After maternity leave, it can be difficult for new moms to manage pumping throughout the day and learning to save milk for their baby when they have to be apart. There are a few simple steps that breastfeeding moms can take to prepare to go to back to work, including learning to store milk and collecting it for the first day or two when they return.
As you’re preparing to return to work, having an adequate amount of breast milk saved for your baby for a couple of days can give you some peace of mind when maternity leave is over. Saving enough for multiple days ahead of time allows saves you stress later if something goes wrong with pumping, like a drop in supply or inadequate time to pump when you’re back at work. If you can’t develop that much of a stash, it’s fine! Remember you only need one day’s worth of milk for when you’re gone, and you’ll be pumping that at work.
The right time to start collecting milk for your return to work varies from mom-to-mom based on your personal preference and the total length of your maternity leave. Some women prefer to plan far in advance, while others feel more relaxed and wait longer.
Generally speaking, it’s good to start storing milk about three weeks before you return to work. Breastmilk keeps for about six months in the freezer, so you don’t need to worry about this being too far in advance.
While you’re still on maternity leave, keep track of how often your baby feeds and about how much milk they usually take each time. On average, babies between two and five months old usually take about 4-6 ounces each feeding, which usually occurs about every 3-4 hours. Once your baby reaches six months, they’re likely to require about eight ounces each feeding, but go about five hours between each. Both the amount and frequency can vary for each baby, though.
There is a lot of conflicting information when to start pumping. The advantage to pumping sooner is more time to collect milk, but the risk is developing an oversupply. I generally suggest starting somewhere around the last three weeks of leave. Prolactin levels are highest in the morning, so try to do a morning feed and then pump afterwards. Based on how much you get, and if you develop engorgement later in the day, you can add or decrease the amount of pumping you do. It can also be helpful to start giving the baby one bottle per day to acclimate them to bottle feeding. Some women even choose to do this earlier and time the bottlefeed to allow them longer periods of sleep at night.
Once you pump milk, you have to store it until you can bring it home. Most breast pump bottles have lids, so you can just cap off the bottle of pumped milk and then use a new bottle for the next pump session, Alternatively, you can pour the milk into a larger jar, and use the same bottles throughout the day. I found mason jars work well for this. The capacity is relatively large so one is often enough for a day. They are made of glass, which some women prefer due to concerns over plastic. However, in a pinch, any bottle will do—you won’t be the first one to buy a bottle of Gatorade to use for milk storage!
The CDC has great guidelines for milk storage. Briefly, pumped milk can be left at room temperature for up to 4 hours after pumping. It can stay in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. It can be frozen in a regular freezer for 6 months, and in a deep freezer for 12 months. There are many websites and message boards that discuss extending these time limits. For example, many women notice that milk can stay in a refrigerator for up to 7 days with no change in smell, and no issues with the baby drinking the milk. However, this should be done with caution due to risks of feeding a baby contaminated milk.
To learn more about breastfeeding, schedule an appointment with an OB/GYN at Maternal Fetal Medicine Associates in New York City. Call our office at (212) 235-1335 or request an appointment online.
Maternal Fetal Medicine blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!