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Do I need to pump a milk stash?

Many mums wonder if they need a store of frozen breastmilk 'just in case'.

milk stash

Whether or not you need a store of frozen milk depends on your situation and your plans for the future.

It is entirely possible for your baby to get all they need from breastfeeding, and then solid foods, without you ever needing to express. If you're planning some time apart, having a small amount of breastmilk in the freezer means your baby can continue to have your milk.

Will I need a stash to go out without my baby?

You may never need a stash of breastmilk if you’re just planning to go out without your baby for a few hours at a time.

You may be able to:

  • Plan around your baby's breastfeeds. Feed your baby just before you go out and again as soon as you return.
  • Wait until they are asleep for the evening (many babies have their longest stretch of sleep at the start of the night).
  • Stay close by so you can head home when your baby needs a feed.
  • Have your baby brought to you for a breastfeed, wherever you are.

With a little planning, many mums find they can still get time to themselves without needing to express milk for their baby. This often becomes easier as babies get older and settle into more of a pattern with their breastfeeds and sleep.

Will I need a stash before I return to work?

You won’t need a large store of frozen milk if you plan to express at work. You may find that the breastmilk you express one day will be enough to meet your baby’s needs the following workday.

Some mums offer their baby a feed at childcare when they drop them off and as soon as they arrive to pick them up. If this won’t suit your situation, be prepared to feed as soon as you get home.

Lactation breaks are a nationally legislated entitlement for employees in Australia. How you take your lactation breaks will vary with the age of your baby and the type of workplace.

How much will I need? 

If you decide to store some breastmilk, the amount you'll need will depend on your baby’s age and your circumstances. It can help to chat with a breastfeeding counsellor to work out a plan that suits you.

If your baby is very young, you will need to leave enough expressed breastmilk to replace each feed they would normally have during your time apart.

Expressing milk for different ages and stages

0 to 6 weeks

Your milk supply is being established during this period. It is important to express or breastfeed your baby at least 8 times per 24-hour day.

Young babies can often go with you on social outings and leisure activities. Your baby may be happy in a baby carrier or sleeping in a pram.

Your baby is unlikely to have settled into a pattern with their breastfeeds and sleep at this age. You will need to leave some expressed milk for your baby if you are going out without them.

Returning to work? Depending on the type of work you do, you may make different arrangements during this period such as working from home or having an onsite nanny or someone to bring your baby to you for feeds. Read more about expressing for a newborn.

6 weeks to 6 months

You may be able to go out for short periods of time in between breastfeeds.

Many working mums feed their baby just before and after work. Often they will express milk twice during an 8-hour work day. Most find their baby’s feeding pattern adjusts and they breastfeed more frequently when together.

6 to 12 months

As your baby gets older, you may find that the gaps between breastfeeds get longer. This may allow you to go out without your baby for longer periods if needed. Your baby will also be having some solid foods as well as breastfeeds.

Expressing at work? Many mums continue with two expressing sessions at first. As your baby grows and starts having solids you may only need to express once per day. Your baby may have more breastfeeds when you are together, including overnight. This will help to maintain your supply.

12 months and beyond

If your older baby or toddler is happily eating family foods, you can express for comfort and leave whatever expressed milk you have been able to pump.

Babies older than 12 months can do just fine with food and water. They will often just catch up on a breastfeed when you're together.

Tips for building up a store of milk

  • Express a little each day, rather than full feeds. This can be a good way to collect milk without pushing up your supply too much. For example, if you collect 20 mL per day, you will make up 280 mL in a couple of weeks. This might be enough for 2 to 3 feeds when your baby is away from you. 
  • Store milk in smaller quantities (50 to 100 mL) so your carer can adjust how much they offer your baby. If they show signs of needing more, it is easy to warm a little extra milk. If your carer warms up milk in smaller amounts, there will be less wasted if your baby doesn't need as much for this feed. 
  • Store your breastmilk with care so it stays fresh for longer.
  • You can use any extra milk in your baby’s food or baths if you find you have more than your baby needs.

Monica's experience of pumping

What I expressed in the previous work day made up the amount for the next, so we didn't have to create a big stash or anything. And the return home feed? Priceless!

I found that depending on her developmental stage, she might require more close contact the day after work, too. We continued a great breastfeeding relationship regardless of work. 

© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2023

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