Expressing milk

If you are going to be away from your baby when a feed is due, you may want to express breast milk. The best time to express milk is after a feed, and the easiest time is in the morning. If you express milk just before a feed, there may be less for the baby.  The amount you can express may vary during the day, and is different for each mother.

How to express milk

You can express milk by hand, or with a hand or electric pump.

To express by hand:

  • Support the breast with one hand. Use the other to stroke downwards from the top to the nipple area

  • Squeeze the lower breast  between thumb and forefinger (not the nipple), and press to express milk. Apply steady pressure into the breast towards the chest wall. 

  • Move fingers and thumb around the outer sides of the breast to ensure the breast is completely ‘milked’.

Cleaning the equipment you use

It’s important to clean and sterilise the pump, teats, and bottles or cups.

If you’re using a breast pump:

  • Clean it with washing-up detergent, water and a brush.

  • Sterilise the breast pump, the bottle/cup and storage container by boiling them for 5 minutes (boil teats for 3 minutes) or

  • Use a sterilising solution.

If you are feeding by bottle:

  • Clean the teat and the bottle with washing-up detergent and water

  • Make sure you get all the milk out.

When your baby is over 3 months old, you don’t need to sterilise the equipment; just clean it thoroughly.

Keeping milk at room temperature and in the fridge

Put the expressed breast milk in a sterilised bottle or sterilised plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. It will keep at room temperature for 4 hours and in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Store milk at the back of the fridge where it is coldest. Don’t add freshly expressed breast milk to cold expressed milk. Wait until it has cooled to the same temperature.

Keeping milk in the freezer

Expressed milk will keep. The milk may separate into layers, but once thawed, it will mix again. You can keep it:

  • In a freezer box inside the fridge for 2 weeks

  • In a separate-door freezer for 3–6 months—stored as far back as possible

  • In the deep freeze for 6–12 months.

Thawing/defrosting and heating breast milk

To defrost and heat breast milk:

  • Defrost frozen expressed milk in the fridge, or

  • Place the container of milk in warm water until the milk thaws.

  • Warm it to body temperature in a bowl of hot water.

  • Test the temperature of the milk by putting a little on the inside of your wrist.

  • Use the milk immediately and throw away any left over after the feed. It’s not safe to reheat or refreeze milk.

Do NOT use a microwave for heating or defrosting breast milk. It can destroy important qualities of breast milk. It can also cause uneven heating that can burn the baby’s mouth.


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