Breastfeeding - expressing and storing breastmilk
breastfeeding; breastfeed; breast; feeding; expressing; milk; breastmilk; storing; freezing; thawing; microwaving; heating; microwave;
Expressing is done when you need to have some milk for your baby because you aren't going to be there for a feed, or if your breasts are very full and uncomfortable. You can express after a feed or instead of a feed.
Expressing by hand costs nothing and you don't need any equipment. It may empty your breasts more completely than using a breast pump.
- Wash your hands using soap and running water. Dry them completely with a clean, dry towel.
- Have a clean container that has been washed in hot soapy water, such as small bowl or large cup ready to collect the milk. If expressing for a premature or sick and hospitalised baby: a sterile container should be used to catch the expressed breastmilk. Thorough cleaning needs to be carried out before sterilisation and after each use. Have a look at the topic - Bottle feeding - cleaning and sterilising bottles and equipment.
- Gently massage the breast stroking towards the nipple to start the letdown.
- Then place the end of your forefinger (index finger) and thumb on either side of areola (the brownish area around the nipple), near outer edge opposite each other.
- Push back towards your chest and then press finger and thumb together. Let go, then press again in a rhythmic way.
- Gradually move your fingers around the areola to express different parts of the breast.
- Expect the milk to take a minute or so to start coming.
- Treat your breasts gently; expressing should not hurt.
Using a breast
Using a pump to express may be faster than doing it by hand. You can get many different hand pumps or electric pumps.
They all need to be cleaned thoroughly between uses; see the information that comes with the pump and below section ‘Cleaning and Sterilising Breastfeeding Equipment’.
If you need to express often you may be able to hire an electric pump from a pharmacist. If your nipples are sore or cracked, you may find that hand expressing is less painful.
To express with a pump:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water. Dry them with a clean, dry towel.
- Gently massage your breasts, stroking towards the nipple.
- Place the cup of the pump on your breast with the nipple in the centre.
- Work a hand pump with a smooth and rhythmic action.
- For an electric pump, start with low suction strength and gradually increase to find the most effective and comfortable level for you.
- If your pump has an attachment to express both breasts at once, you may find this quicker and more effective.
How often and
- Try to express 30 ml or so after feeds (especially morning feeds), for a few days and store the milk following the directions below.
- As a rough guide, a baby of 1 to 3 months may take 100 to 180 ml for a feed, but it is very variable.
- If you will only be away for a few hours, don't worry if you don't have a lot of milk to leave. You and your baby will be keen to have a good breastfeed when you return.
- If you do not have enough expressed breastmilk, it is fine to add made up formula to the same bottle.
What type of container should I use?
All containers should be sterilised before use. Breastmilk keeps more of its protective and nutrient quality in glass or hard plastic containers. These containers should have well–fitting lids.
Small sterile bags specially designed for storing breastmilk are available. These specially designed plastics do not leach into the breastmilk, and they are thick enough to allow long term storage in the freezer.
Only fill the container ¾ full as milk expands with freezing.
- It is preferable to use small containers suitable for one feed or less e.g. 50 ml, to avoid wastage. For example, if you defrost a large amount and your baby begins feeding with the entire amount but does not drink all of the feed then the remainder will have to be discarded.
- Breastmilk can be kept at room temperature (less than 27º) for 6 - 8 hours, but if a refrigerator is available, store it there.
- Milk stored in the refrigerator is to be used within 72 hours and best used within 48 hours for premature or sick babies. Keep it in the back of refrigerator where it is coldest - not in the door.
- Frozen milk will keep for 2 weeks in a freezer section inside a one-door fridge, or for 3 months in the freezer section of a fridge with a separate door, and for 6 - 12 months in a separate deep freeze (write the date on a label on the container).
- Freshly expressed breastmilk should be cooled in the fridge before being added to other chilled or frozen expressed breastmilk.
Thawing and warming
- Thaw milk slowly in the refrigerator or more quickly in warm water in a small container such as a cup. Do not use hot water. You should be able to comfortably put your hand into the water. Most babies are happy to drink milk that is 'room temperature'. We advise that you do not use a microwave oven.
- If it is thawed in the fridge, it will keep for 24 hours in the fridge.
- If it is thawed in warm water, use it straight away or put it back in the fridge for no more than 4 hours.
- Do not re-freeze thawed milk.
- Once a baby has started to feed from a bottle, throw away any milk left after about an hour.
- Use an insulated container with a freezer brick.
- If frozen milk remains frozen, put it in the freezer on arrival.
- If frozen milk has thawed, put it in the refrigerator and use it within 4 hours. Do not re-freeze.
- If the milk has never been frozen, you can either store it in the refrigerator or freeze it if you wish, following the guide above.
- The recommended way to warm breastmilk is to stand it in a small container of warm water.
- The major problem with microwave ovens is that they cause uneven heating. The temperature of the surface may be a lot hotter or cooler than the rest of the milk.
Cleaning and sterilising breastfeeding equipment
Thorough cleaning needs to be carried out before sterilisation and after each use. Have a look at the topic - Bottle feeding - cleaning and sterilising bottles and equipment.
Parent Helpline (Child and Family Health Service)
- 24 hours per day, call 1300 364 100
Your local Child and Family Health centre - call 1300 733 606 for appointment.
Australian Breastfeeding Association helpline
- telephone: 1800 686 268 (1800 mum 2 mum) (24 hour service)
Books to download
Women's and Children's Health Network (South Australia)
Australian Breastfeeding Association
Pregnancy, birth and baby Pregnancy, Birth and Baby is a national Australian Government service providing support and information for expecting parents and parents of children, from birth to 5 years of age.
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.