Thursday, November 8, 2012

What is more valuable than gold?

Today is the breastfeeding bloghop over at Sisters ‘n Cloth and we are talking about pumping and storing milk.  This is something that I have done a lot of over the years.  Breastfeeding is a sweet bonding experience between mom and baby.  Pumping is providing the very best for your baby while you are away.  In my experience, moms get tired of pumping way before they get tired of breastfeeding.  It is sometimes such work to obtain and so valuable for baby that expressed breastmilk is often called liquid gold.  There are breastmilk banks for donations and people will often pay quite a bit of money for extra breast milk.  So what do you need to know about pumping?

One reason to pump milk is if you have a baby in the NICU who is not able to go to the breast yet.  In this situation I would recommend using a hospital grade electric pump while in the hospital.  Then consider renting one for home.  After baby is two to three weeks old and milk supply is well established you could reassess how pumping is going and decide whether to stay with the rented pump or purchase one.

The unusable milk defrosting by Rachel Coleman Finch on Flickr

Another reason to pump is if your breast has become so full of milk that baby cannot latch.  This is the reason I bought my first pump.  I found that my baby was unable to latch on a bowling ball.  I had to get in the shower with warm water to soften things up and then pump just enough to let my newborn latch.

For normal situations, the general recommendation is to avoid pumping until after milk supply is established.  In the first two to three weeks mom’s body is deciding how many babies she now has to feed.  Depending on the frequency of nipple stimulation from baby or pump and how much milk is left in the breast after a feeding, mom’s body may decide she has 0, 1, 2 or even 3 babies.  And in most circumstances this supply lasts for the duration of breastfeeding for this pregnancy.  While not having as much milk as you need for your baby is extremely frustrating, having too much milk for a year or more of breastfeeding is annoying.  It is best to avoid both extremes.  You will not want to be away from your baby at work or somewhere when let down occurs and overflow your breast pads and bra and end up with lovely milk stains on your shirt. 

 I know this from experience.  With my first, I was working twelve hour night shifts at the hospital and my routine was to pump around midnight.  Then by 5am my body was ready to nurse or pump again.  But my work schedule was very busy at 5am.  Among other things I had to draw blood from babies at about 5am.  This never failed to make me let down.  And frequently left me embarrassed.

So, if you will be working many hours away from your baby starting at 6  weeks after birth, then you might want to pump one 2-4oz bottle a day starting at 1-2 weeks old.  Otherwise wait until after 2 weeks.  The best time to pump is immediately after a feeding.  This way you take what baby has left, instead of what baby needs for the next feeding.  The first few times you pump, expect to only get drops.  Over time you will be able to get more milk at a pumping to make your supply for the freezer.  It is very hard to know how much milk your baby will take while you are gone.  It is my experience that the baby will try to wait for mom and feed less frequently from a bottle than nursing.   If you are not pumping as much milk as baby is taking while you are away look at my galactagogue post.

Ideally when you are away from baby, you will pump when baby would have eaten.  This is ideal.  I don’t think I have ever been able to do this.  But your body adapts to whatever routine you find.  I have used two different pumps with success.  For working moms who will be pumping frequently, I like the Medela Pump In Style the best.  But I also used the Avent Isis manual breast pump with good success.   Be aware that there are different sizes.  So, if pumping is painful either the size is wrong or the suction is turned up too high.

You can store milk in BPA free bottles or in plastic storage bags made for the pump you are using.  There are many systems you can try.  I personally think that you should use whatever the person giving milk to your baby likes to use.  My husband preferred the bottles to plastic bags, so that is what I did.  You have to invest more in bottles but it doesn’t spill as easy.

Avent Pump by Alberth2 on Flickr
Now that you have pumped all this milk, how long can you keep it?  The quickest easiest thing to remember is the rule of twos.  Two hours at room temperature, two days in the refrigerator, and two months in the freezer.  This is actually quite conservative.   I have seen four to eight days in the fridge.  A deep freeze can keep breastmilk for 6-12 months.  You can look at the AAP’s and LaLeche’s recommendations.  Ideally, you will have a frozen back up supply and then use fresh milk that is heated only as hot as baby wants it.  Because some parts of the breastmilk will die when frozen or heated too hot.  But it will not kill yeast.  So if you or baby have a yeast infection, do not use milk pumped during that time after the infection has resolved...or baby will get it back.

You will want to freeze your milk in 1 or 2oz amounts at first.  You won't want to waste any, you don't know how much baby will take and you can always defrost more.  This is also true for the bottles you warm up and give to baby.  Once you have warmed up the milk and tried to give it to baby, you should throw away whatever is left after two hours. 

Breastmilk in the fridge will separate.  You will see the cream rise to the top and the skim milk on the bottom.  My skim milk generally looks almost blue.  When you are ready to use the milk you can defrost it in the fridge or in warm/hot water.  Do not use the microwave to defrost or warm up breast milk. You can microwave water or heat water on the stove and place the milk into the heated water. 

Did I miss anything?  Do you have any questions about pumping and storing milk?


  1. So much awesome information here! It's definitely a great resource for moms who plan on pumping at work!

  2. I highly recommend hospital grade pump; since I work at a hospital, I was able to use the hospital grade pumps during the 12+ hour shifts. They were wonderful.