Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, but in order to maintain it many of us have to do some things that are, let's face it, unnatural. Moms pump for many different reasons: to stimulate milk production, to relieve engorgement, to be able to leave the baby, and to go back to work and maintain milk supply. For most nursing women, this necessitates storage. It's kind of weird when you think about it, so be prepared for the things that will inevitably happen the first time you freeze your breast milk.
Personally, I started pumping because I had low supply. I pumped pretty small amounts, but I was committed to getting at least the semblance of a supply stocked up. The first time I pumped over an ounce, I was thrilled. When I finally got a couple ounces in the fridge, I combined what I had saved up and froze them. I was never someone who had a ton of milk to store, but for a time I was able to keep a stash of frozen breast milk in my freezer.
The whole pump, store, freeze, sterilize, thaw dance is kind of a lot to handle, especially when you're a sleep deprived new parent. It's OK if you screw it up the first (or second or third or, well, you get the idea) time. You'll get the hang of it soon, but don't be surprised if this happens to you when you're a breast milk-freezing rookie:
You'll Triple-Check The Temperature
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a freezer compartment of a refrigerator with separate drawers should be set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit for safe storage of breast milk for 3-6 months. If you're a mom with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), like me, the temperature dial isn't going to cut it. You'll be sticking an instant-read thermometer in that bad boy because there's no way you're letting your hard-earned milk spoil or risking the health of your baby.
You'll Forget To Write The Date
You'll be so busy checking the temperature (and being chronically sleep-deprived) that you forget to whip out the Sharpie and slap the date on there. It's really important to label your milk in order to follow storage guidelines, though. It's OK, mama. If you remember, you can go back and write the date on it later. If not, just put it on top so you use it first (you want to do that anyway).
I'm just going to say it: spilling breast milk is the damn worst. There are plenty of gadgets for making sure you don't waste even a drop of that liquid gold, but you might not have anything like that, especially the first time you go to pump. There you'll be with your bottles of freshly-pumped breast milk trying like crazy to pour it into milk storage bags that won't freaking stay open (because you didn't get the kind that directly attach to your pump or didn't realize you could). It's a recipe for drippy disaster.
You'll Knock It Over
OMG, do not leave your breast milk on the counter for any period of time. Seal that sh*t. Go directly to the freezer: do not pass go, do not collect $200. Because if you don't, you will knock it over. Or your partner will do it, and then you'll have to leave them for the unforgivable sin of spilling your sweet, sweet boob nectar.
You'll Overfill The Bag
Rookie mistake. I did it because it made me feel like a badass to see all that milk in there. Problem? Milks expands as it freezes. That means your bag can burst at the seams or tear, which is far from sanitary and a total waste. It's also a good idea to store the same amount as you use in a feed (duh, but I didn't think about this). Medela recommends 2-5 ounce portions.
You'll Store The Storage Bags Upright
When you're totally paranoid about leaks, it seems counter intuitive to store milk laying flat. But if you store it upright, like I did, you'll end up with a bag the shape of Fat Bastard from the always-relevant Austin Powers. I even placed it on the rack, so I had little indentations on the bottom. That shape makes thawing a giant pain in the ass.
You'll Have To Rearrange The Freezer
The Frozen Milk Will Freak You Out
According to KellyMom, breast milk that's stored in the refrigerator separates. The cream rises to the top, and sometimes it clumpy or sometimes it's really thin. This can all lead to some strange-looking freezer packs. Don't worry, mama. It's likely fine, and there are ways to tell if your breast milk is spoiled.
You'll Keep Checking On It...
Is it leaking? (It's sealed.) Is the freezer cold enough? (You checked three times already.) Did I write the date? (You didn't.) You might be a first-timer if you're peeking in the fridge every two seconds to see the progress of your little project.
...And Then Worry About Opening The Door
Oh no. You just did what your mom told you never to do. You've been opening and closing the freezer and letting all the cold out! What if you've done it so much that you've changed the temperature of the freezer?!
Relax. You're doing that thing you do when you're angry and then angry that you're angry, or anxious and then anxious that you're anxious. Try not to worry. The first time's the worst, but you'll be a breast milk pumping and freezing pro in no time.