My maternity leave was 12 weeks long – which isn’t very long at all! I started thinking about it being over even before it started. I knew that I wanted to breastfeed Cupcake for as long as possible & therefore would need to pump milk for her to eat while I was away from her.
Having a freezer stash before returning to work is important for two reasons: baby needs to eat (duh!), & mama needs peace of mind.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a lactation expert or health professional. The views expressed here are only my personal opinion & what worked for me. Nursing & parenting are not one-size-fits-all, so please do what is best for you & your family!
The first day back to work is stressful enough without having to worry about how your baby is going to eat on your second day back to work. If you have at least a week’s amount of food in the freezer you will feel a lot better. I know I did.
Some of the blogs/articles I read prior to returning to work say that you only really have to have a couple days’ worth of milk in the fridge/freezer before you go back to work. That’s technically true, since you will be pumping at work to replace the milk your baby drinks.
I personally wasn’t totally comfortable with that idea. I just kept thinking my baby would run out of milk or be hungry. Or that pumping wouldn’t work out well. My first day back at work was the first time I was away from my daughter for 10+ hours (8 hours of work, 1 hour of lunch, plus the commute). Sure I had left her with her grandparents a few time while I was on maternity leave, but never for more than like 4-5 hours. They’d ask me how often she eats & when she had to eat next & I would just say, “I don’t know, when she seems hungry just go ahead & feed her 4 oz.”
I wasn’t even totally sure about the 4 oz part – I only said that because I freeze milk in 4oz increments. When she’s with me she eats as much as she wants, whenever she wants, & it’s nearly impossible to tell how much she’s really eating. Only that she’s eating enough.
My first day at work I had no idea how much or how often she’d really eat. Every 3 hours? 4? While I didn’t love the uncertainty, I didn’t see it as a total negative. When I’m with her I 100% nurse on demand & never look to the clock before offering the boob. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now that I’ve been back to work for a while, I know that Cupcake usually eats three 4oz bottles while she’s away from me. So 1 week’s worth of milk is 60oz. I had about 80oz of milk in the freezer before I returned to work, which I knew would be enough.
There are lots of ways to go about building a freezer stash, but here’s what worked for me: I pumped at least once a day.
Now, I started pumping when Cupcake was 1 week old due to engorgement issues. Many moms do wait until nursing is well established, 3-4 weeks, before pumping & bottle feeding. My milk came in all at once on day 3. Cupcake actually lost too much weight her first week because I was so engorged she couldn’t latch properly. I met with a lactation nurse & we got pumping and feeding down pat. Thankfully Cupcake did not experience any nipple confusion, considering I started pumping & bottle feeding earlier than most. I’ve been very blessed that our breastfeeding relationship has gone smoothly after those first rocky weeks.
To build my stash, I didn’t try to pump 3-4 times a day or get on any kind of schedule or anything. Once Cupcake was feeding properly, I just made sure I pumped 1-3 ounces a day during my maternity leave. Some days I pumped more than others (whether it was more ounces, or more times), but not with the intention of purposely growing my stash. What I mean is that while I do think it’s important to build a stash, I didn’t stress about it. I built it slowly over my entire leave, only dipping in to it a handful of times before returning to work. Hey, date nights are important!
Having that much breastmilk in the freezer did wonders for my mental health returning back to work. Pumping is very different from nursing, especially when you’re at work. You have to get into a nursing mindset while being far away from your baby & using a loud mechanical device. If you’re too anxious about how many ounces you need to pump, this works against your body & you may pump less. Since I knew this before I returned to work, I tried to set myself up for success by having a nice freezer stash. That way if pumping took a little while to get the hang of, I could still give my baby breastmilk exclusively.
To this day I pump once a day, in the morning, & add that milk to my freezer stash (which now that we are using it to feed Cupcake while I’m at work is no where near 80oz!).