Why You Should Build Your Milk Reserve BEFORE Going Back To Work

I was one of the lucky ones.  When my milk came in about 36 hrs after the birth of my daughter, it was plenty.  As our pediatrician quipped, I could feed twins.  And my daughter took to breastfeeding without hesitation.  She ate regularly, had no troubles with latching and all my fears of obstacles to work through when trying to breast feed fell to the wayside.

Post-feeding nap
That deep, deep slumber of a baby with a belly full of milk.

She was also a great sleeper.  I know, I know.  I’m not making any friends with this post, am I? Haha! During the night, she’d go 3-4 hour stretches between eating, wake up, nurse and then fall right back to sleep.  The husband and I counted our blessings because we certainly know that most babies are not like this and that we got lucky.

The Initial Plan

I was going back to work at 12 weeks post-partum, and planned to continue to breastfeed my daughter, which meant I’d have to pump during my time away from her to provide milk for the following day and keep my supply steady.  I knew I’d need a stash of frozen breast milk here and there to get her by when I wasn’t around and for those first days at daycare, but was confident that I’d just pump each day and use that milk for the following day at daycare.  Shouldn’t be too difficult.

To be prepared, my plan was to begin a pumping routine at 3 weeks and build what mommas so proudly refer to as a ‘stash’.  I figured at three weeks, my milk supply would be pretty stable, as I had a small fear of oversupply just from how my milk initially came in, and my daughter and I would be in a groove that I could incorporate a pumping time in here and there.

But then the 3 weeks turned to 6, and she was sleeping great through the night and I was enjoying the large stretches of sleep I was getting.  When she was awake, I’d nurse on demand.  When she was napping, I feared pumping in case she woke up at any moment & was hungry – I wanted to make sure I had enough to feed her.  And when she slept at night, I slept at night.  The importance of building a stash seemed to fade, and I was just happy to feed her on demand as needed.  I mean, I knew I’d need to build a stash – at some point.  But I was going to be home for 12 weeks.  That’s so much time I thought to myself.  And as every new mom can attest – those 12 weeks fly by in the blink of an eye.

Back To Work – Starting to Panic

When I did head back to work, I had 48 ounces of frozen milk. I was a little disappointed in myself that I hadn’t made a bigger priority in stockpiling milk and had a small fear that if something were to happen  -those few ounces would disappear far too quickly.

I am fortunate that my employer installed a rolling shade on my office windows so I’m able to pump from the comfort of my office three times a day.  There is such an important emotional factor that plays into successful breastfeeding and it’s important that you’re comfortable in your environment.  I am very grateful that I have the opportunity to be in arguably the most comfortable area of the office building for me, my office, when I need to pump.  As a breastfeeding mom, it is important for you to know and understand your rights and what you are entitled to.  Be sure to read up on that link if you receive any push back from your workplace with regards to your plans and what you need for breastfeeding.

Pumping At Work
My little setup for pumping in my office. Notice the nice roller shades on my windows? Thank you, Boss!

My first day was no issue – I was excited (weird, I know) to tackle the challenge and timing when I should pump was the focus of my day.  I was able to get enough for her bottles for the next day and was content in achieving my small goal for the day.  However, as the week continued, the volume of milk I’d get from each session started to slowly decrease.  I was asked to attend meetings, I would be on a phone call, To-Dos started building.  By the time Friday came, I was lucky to get maybe 3oz from a 20 minute session.  I’d look at photos of my daughter.  Watch videos of her cooing.  But it didn’t help. I began to panic.  Running math in my head.  Realizing that as she continues to grow, the ounces she’s going to need at each meal will increase and I can’t keep up with where she’s at now!  How will I make this work?

I should add here that while I fully support mommas who use formula to supplement, whether for medical or personal reasons, that was not the route I wanted to go.  I had always just known that I was going to exclusively breastfeed my child(ren).  The thought of supplementing or using formula deeply saddended me, like I wasn’t meeting this natural need for my family.  It’s different for every momma and circumstance, this was just my personal desire.  So I got to work on how I could increase my supply – what to eat,how to pump – to give me the best chance of not letting this slip.  You can read more about that here.

I also realized that I should have been building a stash of breastmilk for this exact reason long ago.  While I knew this was something I should have been focusing on, I didn’t really comprehend the full impact.  HOW important breastfeeding is to me and raising my little one.  How quickly a mom’s supply can be impacted. How quickly a small stockpile can get used up  – and then what?  I should have figured out a schedule, just to allow me some peace of mind, some relief, if I were to find myself in a crunch.  If I get sick, or if I have to miss an evening meal, I need to ensure I have enough food for my little one.  It would alleviate the pressure and stress of having to meet a certain amount each day in order to give her what she needs tomorrow.

Setting A Plan In Motion

Now, to build up my supply for the daytime while I’m away from her and build my freezer stash, I am pumping at 3 hr intervals all day every day, Monday thru Friday.  This includes waking up during the night to pump for 20 minutes at a time! I cannot tell you how tired I am in the mornings.  NOW is when I need sleep the most, when I have to focus on being a mom and my job.  But instead, I’m clinging to caffeine to help get me through the day! Why, why WHY didn’t I take more advantage of my 12 weeks that I naively thought would last forever, when I could have slept in longer in the morning or napped during the day, to have a little pumping session?

The saying goes, you live and you learn.  So, with the next little one, I will begin building my stash from week 3, as I had originally planned to do with my daughter.  Realize that every ounce counts!  And even if it’s just one session a day, over the many weeks you’ll be doing this, a respectable amount of breastmilk can be saved up!

Figure one session a day could generate 4 ounces of milk.  That’s 28 ounces a week.   That would be over 250 ounces of wonderful, life giving ‘liquid gold’ stored up over nine weeks by the time you have to go back to work!  What a weight that’d be lifted off of my shoulders now.

Breastmilk Stash
Here is about 120oz of frozen milk I’ve been able to store over the last month or so!

So while you’re on maternity leave, and don’t have the demands of work or morning/evening routines of rushing around to make sure everything gets done, start building your stash NOW!  You’re less likely to run the risk of your supply slowly decreasing due to the distractions and stress of your job as well as being away from your little one.  You have the flexibility of taking a nap during the day while little one sleeps should those middle of the night pumping sessions make you a little heavy eyed. And you’ll be in the comfort of your own home – snuggled in bed or on the couch, with perhaps a nice Bravo episode to watch on your DVR.

If you’re worried like I was of when to pump and juggling that with when your baby may be needing to eat next, here’s a few suggestions on when to pump.  These are times that I’ve had to recently incorporate into my routine – and at this point I’m doing ALL of them!  Remember, by incorporating just ONE of these times into your daily routine, you can slowly but surely build a healthy stash of breast milk by the time you need to give your little one a kiss on the forehead as you leave them in the care of someone else and you head back out to tackle this world like the fabulous career woman you are!

The Best Times to Pump While Breastfeeding On Demand:

  • Right before you go to bed. 

Chances are, little one falls asleep a good hour or two before you’re ready to shut your peepers.  And that meal before they shut their little eyes typically lasts them longer than anything else.  Take this opportunity to have a date with your pump.  Go ahead and squeeze in 20 mins for your tv time, grab a cookie, maybe a cup of tea and get some ounces, girl!  This time is also nice because  if- fingers crossed – your darling baby makes it 5,6,7 (!!!) hours before waking it, it allows you to go for a long stretch of sleep without being woken up to hard, full breasts begging for some relief.

  • During the night, 2am is prime. 

The milk-making hormones spike at this time of day (night?), so set an alarm and sleepily walk to the living room and collect a bottle’s worth of milk to save for a rainy day.  You’ll be amazed at the volume of milk that’s collected during this time.  I once got 5 ounces from each breast! I had to do a double take.  That was crazy talk.  So while it may be difficult to pry yourself from your nice soft, warm bed at zero dark thirty – at least it will be worthwhile.

  • After their first meal of the morning. 

Your production is highest in the morning.  And if you didn’t take an opportunity to pump at 2am, you are one well stocked momma!  Chances are, you’ll have a few ounces to spare after they’ve had their fill.  Get them set up under a nice toy arch or snuggled in for a little more sleep time and take 20 minutes to gather a few ounces for your stash.

To me, these three routines seem pretty simple.  And I’m currently doing all three of these routinely.  Keep in mind, by doing just ONE of these strategies each day, you can slowly but steadily build your milk reserve, or ‘stash’. Looking back, I could literally kick myself for not doing this weeks ago and look forward to when I will be at a point where I will only be doing one of these to maintain my supply and my freezer reserve.  You live and learn, right?  I can promise you that I will be taking up one of these sessions with my daily routine when my next one comes along. It will save me some sanity when I return to work!

Happy pumping! xo