Breastmilk Storage

Build a Breastmilk Freezer Stash: Easy Pumping and Storing

With breastfeeding, no one says that you have to pump and store breastmilk if you do not need or want to. But for many of us there can come a point when you will -sooner or later – have to be away from your new baby – for work, for school, for travel, for alone time, etc. When this does happen, you can keep breastfeeding even when you’re away from baby!

Pumping or hand expressing breastmilk are common methods of breastfeeding – some moms may even do this all the time. The thought of pumping and storing breastmilk can be daunting – but here are easy tips and tricks to help you start a breastmilk freezer stash and know just how to handle that liquid gold breastmilk. 

In this post you will find:

  • When to start pumping breastmilk

  • Free printable schedule for building a breastmilk freezer stash of over 100 ounces

  • How to pump, store, and thaw breastmilk safely

  • Free printable simple rules for feeding, storing, and thawing breastmilk

  • Free printable pumping checklist for maintaining your breastmilk stash while working

  • 5 quick tips for building a killer breastmilk freezer stash and how to feed frozen breastmilk

  • 6 common pumping oops! moments and how you can fix them.

*NOTE these recommendations are for full term and healthy babies – please check with an IBCLC, baby’s healthcare provider, or Contact Us for any special needs for your baby.

When should you start pumping for a breastmilk freezer stash?

The first thing to do before even thinking about starting to pump and stash away breastmilk is to ESTABLISH YOUR BREASTFEEDING relationship (and supply) with your baby.

3 ways to tell if your breastfeeding is ‘well established’

  1. The baby can latch on easily with no pain felt with breastfeeding. 

  2. You have established a ‘pattern’ with your baby and his breastfeeding (note: there is rarely a schedule with breastfeeding, this is NORMAL, but getting the rhythm of you and your baby’s breastfeeding needs is important). This breastfeeding pattern can be merely knowing when, more, or less, frequent times of feeding are needed. 

  3. Your milk supply is established (not too much or not too little) with baby having plenty of wet/dirty diapers each day.

How long does it take for breastfeeding to become ‘established’ so you can start pumping for a breastmilk freezer stash?

LoIt can take a minimum of 3-4 weeks postpartum, or on average 6-8 weeks postpartum, for you to feel like you have this breastfeeding thing down. So, anytime between 3-8 weeks can be a great time to start building a breastmilk freezer stash.

What if you need to be away from baby sooner than later?

Unfortunately, it can be common for you to need to return to work, or take on responsibilities that separate you from baby, sooner than the ideal >3 weeks to work to establish breastfeeding. In this case, using something called a Haakaa (see below) or slowly adding in one pumping session to your breastfeeding routine can be done safely. See Simple rules for feeding, storing, and thawing breastmilk, week 1, and extend this for a few weeks before progressing to weeks 2-3 in the schedule. 

What is the first thing to do when starting to build a freezer stash?

Use a Haakaa (or other milk collection cup like the KindestCup) during your breastfeeding sessions. These ‘pumps’ are silicone collection cups that can suction to the opposite breast of the one that baby is feeding from. This can catch the breastmilk that is released during your letdown that would normally soak into your shirt or bra. Moms have build up a sizable freezer stash doing this even before opening their insurance provided breast pumps!

When is the best time during the day to pump?

Timing of pumping sessions really depends on you and your baby’s schedule. In general there are 3 times to think about doing a pump:

  1. First Thing in the Morning: You will likely find that either due to your biology, or because the baby slept for a longer period of time over-night, you have a lot of milk in the morning. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS! You can stash up some of this milk by pumping one breast at the same time baby is feeding on the other. Say what? Yup, feed the baby in a position (such as the football/rugby hold) and place your electric pump on the other breast through one let-down. If this sounds crazy to you, you can also wake-up an hour before baby wakes and do the same thing – pump from one side through one let-down.
  2. ½ Hour to 1 Hour after Breastfeeding: At some point between 30-60 minutes after breastfeeding can be an ideal time to trigger another let down. At ~45 minutes after a feed (NOT during a cluster feeding or fussy time) you can pump some extra milk from both breasts to help to build up your breastmilk freezer stash.
  3. 1 Hour before Feeding: This timing is great for the time of day that your baby goes the longest stretch sleeping. Pumping 1 hour before a feed can give your breasts plenty of time to recoup before baby is hungry.

Bonus Momma Question! >>>> What if I pump and my baby wants to eat right after I am finished?

Well, your body is amazing and just because you pumped breastmilk for your freezer stash does NOT mean that baby will not get any milk! Put baby on the boob (he may have to be a little patient) and when your babies sucking triggers another let down, there will be more milk available for that feed. Do keep in mind that this feed will likely be a little longer, and he may need to feed on both sides multiple times, as your breasts are less like a punch bowl and more like a on-demand soda machine. 

5 quick tips for building a killer breastmilk freezer stash and how to thaw frozen breastmilk

First off, check out our Easy Schedule for Building a Breastmilk Freezer Stash of over 100 Ounces! Then read through all our tips below…

Label Label Label – believe me, when digging though your stash 2-3 months from now, you will be glad when you label ALL your breastmilk bags, jars, or containers with the date that the milk was pumped. This can help you to avoid waste and store the containers in an order so that you can use the oldest first.

Freeze as soon as possible – it is best to freeze milk within 24-48 hours after pumping if you are not going to use it right away. After 48 hours, it is generally not recommended that you save the milk for freezing. 

Bonus Momma Question! >>>> I have frozen milk AND fresh milk available. Which should I feed first?

Well, there is absolutely no reason that frozen breastmilk is not healthy and beneficial to baby. However, research shows that to reap the 100% benefits from the organic properties of breastmilk, you should always choose to feed the non-frozen breastmilk first. The frozen milk can be saved for a later date. An example of this is when moms are pumping milk for work and also have a freezer stash. Further down this page is an example of a working and pumping milk-stash routine!

Portion sizes matter – Store milk in small amounts to mimic how much baby is getting in one bottle feed (usually around 2-4 ounces). This ensures that less breastmilk is wasted AND helps avoid over-feeding when caretakers are feeding bottles. 

Ps. over feeding, or feeding larger bottles of breastmilk while baby is away from mom is a top reason that moms run out of freezer stashes and feeding bottles with too much volume can be tied to baby-breastfeeding strikes. 

Thawing can take time – I know when baby wakes up from his nap and is starving, the breastmilk cannot seem to warm up fast enough! But to properly thaw breastmilk, it is best to thaw it gradually by holding the container under running water. NEVER use the microwave and try to avoid using boiling-hot water. You can also float the breastmilk container (sealed) in a large bowl with mildly hot water, switching out the water until the milk is up to body temperature. 

There will be floaters – breastmilk is not homogenized like the cow’s milk that comes off the supermarket shelf. This means that the fat in the breastmilk with rise to the top when it is stored in the fridge. This fat will come off the sides of the bottle and can be mixed in by swirling or gently shaking the warmed breastmilk container. 

Bonus Momma Question! >>>> I forgot the milk on the counter overnight, do I need to throw it out?

Well, if it is left out at room temperature for longer than 4 hours, it is best not to feed it to baby. However, there are other great uses for it! Save it for the next bath or to use on that diaper rash! Breastmilk can be great for skin. 

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Emily Sylvester

Emily Sylvester is the Founder & CEO of Mother of Fact. As a Licensed Registered Dietitian, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and Mom of 3, she's helped thousands of families in many low/middle income communities feel confident and supported in their feeding journey. Her mission is to eliminate the deficit of equitable breastfeeding & formula feeding help for all households & healthcare systems.
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