The first time I successfully pumped milk, I immediately started imagining myself making a freezer stash. The part of me who feels way better about life if I can plan and prep for any unforeseen circumstance loved the idea of my baby being able to have my custom-made-for-him breast milk, no matter what. I got a bunch of supplies, learned how to freeze, store, and thaw breast milk, then gave up almost instantly afterward. The stash didn’t happen for a lot of reasons, primarily that I'm a mom who hated pumping, with a baby who hated bottles. Fortunately, most moms don't need a freezer full of milk in order to successfully breastfeed, so if you're a new mom seeing those giant stash shots circulating on Facebook and Pinterest, don't freak out and think you're not cut out for the milky mama life.
Also, don't freak out if the first time you thaw your breast milk goes the same way it did for me, and basically everyone else who has ever thawed breast milk ever. Some things inevitably happen the first time you thaw your milk, because handling your own milk that you made and expressed yourself is way different (and more precious) than milk from some other mammal (or soybeans or almonds or whatever). You don't want to waste a drop or ruin its special properties or do anything that could make your baby sick. It's a lot of pressure.
My advice? After all your effort to express your milk, then figuring out how to thaw it, don’t let it go to waste. Make sure whomever is giving the final product to your little one knows how to pace-feed a baby. The last thing you need is for a caregiver to waste that milk by over-feeding your baby (and getting them used to not working to make milk come out in the process). Also, if you end up like me, with a baby who won't take a bottle for more than a few seconds no matter how perfectly it's prepared, there are other ways to feed them if you need to be separated. (My son liked cups and grown-up bottles with straws.) And that precious milk you pumped doesn't need to go to waste if baby ends up not drinking it, either. Turns out, you can use breast milk for lots of things, like skin-soothing milk baths for them (I’d stick to the cosmetic uses, though, and call on a doctor for things like ear infections, no matter what some folks around the web suggest.)
But that's all well in the future, after you get through your first thawing experience. Yes, you'll probably do most or all of the following, and yes, you and your baby will eventually succeed.
You'll Read Every Article About How To Do It About 80 Times
Instructions for thawing and warming breast milk are pretty straightforward. Then again, it'll only seem "straightforward" if you're not new to this whole breast milk thing, and not completely terrified of screwing it up.
Can that really be all there is to it? Is that safe? Better consult a few dozen more sources, just to be sure.
You’ll Read Every Article You Can Find About Dealing With Milk Separation
After a life spent interacting with homogenized milk, the natural separation in breast milk can seem a little weird. But just as you're about to shake that bottle to mix everything back together, you'll see that at least one of your thawing articles suggests that shaking breast milk can damage it somehow, setting you off on a new round of reading and researching.
You'll Post A Question To An Online Mom/Breastfeeding Group
Confused and adrift in a sea of conflicting information, you'll look for a lifeline: one of your online mom groups. You'll ask a question (or 12), and watch the notifications on your phone light up with useful info, personal anecdotes, and possibly a heated “swirl or shake” debate.
You'll Finally Feel Somewhat Ready To Thaw The Milk...
OK, you tell yourself. This isn't a big deal. Other parents do this all the time. If I just follow the instructions it will be fine.
...But Also Really Nervous
What if I mess up? Will my baby get sick? Will I destroy everything that makes breast milk good? Everything was easier when my boob was in charge of the temperature.
You'll Worry If The Milk Is OK
And commence a new round of researching, this time focused on how to tell if breast milk is bad. (If it smells fine, it probably is.)
You'll Smell And/Or Taste It Repeatedly
This whole milk business was easier when you were just dealing with a pasteurized carton stamped with an expiration date.
You'll Do Whatever You Do To Calm Your Nerves
After a few deep breaths, a quick stretch, and maybe even a silent prayer later, you'll be ready to do this thing. Almost.
You’ll Actually Prep A Bottle
You’ll actually pour the milk from its freezer baggies (or wherever it was frozen and stores in) into a bottle. You'll get horribly, terribly mad if you lose even a single drop. You'll choose the right, slow-flow nipple, and finish assembling this wonder of ancient biology and modern technology: a bottle of human breast milk.
You’ll Feel Relieved And Confident. Eventually.
Maybe if baby immediately responds well to whatever is in the bottle, that'll put you more at ease. However, if you're anything like me, you probably won't be totally convinced until you've seen them not be fussy and sick for the rest of the day, and/or you see their next diaper and everything looks like it's supposed to.