Mom bottle feeding her baby.

How to Build a Freezer Stash on Maternity Leave

The first few weeks of motherhood can seem overwhelming, especially when you’re on maternity leave. There are so many things to do and moments to share with your baby that the last thing you want to think about is what’s going to happen when you return to work. However, providing your baby with ongoing nutrition, regardless of where you are, is an important part of their development. To continue providing your baby with healthy, nutritious vitamins and minerals from your breast milk, here’s how to build a freezer stash on maternity leave.

The Importance of Establishing Supply

During the first few weeks of your baby’s life, your body begins to regulate your milk supply. This begins with a spike in progesterone during the late stages of pregnancy, which creates a signal for your breasts to produce colostrum. Colostrum is nutrient dense and only produced in low volume but is filled with white blood cells to help jump start your baby’s immune response and strengthen their gastrointestinal and digestive systems. Following delivery, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop, but prolactin—the hormone that stimulates milk production—remains high. This change in hormone level communicates with your body that it’s time to start making breast milk and about one to three days later, lactogenesis II begins. This is a stage where your body begins to produce larger amounts of milk in anticipation of feeding your baby.

Lactogenesis II occurs naturally, whether you breastfeed or not, but over time your body will stop making milk if you there’s not a demand for it. Therefore, if you don’t breastfeed, eventually your milk ducts will receive the signal and you’ll lose the ability to expel breast milk until you get pregnant again. To establish a strong breast milk supply, it’s important to begin breastfeeding immediately following delivery and continue to do so according to your baby’s needs. This is the first step in establishing a strong enough supply to create a breast milk stash while you’re on maternity leave.

6 Ways to Build a Freezer Stash Before Returning to Work

Establishing a supply is important during those first few weeks of life, so don’t stress about breast pumping until you feel confident about your nursing schedule. For many new mothers, this takes about three to four weeks. Be patient with yourself. If you need to return to work sooner and don’t have time to wait, you can still incorporate pumping into your feeding schedule and reap the benefits. Here are six ways to begin creating a freezer stash.


  1. Familiarize Yourself with Your Pump

    Before you start, it’s important that you understand how your breast pump actually works. Give yourself enough time to become familiar with all of the moving parts and understand how to properly clean your pump to reduce the chance of germs or bacteria contaminating your milk supply. This allows you to be as efficient as possible when you begin your breast pumping schedule.

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  2. Ensure Proper Flange Fit

    The flange is the part of the breast pump that secures to your nipple and creates a seal, which allows the pump to work. When your flanges aren’t properly sized, you won’t be able to pump milk as effectively and you will likely experience discomfort or irritation. Prior to using your breast pump, measure your nipples and find flanges that properly fit to help increase the amount of milk you can obtain from each pumping session. Flanges can greatly impact the degree of comfort you feel while using a breast pump, therefore increasing your likelihood to continue over time.

    Breast pumps typically come with one or two different size flanges. If neither of these options fit, you can easily order other sizes directly from your manufacturer or find them at a store that sells baby products. Always use flanges that are made for your breast pump to avoid problems with the device later on and stay within warranty.


  3. Use a Milk Catcher

    Many new mothers find that while nursing on one breast, the other breast leaks varying amounts of milk—especially during those first few months. Try using a milk collection cup or milk catcher to gather excess milk instead of letting it soak through your breast pad. Small amounts of milk add up and will help you create a freezer stash.


  4. Create a Pumping Schedule

    Once you start to regulate your baby’s feeding schedule, incorporate breast pumping into your routine. You don’t have to do this often but getting started is the best way to accumulate enough milk for storage. By simply incorporating one or two pumping sessions into each day, you’ll slowly store enough milk to make you feel confident when heading to work. Starting this early will give you plenty of flexibility and allow you to bypass pumping on days where you’re just not feeling up for it.

    Some of the best times to pump are immediately after breastfeeding. In fact, many new mothers find that they get the most out of their efforts when they pump immediately following the first morning nursing session. After that, continue to breastfeed as you normally would throughout the day. Pump again after your bedtime feeding and then continue to nurse on demand over the course of the night. You can also limit your pumping sessions to one or the other while you get acclimated to these changes, pump when your baby is sleeping, or nurse using one breast and pump the other simultaneously. The important thing is finding something that works for you without being overwhelming.


  5. Understand Your Baby’s Needs

    One of the most stressful aspects of returning to work is the thought that your baby isn’t going to have enough breast milk while you’re gone. By keeping track of your baby’s hunger levels and overall consumption, you can ease these anxieties and make sure that your caregiver is adequately prepared for feedings while you’re away. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a freezer stocked full of breast milk before maternity leave ends. It does provide some comfort, but you really only need enough milk to make sure that your baby’s needs are taken care of while you’re at work the next day.

    Generally speaking, babies need about 1 to 2 ounces of breast milk per hour while you’re at work. So, in total, this is about 16 to 18 ounces depending on the length of your workday and commute. As your baby gets older, this will increase slightly, but at that point you’ll be confidently navigating life as a working mom and will know exactly what you need to do to keep your freezer stash fully stocked.


  6. Confidently Pump at Work

While breast pumping at work can take some getting used to, you should never feel embarrassed or bad about it. Working moms are legally entitled to breast pump during business hours and be provided certain amenities and privacies to do so. If you’re feeling nervous about this transition, talk to your employer ahead of time to communicate your needs and get a stronger understanding of what you can expect. Know that your employer is required, by federal law, to provide you with a private, accessible place to pump that is outside of the bathroom. If you feel like your rights are being undermined, contact the toll-free number to report violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act at 1-866-487-9243.

If you want to continue working while you’re pumping in the office, consider getting a hands-free breast pump that makes multi-tasking easy. There are plenty of great options available that can be used discreetly whenever you need them. Just make sure that you’re comfortable and try to relax during your pumping sessions to help encourage let down.


How to Properly Store Your Breast Milk

Regardless of if you pump at home or at work, you need to make sure that you’re properly storing your milk to avoid problems. The life of pumped milk depends on its storage conditions, so it’s best to immediately transfer milk into the freezer when you’re trying to build your stash. More guidelines on storing expelled breast milk can be found here.

When choosing your breast pump, take your time and do your research. Remember that the Affordable Care Act requires that your insurance provider covers breast pumps, breastfeeding support, and other supplies that you may need. Byram Healthcare is here to help you find the perfect breast pump through your insurance coverage.