How Much Milk Is Really Needed Before Returning to Work?

Whether you just had your baby or you’re a few weeks away from going back to work, you’re worried about storing enough breast milk. A quick Google search is all you need to freak out even more because there are so many answers out there. In fact, most new mothers agree that this is the first big stressor about returning to work. You’re now a pumping mama because American maternity leave through your work isn’t likely to be adequate time to wean your baby from the breast.

So, how in the world are you going to store enough breast milk to keep your baby full while you’re gone?

The first thing to do is to learn how to pump breast milk. Then, you have to get on a normal schedule for pumping and saving it. This will help you build up a stash that you can pull out when the time comes.

You’ve probably heard a lot about supply and demand when it comes to breastfeeding. Supposedly, there is a perfect cycle where your body makes just as much milk as the baby will need. This is true, so you’re probably wondering how to get additional milk to save up so that you can go back to work.

It is possible to do, especially if you have a healthy milk supply. However, if the amount is already low, you may consider supplementing with regular formula. You may also be currently enhancing with bottles. There is no harm in that, and you’re still an amazing mom.

However, you should be aware that if you’re supplementing or have a low supply, it will be harder to store extra milk. You’ll have to work harder, and you should expect your caregiver to supplement, as well.

When to Get the Milk

The easiest times to get extra milk while you’re on maternity leave is right after your baby’s morning feeding and while your baby is sleeping. However, keep in mind that your baby should be sleeping longer if not throughout the night for this to work best.

Right now, we’ll focus primarily on the first way because it’s harder to predict how long your baby will sleep between feedings. Plus, you’ll probably want to sleep when your little one is, so you’re less likely to get up and pump.

Generally, when you kick start the day with a little more demand on the body, pumping ensures that you have set yourself up for a very milk-productive day. Go ahead and feed and burp your baby as you normally do. Then, make sure he or she is comfortable and safe.

Now, you’ll sit down and start pumping. Just be aware that in the first days or weeks of pumping, you’re not likely to get much milk. You’re going to think it’s impossible and that the morning ‘rush’ isn’t the best time. However, stick with it and don’t freak out. Your volume will increase with time.

How to Store the Milk

Immediately after you’re done pumping the milk, it will go into a freezer bag. Make sure you label it with the date. However, you can also store the liquid in the fridge until you’ve got enough to fill your bag.

If organization is important to you (and it probably will be with limited freezer space), consider lying the bag flat to freeze it. Once it’s completely frozen, turn it on its thin side. Consider employing a shoebox or something similar to stack them and put the whole thing into the freezer.

Make sure that the oldest milk (by the date on the bag) goes in front while the newest milk is put in the back. Then, all you have to do is pull out the individual bricks and let them thaw in the refrigerator. Just let it stay inside the baggie inside a container in case there is a leak somewhere.

The Question of How Much

Within a few short weeks, you’re going to build up a nice supply. However, you don’t have to pump extra breast milk every day. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. You’re likely to be tired some days, or your baby will need you. Sometimes, you may not feel like it. When that happens, it is perfectly okay to give yourself a much-needed break.

Still, you may be wondering how many of those Ziploc bricks you’re going to need. Obviously, you need enough to get your little one through a workday’s worth of feedings. Often, this is based on the fact that you will pump enough during your first day back at work to replenish the supply you have on hand.

However, your first day back is going to be quite stressful and emotional. You’re probably not going to pump enough and might not pump any at all. Therefore, you’re going to want a larger stash so that you can get back into the routine of working and pumping.

We think a good goal to reach for is having three workdays’ worth of breast milk. The other issue you’ll face is you’re not going to know how many ounces your baby will eat in a normal day because you always breastfeed.

Therefore, you may want to pump what you think will be enough for a full day and bottle feed your little one with the expressed milk. Do that for an entire day while you’re still on leave to get a better idea of what your baby eats.

You’ll find this to be quite time-consuming, and it might not even be that accurate. Most pediatricians estimate that a normal baby eats about 26 ounces of breast milk each day on average. While every baby is different, it’s a reasonable number and something solid you can shoot for when storing breast milk.

Now, take that 24-hour figure and divide it by how many feedings your baby does each day (usually a two- to four-month-old will eat six to eight times.) Next, you’ll need to determine how many feedings you’re going to miss while being gone at work. That’s the magical number for your single workday.

An Example

For now, let’s assume that your baby eats about 26 ounces each day and finished six feedings in one 24-hour day. That’s about four ounces per feeding. She tends to eat on a semi-normal schedule at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. However, she also gets a ‘sleep’ feed at about 9:30 p.m.

If you work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., you’re going to miss about three feedings each day. That means the caregiver is going to need four ounces times three feedings or 12 ounces of breast milk. However, you should overshoot that and make it about 15 ounces, just to be safe.

To give yourself a three-day stash to get back in the groove of working and pumping, you’ll need to go back to work with 45 ounces of milk.

While that sounds like a lot (and it is!), it is doable. The goal is to start as early as possible. Even if you could only save two ounces each day, you’d hit that number in about three weeks. If you stick to the morning pumping routine, you’re likely to get more than a couple of ounces with time.

Just remember that if your maternity leave is short or you don’t get one, now is not the time to panic. Even a single day’s worth of milk is ideal. Plus, you can always supplement with baby formula to give you time to build up a stash. No matter what you decide to do, it will be the right choice for you and your little one.

What about Business Travel

You used to enjoy traveling for business purposes because you got to get out of your daily routine. However, with a newborn at home, it’s much harder to plan.

If you’re going to be away from your little one for one overnight or more, you’re going to need a lot of stored milk if you don’t wish to supplement. Think back to earlier with that 26-ounce average in a 24-hour period. Going on a business trip for three days would use up about 78 ounces of breast milk. However, you can pump while on the road and can take it back with you to replenish your stock.

Missing a Feeding

You are going to miss multiple feedings while you’re at work. When this happens, you should plan to still pump or hand express at the same time you’d normally be feeding your baby. This will keep up the milk supply. However, you should also store the breast milk correctly to ensure that it is safe and available.

This will seem hard to do at work, but your employer should be sympathetic to your pumping needs. Make sure you talk to him or her before you officially return to work. Let them know that you need to pump when you would normally feed your baby and give the times. You can also make it easier by timing yourself to see how long it takes on average.

If nothing else, request a doctor’s note that specifically states you need adequate time in private to pump breast milk. Your doctor will be happy to write that for you if it comes to that.

Tips for Pumping

It’s a good idea to consider purchasing an electric breast pump. However, when you start the process of pumping, use your hands, as well. This will help you pump faster.

You may also want to try to get a free pump. Many health plans and insurance companies will cover the breast pump. If you’re on WIC, call a representative there. They might be able to assist you in getting a free pump.

Of course, you’re going to start pumping while on maternity leave. That way, you have plenty of back stock available for when you’ll be gone. Though it’s ideal to do it in the morning and around the same time each day, just make sure you are consistent.

How to Pump

Everyone is different, but the basics of pumping are universal. The first thing you should do is wash your hands. It’s important that they be clean before you touch any of the equipment. Then, you should massage your breasts to help get the milk flowing.

Once you’re ready, place the pump onto your breasts. It’s best to pump both of them at the same time. Make sure you’re on the lowest suction setting to begin and then increase the rate until it’s comfortable. Most women find that it is best to choose a suction that closely resembles how their baby suckles. If you’ve got a hand free, compress the breasts by squeezing them gently and letting them go. Continue that process to help get more milk out of them. Do this until the liquid starts to slack off to a trickle.

You’re not done yet. Now is the time to massage your breasts once more, especially if you feel a particular area seems full still. Finish off by hand-expressing the milk into the pump shield or just pump one of your breasts at a time. The method you pick is going to be based on which option gives you the most milk.

Of course, you have to make sure you’re pumping regularly. This cannot be stressed enough. Though the breasts will produce more milk than you can pump out, you still need to pump as much as you can to keep up the milk supply.


We understand that this is a stressful time for you. You a new mom and have all of those feelings and worries that come with it. However, now you have to fret over pumping your breast milk while ensuring that your baby gets enough.

It’s a challenge to do and will take a lot of effort on your part, but it is possible. Of course, you do have options. You may find that supplementing is also an option. This is where you use formula along with breast milk.

Just remember that whatever you produce and what you do for you and your baby are right. Don’t get panicked or worry about not having enough. If you enjoyed this article and found it helpful, consider filling out our contact form.

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