once a month so you don’t end up with a very old frozen supply.
- Thaw as needed: Bags can be thawed overnight in the fridge or more quickly in a bowl of warm water or a bottle warmer. Frozen milk can also be mixed with either fresh milk or formula if you didn’t thaw enough.
- Donate excess: If your baby flat out refuses frozen milk or a bottle, don’t let your stash go to waste. You may be able to donate your breast milk under certain conditions.
In the End, is it Really Worth Creating a Freezer Supply of Breastmilk?
As one of my fellow moms said ‘don’t feel that pressure’. Prioritize getting the process down and finding a rhythm with your baby. Then, if your supply allows and you have the energy, you can build a stash.
Having a few feeds worth of extra milk frozen in case you’d like to enjoy that extra glass of wine or want to get away with girlfriends for a night, might be helpful. However, if you don’t need to build a stash, or you don’t want to, it’s absolutely just fine to skip it altogether.