What I Wish I Knew: Passive Breastmilk Collection


Breastfeeding is WORK. It takes time and energy (and often a few tears). Anyone who thinks it’s easy either hasn’t tried it or has been exceptionally fortunate. While we can all agree that fed is best (my first two kiddos were happily formula supplemented), there were a number of reasons I wanted to try to build a “stash” of expressed breastmilk after the birth of my third child – namely, I didn’t want to buy formula. (Inflation and a formula shortage are strong motivators.) Here’s where passive breastmilk collection comes in.

freezer with bags and bottles of frozen breastmilk
My freezer stash at about three months postpartum

Now, I’m no lactation consultant (I will gladly leave that up to the professionals). However, I don’t think you need to be a breastfeeding expert to understand the basics behind passive breastmilk collection. And, I honestly wish I knew about it before I had my first baby.

How Does Passive Breastmilk Collection Work?

For most lactating parents, both breasts release milk when letting down. Before I started passively collecting my breastmilk, the milk from the side my baby wasn’t latched to would be absorbed in a breast pad (in an attempt to save myself from changing my top YET AGAIN). Instead of losing that bit of breastmilk, passive collection means “catching” the milk that is released from the non-latched side.

The best part of this deal is not having to use an electric pump. Don’t get me wrong, the electric breast pump is a VITAL invention. But between all the parts and washing and lugging around, I just didn’t want to deal with traditional pumping if I didn’t have to.

Haakaa Silicone Breast Pumps

“How does one catch the milk?”, you may ask. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Haakaa. It’s a manual silicon breast “pump” that uses light suction to attach to the breast to collect and/or pull out excess milk. Technically, I suppose this isn’t totally passive, but it’s pretty close. After the baby finished nursing on the initial side, I usually still had plenty remaining to let them nurse after removing the Haakaa during a session.

The Haakaa’s flat bottom makes it easy to set on a surface after use. I strongly recommend acquiring a model that includes either a stopper or a lid (this will prevent the very real possibility of crying over split breastmilk). It’s dishwasher and/or bottle sterilizer safe, but easy enough to handwash as well.

Silicon Haakaa manual breast pump and lid
The original Haakaa and lid

I had no idea that Haakaa existed until a few months into nursing my second child. I wish I had known about it soon because it’s fantastic. In fact, it is my number “what should you really buy when expecting a baby” recommendation.

Needless to say, this third time around I was fully prepared, and even sprung for their collection “cups,” as well. The cups work similarly to the original – plug the top and apply slight pressure to create a “vacuum” before attaching to the breast. The ladybug cups aren’t strong enough to be left on the breast on their own, but I was able to use it in whatever nursing bra I had on to keep it in place for the short term.

Two Haakaa ladybug passive breastmilk collection cups in frontal and side view
Haakaa ladybug collection cups

When I was “fuller”, I found the original Haakaa more useful (first feeds after waking up, for example). The cups came in handy during the day when more frequent feeds would collect smaller quantities.

Building a Freezer Stash From Passive Breastmilk Collection

Another common question is, “How long did it take to build a freezer stash?”

Well, that depends. It depends on how much breastmilk you are able to produce, how often you are passively collecting, and how much milk you are aiming to keep in your frozen stash.

For me, I did it whenever I felt like it. Some days it would be several times, and some days I would skip it altogether. That’s the beauty of passive breastmilk collection – flexibility. You can do more or less depending on what you want.

Within the first 3.5 months, I had amassed a stash of over 100 oz of extra breastmilk. And the best part (in my humble opinion)? MINIMAL PUMPING REQUIRED. Full disclosure, I did bust out my electric pump during this period, but only a handful of times.

One caveat to consider is the fat content of passively collected milk, which (I am told) can be lower than pumped milk. For myself, this did not seem to be an issue (possibly because I ended up using the electric pump on occasion, or maybe just luck on my part). Frozen milk was occasionally offered when I needed to be away from my baby for a few hours.

While this will not be everyone’s experience, I’m glad I get to share my journey with passive breastmilk collection. Oh, and I will forever recommend the Haakaa as one of the best baby products EVER!

Were you able to build a stash of breastmilk? Did you use passive breastmilk collection? Tell me about your experience in the comments!