I’m a few weeks into my second time around with returning to work as a breastfeeding mama and again I felt the panic of “is my freezer milk stash enough for my baby?”.
Mamas, I’m sure many of you have struggled with this same fear.
Waking up in the middle of the night to pump milk for your stash. Giving up post-nursing snuggles to pump instead. Spending countless hours calculating intake of your baby vs. how long you’ll be gone, trying to figure out ways to limit how much milk you’ll need to account for.
I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be so bad.
Now this comes with a caveat. This is a particular benefit of bed sharing and breastsleeping. I can only speak from that experience and my guess would be if you are a mom who sleep trains or who schedules baby’s night feedings, you may not have a baby who reverse cycles. Or maybe you do but it doesn’t work for you to nurse more throughout the night than you already are. If that’s your situation, maybe a larger stash is a bigger deal. Oh, and I’m not a medical professional or lactation consultant so please check with professionals if you are struggling with pumping supply and do not be afraid to reach out to your community if you find you are in need of breast milk donations.
But if you are open to nursing more throughout the night, if you are a breastsleeping mama, seriously, step away from the pump and enjoy your newborn, at least for a few more weeks.
Unless you have a deep freeze, pumped milk isn’t drinkable for all that long (3–6 months depending on who you ask) so having a massive stash isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be and you may end up having to use a lot of your hard-collected stash in milk baths.
With V we had lots of breastfeeding problems and worrying about my freezer stash was honestly just more than I could handle those first few weeks. Everyone kept telling me I needed extra milk stored for when I had to be away for an extended period or in case I had to have surgery or some other tragic occurrence that made it impossible for me to nurse. So I pumped through bleeding nipples and screaming babies. I ended up with a pretty measly 1-3oz each session and was so discouraged and, quite frankly, terrified of not having enough milk for when I returned to work.
But most of us (if we’re lucky) get at least eight weeks off of work. And by law in my state we have to be given pumping breaks in a private room several times each day so theoretically all you really need in your “stash” is enough milk for your first day back, plus a couple of ounces extra as a buffer. For many babies this would only end up being 10-12 ounces. For both my babies it’s substantially less than that.
I have been pumping once per day since I’ve returned to work.
I pump for 30 minutes because I have the luxury of my own office and I use these flanges/pumps (referral links – see real life photo below – this is my second go with these and I love love love them. I use this pump this time around and like it better than the Freemie machine, but I still went back to the Freemie cups) so I can work while I pump. The 30 minutes always flies by and sometimes I catch an extra letdown right at the end of my 30 minutes and end up turning my pump back on (it automatically shuts off at 30 minutes).
I always get between 10 and 14 ounces.
When I first came back I pumped once an hour or two after getting to work and usually got 6-8 ounces but with the way my day was working out, even though I had a right to another pump break (or two) I just didn’t have the time for it until close to when I was due to go home so I just skipped it.
*I am blessed to not be prone to clogged ducts/mastitis. With both of my nurslings, I’ve gotten a clogged duct but it has always cleared up within a day or two. If you are prone to these or to an oversupply, pumping once a day for 30 minutes straight may not work for you. I don’t have any science to back up why this works for me but it does. You definitely have to try out different schedules to find what works best for your supply and your work.
Pumping for an older baby
I was incredibly blessed to be able to bring Baby A with me to work until he was eight months old. If he were a younger nursling, I would probably be pumping at least twice each day. With V, I pumped three times each day until she was about six months old, then I cut back to two.
As many babies get older, they may take even less milk from a bottle, preferring to wait until they are reunited with their mama.
V completely stopped taking a bottle when she was around 11 months old and I quit pumping when she turned 1, not because the law only requires employers give you pump breaks for the first 12 months, but because pumping sucks and if she wasn’t even going to drink it anymore, I wasn’t going to keep it up.
I was even able to donate 60 ounces to a friend whose sister was undergoing treatment for cancer that made her unable to breastfeed her premature infant. Those 60 ounces came from milk I pumped at work (once a day at that point) but that V was not drinking.
But do they really get enough milk?
V reverse cycled at three months when I went back to work and would drink roughly 6-9 ounces each day. By the time she was six months, I had two week’s worth of milk extra in the freezer. At 11 months she stopped drinking expressed milk at all. She never dipped below the 75th percentile in weight and 90th in length and she never had large changes in her growth curve, nor did she eat an inordinate amount of solids. She just nursed through the night to make up for what she wasn’t getting during the day. This is her around 11 months for her 1 year photos. She was never in need of food.
Baby A has been reverse cycled for just over two months now and this is his schedule:
- Wake around 6 a.m., nurse sometime during our morning routine, separate between 8 and 8:30 a.m.
- Takes about 3 ounces of pumped milk sometime in the morning
- Has some solids (not much, just nibbles of whatever everyone else is eating) at lunch
- Takes about 3 ounces of pumped milk sometime in the afternoon (often split before and after his afternoon nap)
- Reunited with me around 4:30-5 p.m., nurse immediately
- Nurse one more time if he asks, eats a little of whatever we have for dinner
- Nurses to sleep, wakes 3-7x/night (we breastsleep so these are approximate numbers)
So while I’m away all day, he’s drinking at most 6 ounces of breast milk. I’m regularly pumping 10-14. My husband is usually more inclined to give him fruits and veggies to snack on when Baby A is home with him, so on those days he drinks more like 3-4 ounces.
This is Baby A at 7.5 months. At his 9 month appointment he was 24lbs 10 ounces, 29.5″. He has not slowed on his growth curve. He is thriving even with that little amount of breast milk during the day.
Did you have littles who reverse cycled? What sort of pumping set up did you find worked best for you? Let’s chat in the comments below or over on Facebook!