Guidelines Families Follow For Pumping And Storing Milk: What’s It Like In Real Life?

Editor’s Note: From time to time, LLL USA shares information about research studies relating to breastfeeding/chestfeeding/human milk feeding. The researcher agrees to provide the results of the study in a reader-friendly format so that we can share it with the community that participated. New Beginnings is pleased to publish this report from Dr. Briere on a recent study. 

person pumping milk; holding 2 bottlesDr. Carrie-Ellen Briere wants to send a heartfelt thank you to all of the parents who completed the pumping and milk storage survey in 2019. Her team is currently working on the final results and will have much more to share in their published paper, but they wanted to share some of the main findings now that might be of interest to families.

Because there is so much information available about storing milk with varying guidelines, the purpose of this study was to learn more about what is actually happening at home for families.

Over 3,500 parents responded!

While families get their breastfeeding information from a wide variety of sources and social media outlets, most are using their fresh (room temperature) or refrigerated expressed milk within the CDC guidelines. (See Figures 1 and 2.)

Fig 1 – The CDC Guidelines
Fig 2 – Milk Storage

Fifty-nine percent of responders reported having discarded milk for any reason, and 74% of that 59% say that the reason they discarded the milk is that it was beyond the guidelines for safe storage that they were following.

Among lactation support providers, there is concern that in many social media groups, parents post about all the extra milk in their freezers thereby creating an impression that everyone should be storing great amounts. This can create stress and be hurtful for those who have less milk stored, causing them to feel as though they don’t have enough milk for their baby. Figure 3 shows how many feedings parents have stored in their freezer.

Fig 3 – Pain/exclusive pumping/number of feedings in the freezer

Dr Briere explains, “I really want parents who are pumping to know that there is no magic number of milk bags that need to be in the freezer and that what we see on social media is likely not the reality for so many others around us.” Further analysis of the data will look into whether those who do have large amounts of stored milk tend to be those who are exclusively pumping.

Among the 13% who were exclusive pumpers, 50.4% became exclusive pumpers within the first week followed by an additional 23.8% who became exclusive pumpers during the rest of the first month. Many parents reported in the comments that they switched to exclusive pumping because of challenges that could have turned out differently if they had had access to knowledgeable support.  For example, of the 13% who were exclusively pumping, 65% reported that they chose to exclusively pump because of difficulty latching.

When participants were asked whether they currently experienced unresolved pain when feeding at the breast/chest, 88.8% reported pain-free feeding, leaving 11.2% experiencing unresolved pain.  However, a total of 65% of the participants reported experiencing pain at some point. Thirty-one percent report experiencing pain when pumping.

Feed the baby, not the freezerThere are many different guidelines available for parents on how to store and handle human milk for infant feeding. These guidelines all vary slightly from each other, and how parents choose to follow these guidelines and implement infant feeding practices with expressed milk has rarely been studied. This survey gives an overview of what is actually happening in the homes of families in regard to human milk pumping, storage, and feeding. The findings from this study will also give an overview of specific aspects of feeding decisions (e.g., transitioning to exclusive pumping) and challenges (e.g., ongoing pain with breastfeeding/chestfeeding and with pumping) that occur in the home so that parents and lactation professionals can better understand the full spectrum of human milk feeding practices and experiences.

Please feel free to reach out to Dr. Briere at [email protected] with any questions. You can see what Dr. Briere and her milk research laboratory are up to at Dr. Briere also wants to thank LLL USA for their support during the development and distribution of this survey and for their overall support of parents.

Dr. Briere and her family.

Dr. Briere is a neonatal nurse who is passionate about protecting and promoting human milk use. She currently works as an Assistant Professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst where she teaches and runs a research laboratory focused on understanding what is in human milk and how it protects health and supports development in infants and children. In addition to her professional interest in human milk feeding, Dr. Briere has personal experience with breastfeeding her three children. She experienced significant challenges providing human milk to her first child even as a lactation professional and believes that all parents should have access to human milk feeding education before delivery and on-going access to in-person support after delivery so they can achieve their feeding goals.  

Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

Red heartSupporting Breastfeeding Families–Today, Tomorrow, Always

Please consider donating to La Leche League USA.

Donations of any amount are gratefully accepted. Thank you!