Note: Please realize as you read this that I know breastfeeding is a sensitive and emotionally fraught topic and I am in no way interested in debating it or in hurting anybody’s feelings. My thoughts are simply that anybody who wants to breastfeed her child should be supported in doing so. Alternately, anybody who does not want to breastfeed should not be pressured to do so. I also realize I am writing with the enormous privilege of someone for whom breastfeeding was and is extremely easy.
I was really unexcited about breastfeeding. I planned to try, but the idea was never appealing. However, six months in, having had pretty well the world’s easiest time with it, I’m a big fan. I don’t get any warm fuzzy feelings from it; it doesn’t feel like a special type of bonding or anything like that, but is is extremely convenient and simple.
Except for the pumping and storing part. Incidentally, that part was pretty much skipped by every professional with whom I’ve spoken about lactation and most of the non-professionals. While at least two dozen people have given me positioning and latch advice, I don’t think anybody every told me how to store breast milk. At least, not until I had been doing it wrong for a while. And so, in the interest of hopefully helping someone out there who is similarly ignorant, I’m going to tell you a couple of things about breast milk storage.
(Please note that this advice all assumes you have adequate supply to stockpile milk.)
The big thing is this: frozen milk takes up a lot of space. We have a small standing freezer, and it’s nearly half full of frozen milk. That’s with my pumping only once a day, for less than six months, and taking six weeks or so off from pumping completely. In part, my stockpile is taking up so much space because of bad storage practices early on. So much so, in fact, that I have seriously considered throwing out hundreds of ounces of pumped milk in order to free up space. Anybody who has ever felt like she spends her life lashed to a breast pump knows that’s a complete travesty.
So you’re going to build a pumped milk stockpile. Here’s what you need:
People have all sorts of ideas about the best brands for these things, so I’m just showing you the set-up I use, with which I am quite satisfied. Some people are not at all fans of the Ameda Purely Yours pump, though, so do your own research there. If you’re going to be pumping a lot, you definitely want a double electric pump of some kind. Also, if you’re planning to pump on a daily or multiple times daily basis, do yourself a favor and get a hands-free pumping bra. Makes the whole task quite a lot less irritating.
I’m not going to go into the logistics of pumping, since that stuff that is both very individual and better shown than told. If you meet with a lactation consultant at the hospital/birth center/whathaveyou (and you definitely should, if you have the opportunity), ask her specifically about pumping. It’s not, at least in my experience, completely self-explanatory.
I am interested specifically in talking about storage of your milk once you’ve pumped it.
Do not do this:
When I got Snappies in my breastfeeding bag from the hospital, they seemed like such a good idea to my immediately post-partum brain. They were so cute! You could probably put some sort of nipple on them and feed right from them later when you thawed the milk! With an adapter, I could pump right into them! Fabulous!
Space hogs. If you need a large quantity (and if you’re stockpiling you will), expensive. Didn’t take me long to realize that was a bad idea.
But so was this:
Breast milk storage bags come handily marked with ounce measurements. They are also those kind of bags that can stand up on their own, so you can stand them up and see how much is in them. That doesn’t mean you should freeze them standing up. See those bags on the right in that picture? Those were frozen standing up. And they take up a ton of space, even when they’re packed into containers as tightly as possible.
So, how should you do it? Well, here’s the best way I’ve found:
2. Using a funnel, fill freezer storage bags with milk. My preferred brand is Lansinoh, but other brands are fine, just keep using the same brand once you start with it, so your bags will all be uniform. There are lots of theories as to how much you should fill each bag, but I tend to just let it depend on how much I’ve pumped in a given session. I never put more than 4-5 oz in a single bag, and never less than 2 oz. So, for example, if I pumped 7 oz in a given session, I’d probably fill one bag to 4 oz and one to 3 oz.
3. Push the air out of the bag and seal it carefully. Make SURE it’s sealed.
4. Label the bag with date and amount. Be sure and do this, because the next step will make it so that you can’t judge the amount of milk in a frozen bag if it’s not labeled, and you need to know when you pumped it so that you don’t keep it for too long.
5. Place the bag carefully, flat, on the space you’ve designated in your freezer for immediate milk storage. It needs to be somewhere you can access quickly, and needs to be able to lie flat there without being disturbed. We already had this set up for freezing flat bags of homemade chicken stock, so I just commandeered it:
6. Before your put your next bags in, put the ones you last froze (assuming they are frozen solid) in a plastic storage box. I have some from Sterlite that were cheap and are exactly the right size. Line them up sideways, by date:
When you fill a container, stack it in whatever secondary freezer you have. Keep the oldest milk on top, so that when you need to use it, you’ll use it first. According to the card the lactation consultant gave me, breast milk stored in a deep freezer is good for 12 months; 6 months for a refrigerator freezer.