In many breastfeeding circles these days, women are talking about how big their “stash” is. What I’m talking about is a frozen milk stash, pumped while on maternity leave and frozen, prior to returning to work. Some have 100oz, 300oz, or more, while others are stressed because they barely have any (or none at all). Mothers are sharing their tips and tricks to creating a stash, often times pumping regularly after feeding baby from the breast each and every day. LADIES – this can be exhausting, time consuming, stressful, and creates a ton of stuff you have to clean!

But the question remains: Do you really need a stash this big, or at all? And what’s more, is having a big stash beneficial or even worth the stress and exhaustion it can create? Let’s break it down.

There are many reasons women may pump after their baby is born, and when they start pumping also varies widely across different people and situations. For example, moms with babies in the NICU (especially for extended periods of time), they may have pumped from the start to simply be able to feed their babies breastmilk. For others, they received advice in the hospital to pump after one feed per day or, sometimes, after every feed. The issue with this is, while that advice was given in the hospital, moms aren’t told when or if to stop the pumping and then sometimes end up with an oversupply, which can be more difficult to control than an undersupply.

So what can you do?

After baby is born, the most important thing is to establish a healthy breastmilk supply. This is done by feeding your baby when he or she first shows signs of hunger, every time, and practicing skin-to-skin, which releases oxytocin in your body and can help boost milk supply. Additionally, YOU JUST HAD A BABY! Give yourself some time to heal and rest.

Then how do you know if or when you need to start pumping? Truly, this depends on your own situation. When deciding when and how much you should start pumping, it’s important to first realize your goals.

  1. How soon will you be returning to work, if at all? If it’s not for 8 or 12 weeks, then you have plenty of timeto pump milk for when you return to work. If it’s sooner, such as 6 weeks, you will want to start pumping soon, but don’t necessarily need to right away.
  2. How often will the milk be used? Pumped milk, whether frozen or in the refrigerator, expires after a certain amount of time. If you pump a ton, you should have a plan to use it sooner rather than later.
  3. What is your supply like? Once you are past 4-6 weeks postpartum, you will have a good idea of what your supply is like. If you have a low supply, AFTER YOU’VE RECEIVED HELP TO BOOST IT, then it may be a good idea for you to pump sooner than later in order to create a small stockpile.

Realistically, you will only need 1-2 days’ worth of milk when you return to work. If baby needs 1-1.5 ounces of milk for every hour they’re away from you, this means you’ll need around 10-15 ounces per day for a 10-hour separation, for example. In total, that is only 30 ounces maximum in stored milk. Then, when you pump, the milk you pump on Monday is used for baby on Tuesday, and Tuesday’s for Wednesday, and so on and so forth.

One last piece of information you should take into consideration: every woman responds differently to a pump. For some women, it takes 10 minutes to pump 5 ounces, while it may take another woman 20 minutes to pump the same amount. Additionally, flange fit is crucial to adequate milk removal by a pump. Bottom line, if you’re having issues with pumping enough milk, get help! There are many resources to help you reach your breastfeeding and pumping goals, and sometimes all it takes is a small tweak.

If you need help with figuring out how to go about this pumping thing, I am happy to meet with you! I also have a pumping guide available that will take you through how to get things setup with a pump and addresses many common issues and concerns that pumping mothers have.

And lastly, always remember: the amount of milk you pump does not define you, so don’t let it. You got this, mama!