Working and Spending Down your Freezer Stash of Breast Milk?

We're happy to share an excerpt from the new book Working and Breastfeeding Made Simple, by Nancy Mohrbacher, on what to do if your freezer stash of breastmilk is dwindling.  For more information on working and breastfeeding, check out our podcast interview.

A Consistent Shortfall

Having a large reserve of frozen milk can give a mother a real feeling of security. But how you use what’s in your freezer can work for you or against you.

Using the milk in your freezer is a great choice when the unexpected happens. But you should be cautious about using your frozen milk reserve when it becomes your regular go-to place. For example, if every day for a week straight you pump 3 oz. (90 mL) less than what your baby needs for the next day, this is a red flag that something needs adjusting. You can certainly use your frozen milk, but you also need to look into why this is happening and try to change it. Most likely your shortfall is a sign you’ve slipped below your magic number (see Chapter 11).

A giant freezer stash may give you a false sense of security. Think about it. If you give your baby 3 oz. (90 mL) of frozen milk every single day, before long your freezer stash will be gone and you will still be short of milk. If your goal is to exclusively breastfeed and your baby is consistently taking any amount of frozen milk or formula every day, don’t be complacent. See this as a sign that it’s time to get to the root of your milk-production issue and boost it to where it needs to be. Think long term. Don’t ignore regular shortfalls.

Weaning Off Formula Supplements

If you’ve decided to take action, the next question becomes: What do you do? You obviously need to feed your baby. Where do you start?

Make Sure All Bottle Feeds Are Paced

If you haven’t yet given your caregiver a copy of my handout For the Caregiver of the Breastfed Baby, now’s the time (download it here). It describes how to pace bottle feeds, which in some cases cuts feeding volumes in half. Pacing bottle feeds changes feeding dynamics to be more like breastfeeding.

On average, when fed at the breast babies are satisfied with less milk than when fed by bottle in the traditional way (baby leaning back, bottle nearly vertical). If baby takes less milk by bottle, she will be a more active feeder at the breast, stimulating more milk production. Drained breasts make milk faster.

Reduce Gradually the Milk in the Bottle

To wean a baby off of the extra formula supplement, think about how to gradually shift her milk intake to take less from the bottle and more from you.  Obviously, you don’t want your baby to feel hungry and deprived, so it’s important to watch and respond to your baby’s cues.

One way is to reduce slightly the amount of milk your baby gets while you’re at work. If your baby usually takes 5 oz. (150 mL) from the bottle at daycare, for example, instead leave 4.5 oz. (135 mL) bottles. Then plan to add in an extra breastfeed while you’re together. Remember, what matters most to a baby is not how much milk she gets per feeding, but how much milk she gets in 24 hours. It may be possible to reduce the amount of milk your baby takes while you’re at work by breastfeeding more at home.

Breastfed babies take on average 3 to 4 oz. (90 to 120 mL) per feeding. If you can adjust how your baby is bottle fed while you’re apart to mimic that, it may make her a more active nurser when you’re together and reduce the amount of milk she needs while you’re apart.

Breastfeed More

Here are two simple strategies that can make a big difference.

Offer each breast at least twice. On average breastfed babies take about two thirds of the milk in the breast, leaving one third. If your baby still seems hungry after taking both breasts, go back to the first breast and start over. Your breasts are never empty. There’s always a little more and a little more. By encouraging your baby to take more, you also make milk faster. Another strategy that may help while you do this is called “breast compression.” See Canadian pediatrician Jack Newman’swebsite for instructions.

Offer to breastfeed more often. Review “Ways to Fit in More Breastfeeding” in Chapter 11.  Even if you’re not happy with your milk production now, this is something you can change. Hopefully, you now have some ideas for how to move closer to your goal.

Excerpted from Working and Breastfeeding Made Simple, published by Praeclarus Press. Used with permission.