Expressing and Storing Breast Milk

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You may want to express milk to feed to your baby later or so that someone else can feed your baby with a bottle.

You might want to express milk if:

  • you have to be away from your baby, for example, because your baby is in special care or because you're going back to work
  • your breasts feel uncomfortably full (engorged)
  • your baby isn't able to suck well but you still want to give them breast milk
  • your partner is going to help with feeding your baby
  • you want to boost your milk supply

How do I express breast milk?

You can express milk by hand or with a breast pump. Sometimes it can take a little while for your milk to start flowing while expressing so try to choose a time when you feel relaxed. Believe it or not having your baby, or a photo of them, nearby can help your milk to flow.

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You may find it easier to express in the morning when your breasts are fuller.

[Read more: The Growing Popularity of Colostrum Harvesting]

Expressing breast milk by hand

Some women find it easier to express milk by hand than using a pump.

Hand expressing allows you to encourage milk to flow from a particular part of the breast. This may be useful if one of the milk ducts in your breast becomes blocked

These tips may help:

  • Before you start, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • Some mothers find gently massaging their breasts before expressing helps their milk to let down.
  • Cup your breast with one hand then, with your other hand, form a "C" shape with your forefinger and thumb.
  • Squeeze gently, keeping your finger and thumb near the darker area around your nipple (areola) but not on it (don't squeeze the nipple itself as you could make it sore). This shouldn't hurt.
  • Release the pressure, then repeat, building up a rhythm. Try not to slide your fingers over the skin.
  • Drops should start to appear, and then your milk usually starts to flow.
  • If no drops appear, try moving your finger and thumb slightly, but still, avoid the darker area.
  • When the flow slows down, move your fingers round to a different section of your breast, and repeat.
  • When the flow from one breast has slowed, swap to the other breast. Keep changing breasts until your milk drips very slowly or stops altogether.

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Expressing milk with a breast pump

There are two different types of breast pump: manual (hand-operated) and electric. Manual pumps are cheaper but may not be as quick as an electric one. You can sometimes hire a breast pump which is far more economical if you are only going to be using it for a short while. Your midwife, health visitor or a local breastfeeding supporter can give you details of where you can hire a breast pump.

The suction strength can be changed on some electric pumps. Build up slowly. Setting the strength to high straightaway could be painful or damage your nipple.

Always make sure that the pump and container are clean and sterilised before you use them.

[Read more: What Does it Mean to 'Pump and Dump']

Storing breast milk

You can store breast milk in a sterilised container or in special breast milk storage bags which you can buy online or in the supermarket:

You can store breastmilk:

  • In the fridge for up to five days at 4C or lower 
  • For two weeks in the ice compartment of a fridge
  • For up to six months in a freezer

Breast milk that's been cooled in the fridge can be carried in a cool bag with ice packs for up to 24 hours.

If you're freezing breastmilk make sure you label and date it first.

bagged breast milk

Defrosting frozen breast milk

It's best to defrost frozen milk slowly in the fridge before giving it to your baby. If you need to use it straight away you can defrost it by putting it in a jug of warm water or holding it under running warm water.

Once it's defrosted, use it straight away. Do not re-freeze milk that has been defrosted.

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Warming breast milk

You can feed expressed milk straight from the fridge if your baby is happy to drink it cold or you can warm the milk to body temperature by putting the bottle in a jug of warm water or holding it under running warm water.

Once your baby has drunk from a bottle of breast milk it should be used within the hour and anything left over should be thrown away.

Don't use a microwave to heat up or defrost breast milk. This can cause hot spots, which can burn your baby's mouth.

[Read more: How to Whip Your Boob Out In Public Like a Pro]

Breast milk if your baby is in hospital

If you're expressing breast milk because your baby is premature or sick ask the hospital staff where and how you can store it.

Having difficulty expressing?

If you are finding it difficult or uncomfortable to express your breast milk ask your midwife or health visitor for help. They can also tell you about what breastfeeding support is available.

Call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 (9.30am-9.30pm daily) if you have any questions about breastfeeding.

[Read more: How to Choose the Right Nursing Bra]

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