Ready to start a freezer stash, but not sure how much breast milk you should stockpile? Here’s what you should consider when you start storing breast milk.
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What’s a breast milk stockpile?
A breast milk stockpile is extra milk that you express (usually with a breast pump, but sometimes via hand expression) and store, usually in the freezer.
This extra breast milk can be used whenever you need to be separated from your baby – going back to work, for a date night, etc. You may also want to store excess milk if you are exclusively pumping.
How much breast milk should you store?
You may not need a breast milk stockpile at all! How much you want to store depends on why you are freezing extra breast milk.
Let’s take a look at some common reasons, as well as how much milk you’d want to have for each.
For going back to work
You don’t need a huge freezer stash for going back to work. Basically, all you really need is enough for your childcare provider to feed your baby on your first day back.
It will work like this:
- On the first day, you’ll send bottles from your freezer stash. You’ll pump while at work and bring the milk home.
- On the second day, you’ll send the milk that you pumped the first day. You’ll pump while at work and bring the milk home.
- And so on.
Is having more breast milk stockpiled for peace of mind good? Definitely, if you can manage it – but don’t stress out if you don’t have a freezer full of milk ready to go when it’s time to return to work.
So how much do you need for that first day?
This can be a little tricky because the amount of milk that a baby takes in a day can vary by so much – both 20 oz and 35 oz total per day are normal. In general, for 8-10 hours away from your baby, you’d need between 9 and 16 oz, split between 3 or 4 bottles.
If you’re unsure of where in that range you need to be, try doing a pump/bottle feed test run to see how much your baby takes in a single feeding, then multiply by the number of bottles you’re sending.
More on starting a freezer stash for work here.
For a date night
How much breast milk you’ll want to stockpile for a date night depends on how long you’ll be away from your baby.
I would estimate the number of feedings your baby will need while you’re away – how many times you’d be nursing if you were home – and leave between 3-5 oz per feeding. (If you have no idea how much your baby takes, I would go with the higher end if possible.)
For a trip
If you’ll be going on a trip without your baby, you need to calculate about how much milk he or she takes in a day, and then multiply that by the number of days you’ll be gone.
If you primarily nurse, you might want to prepare by pumping and bottle feeding for a day to see exactly how much your baby takes. (The amount that baby takes can vary from feeding to feeding – he or she might take a lot more first thing in the morning versus mid-afternoon, for example).
More on traveling without your baby while breastfeeding here.
To stop pumping early
Sometimes exclusive pumpers would like to wean from the pump, while continuing to feed their baby frozen breast milk for a certain amount of time.
If this is something you’d like to do, I recommend either using a pumping app like Pump Log or a spreadsheet to figure out how much you’ll need for the amount of time that you’d like to feed breast milk and the amount that your baby takes.
More on how to calculate how much freezer stash you’ll need to wean early here.
What breast milk bags should you use?
If you’re building a small freezer stash (such as for date nights, or getting ready to go back to work), you might want to use reusable breast milk bags. These are great because they don’t leak (unlike disposable bags, which occasionally do).
However, if you’re creating a large stash (for example, to wean early), you will likely want to use disposable freezer bags.
More on my favorite breast milk bags here.
How much breast milk should you store in each bag?
There is no one correct answer to this – you kind of have to test it out and see what works best for you. I’d start with freezing about the amount that you think you will need for one feeding.
(Freezing in small amounts can be good for reducing wasted breast milk, but it can be also be a lot of breast milk bags to buy and manage. You want to find a middle ground.)
The good news is that if you’ve frozen more than you need in a bag, you can thaw it in the fridge or in cold water, and use the milk in multiple feedings. (Breast milk needs to be used within 24 hours of being fully thawed.)
How much frozen breast milk is too much?
Having a huge freezer stash can be great for peace of mind and/or weaning early. As long as you have the space to store it (many parents get a deep freezer for this) and think you’ll use it, great!
However, if you’ve frozen more milk than you could ever use before it expires, consider donating to a milk bank. You don’t want your hard work to go to waste.
Remember, feed your baby (or other babies), not your freezer.
Do you have any questions about how much milk you should be storing in your breast milk stockpile? Ask in the comments!
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