“When should I start pumping?”
Assuming baby is nursing well, I recommend waiting at least 2 – 3 weeks before starting to pump. This will give you time to bond with baby and enjoy the nursing experience, without the extra hassle of pumping. It will also help you body learn the perfect amount of milk to make for baby. (If you start pumping too much and storing up milk before 2 – 3 weeks postpartum, you can accidentally create an over-supply, which can be a frustrating problem to have.)
However, you don’t HAVE to start pumping at 3 weeks. Some people don’t start pumping until 3-4 weeks before they go back to work. If you have 10 – 12 weeks off work, you have a window do decide when is the right time for you. If you start on the early side of the window, you can get a head start on the freezer stash. If you wait a little longer, so you can focus on bonding and enjoying simply nursing, before starting to think about work. The choice is yours. Just do what feels right!
“How much milk should I save up in the freezer”
The quick answer is “not as much as you think you do.” Some women envision needing hundreds of ounces in the freezer, so they can provide breast milk for months. The goal is actually a lot smaller. Basically, you need enough milk for baby on Day 1 of going back to work, plus some amount extra, that I like to think of as “insurance milk.”
The key is that on Day 1 you’re pumping enough for Day 2, and Day 2 you’re pumping enough for Day 3, and so on. If baby is drinking more milk than you’re making at work, you can pull from your insurance milk on occasion.
But if you’re consistently pulling from the freezer stash, you will eventually run out (no matter how much you have stored), so it’s important to increase the amount you’re pumping at work to maintain your supply. You can work with a Lactation Consultant or Lactation Counselor to help you learn ways increase your milk milk supply. If you're in the Indianapolis area, you can contact me for a one-on-one home visit.
If you’re a numbers person and really want some data points, you can estimate that baby will take about 10-15 ounces during a workday. Some people might have 3 ounces above that, and some have 100 ounces extra. A lot of moms find that 30 – 40 ounces is plenty. You can decide the right amount for you!
“How long can I store breast milk?”
I think this chart from Medela is very helpful for storage times. Other organizations have different charts with slightly different ranges of time, but they are all fairly similar. Note, these guidelines are for a healthy, full term baby. If you have a preemie, or your baby has other health conditions, ask your doctor.
Insurance companies are now required to provide a breast pump for moms after they have a baby. Check with your insurance to see if they will only cover a certain brand, or if they will reimburse for any pump. If you get a choice, and are looking for recommendation, I have worked with moms who have had good experiences with Medela Pump in Style, Medela Freestyle, Lansinoh, and Hygeia pumps.
If you’re going back to work, you probably want a double electric pump (the ones I mentioned above are all double electric). Some moms also like having a manual breast pump for occasional use. (It’s nice to throw in the diaper bag if needed while on-the-go). There are many brands that are good including the Medela Harmony and Avent Manual Breast Pump.
Other helpful tips
When freezing bags, lie them down flat in the freezer. Once they’re frozen the flat bags stack much easier than if they were frozen while upright.
Here are a couple great ways to store breast milk and save space.