How do I express and store breast milk?

If you know that you want to offer your baby breast milk but they’re struggling to latch on or you’d like some help at feeding time, then bottle feeding expressed milk could be a great option for you.

Your baby will still get all of the tailored nutrition from your breast milk with the added bonus of your other half being able to help with those blurry eyed 3am night feeds.

Where to start

Expressing your breast milk can take a bit of getting used to. Don’t lose faith if it takes a few attempts or you only manage to express a small amount at first. You’ve got this. Just keep trying.

Before you get started:

  • Sterilise all parts of your breast pump before each use
  • Wash your hands
  • Assemble the pump in line with the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Find a quiet place to relax and unwind
  • Get comfortable and make sure you have everything you need to hand – a cuppa, snack, phone or TV remote.
  • Look at photos of your baby to help stimulate your hormones

How do I express breast milk by pump?

The thought of using a breast pump may seem scary at first, but you should know that expressing with a pump shouldn’t hurt.

Breast pumps are designed to replicate your baby’s sucking motion with the suction cups placed over your nipples. To help stimulate the milk flow, gently massage your breast and nipple area to resemble your baby snuggling against you.

You have two options for breast pumps, electric and manual.

Electric – electric pumps create an automatic vacuum and can be set at various speeds, usually you would start on a low setting and slowly increase the suction. Electric pumps can be expensive to buy but ask your midwife or health provider about hiring services in your local area.

Manual – manual breast pumps work by squeezing the handle repeatedly to create the suction. They are often a cheaper alternative to electric but it can take longer to express milk.

How do I express breast milk by hand?

  1. Make sure your hands are clean
  2. Using your thumb and forefinger, gently squeeze the area between your breast tissue and nipple
  3. Release and repeat until you find yourself in a rhythm and milk begins to flow
  4. Let the milk flow into a sterilised bottle or pouch
  5. If you are having trouble try moving your fingers closer or further away from the nipple, it can take a little time to get the hang of it
  6. Once the milk flow slows from the first breast, move onto the second
  7. You can repeat on both breasts if they still feel full

How often should I express breast milk?

Finding time to express during the day can be a pain, especially if you are planning to return to work. Not to worry though, when you first start out, once a day is enough to try and get used to mastering the technique. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can aim to express once for every missed feed, which is maybe around three during a work day.

This can feel like a lot when you are trying to juggle getting back into a work pattern. Don’t worry if you’re struggling to find the time. Try expressing before you set off to work, at lunch, then in the evening.

How can I store breast milk?

You can store breast milk in either a sterilised container or in specially designed storage pouch in the fridge or freezer. Label up any expressed milk that you want to store with the date and time so you can keep track of what to use up first.

Every drop of breast milk you express can feel like liquid gold. So here are some guidelines on how to keep that precious breast milk safe:

  • Room temperature – use within a few hours.
  • Fridge – up to 5 days in the fridge at 4°C or lower. Always leave enough room at the top of the container for expansion and to make life a little easier, freeze breastmilk in individual feed quantities.
  • Ice compartment – up to 2 weeks.
  • Freezer – up to 6 months at -18°C or lower.

How to defrost expressed breast milk

Frozen breast milk can be defrosted slowly in the fridge. If you need to use it immediately then you can defrost it by placing the sealed bottle / pouch into a bowl of warm water.

Once the milk has defrosted use it straight away and never re-freeze it.

How to heat expressed breast milk

If your baby prefers warm milk you can heat up the refrigerated milk by placing the sealed bottle / pouch into a bowl of warm water or by holding it under a warm tap.

Don’t use a microwave to heat up milk as it can cause hot spots that will scald your baby’s mouth.

Any breast milk that has been heated but not used should be thrown away within an hour.

Can I put breast milk expressed at different times in the same container?

Yes, if you are expressing milk regularly then you can mix milk from different times. It’s a good idea to try and mix batches that have been pumped around the same time, just make sure you give it a good shake before you offer it to your baby.