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Storing and expressing breast milk

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SUMMARY

Expressing breast milk ensures your baby gets all the nutrition they need when you can’t be there to feed them. Whether you choose to do it by hand or using a manual or electric pump is up to you. Just bear in mind the importance of storing breast milk in the correct way.

How to express and store milk

You may need to express milk if you're away from your baby for any length of time, or if you're returning to work but want to continue to feed breast milk. Whichever method you use, it’s important to make sure your hands are clean and that all bottles, containers and pump pieces are washed and sterilised. Before expressing, massage your breasts to encourage the milk to flow.

Expressing breast milk by hand

Make a C shape with your thumb and index finger or middle finger and cup your breast. Press towards your rib cage and then, maintaining the pressure, push forwards easing the milk towards the nipple. Release the pressure and repeat. You’ll need to use a container with a wide opening to collect the milk. In order to express well you need to be relaxed and comfortable and you may find it helpful to think about your baby. To begin with you may only be able to express a few drops however the more often you express, the more milk you will produce.

Expressing breast milk with a hand pump

Breast pumps have a funnel which you place over the nipple and areola. Some are operated by a lever and others run on batteries. Again, it’s best to massage your breasts before expressing and then follow the instructions that come with your particular pump.

Electric breast pumps

Fast and easy to use, these pumps are good if you need to express for an extended period, for example if your baby is in a Special Care Baby Unit. You can express as often and as frequently as you wish and you can also pump both breasts at once; the more you express the more milk you will produce. You can hire electric pumps from the National Childbirth Trust and other breastfeeding organisations. If your baby is in special care the unit may be able to lend you a pump. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Storing breast milk

Expressed breast milk must be stored in a sterilised container, and can be kept in the fridge for up to five days at 4°C or lower, for two weeks in the ice compartment of a fridge, and up to six months in a freezer – make sure you label them with the date of expressing and the volume of milk inside.

Expressing breast milk ensures your baby gets all the nutrition they need when you can’t be there to feed them. Watch this short video from Aptaclub for a step-by-step guide on how to express and store your breast milk safely.

Last reviewed: 28th July 2014
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