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Expression, Collection and Storage of Breast Milk

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.


What you need to know about expression, collection, and storage of breast milk:

Expression of breast milk is when you remove milk from your breast with your hands or a breast pump. You will need to use proper containers to collect the breast milk. You can store breast milk until your baby is ready to use it if you keep it cold properly.

Why you may need to express and store breast milk:

  • You are going to be away from your baby.
  • Your baby cannot breastfeed right after birth.
  • Your breasts are engorged.
  • Your breasts or nipples are sore.

When to express breast milk:

It is important to remove milk at the same times you would normally breastfeed. This helps your breasts continue to make milk. Start to express within 6 hours after you give birth if your baby cannot breastfeed right away. Express your milk as often as he or she would breastfeed, which is 8 to 12 times a day. Express your milk for about 15 to 20 minutes or until your milk stops coming out. It is important to remove milk at the same times you would normally breastfeed. This helps your breasts continue to make milk.

How to express breast milk:

A breast pump works well if you need to express your milk often or completely empty your breasts. Hand expression works well if you only need to express milk once in a while. Wash your hands with soap and water before you pump or hand express your milk. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  • Breast pump: Choose a breast pump that is comfortable and easy to use. There are many types of breast pumps to choose from. They can be manual (hand pump), battery-powered, or electric. A manual pump may work well if you only plan to express breast milk once in a while. A double electric breast pump can express milk from both of your breasts at the same time. Double electric breast pumps work well if you have a lot of milk. They are also helpful if you are at work and need to pump quickly. Ask your healthcare provider to help you choose the best breast pump for you.
  • Hand expression: Place your fingers on each side of your areola. Press back toward your chest. Press your fingers toward each other and push slightly toward your nipple. Release the pressure and relax your hand. Repeat this motion several times and change the position of your hand. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on how to express your milk by hand.

How to collect breast milk:

Use BPA-free plastic bottles or glass bottles to collect and store your breast milk. Plastic bags made for storing breast milk may also be used. Collect your breast milk in small portions so you can use only what you need. This will help prevent wasting breast milk. Do not use disposable bottle liners or other plastic bags to store breast milk. If you plan to freeze the breast milk, do not fill the container all the way to the top. Breast milk expands when it freezes.

How to store breast milk:

Store your breast milk right after you express it. Write the date and time on the storage container.

  • Room temperature: You can store fresh breast milk for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature. You can store thawed breast milk for 1 to 2 hours at room temperature. Keep the container covered and as cool as possible.
  • Insulated cooler with ice packs: You can store fresh breast milk in a cooler with ice packs for up to 24 hours.
  • Refrigerator: You can store fresh breast milk in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Keep the milk in the back of the refrigerator. If you thaw frozen breast milk in the refrigerator, you can store the thawed milk for up to 24 hours.
  • Freezer: You can store breast milk in a regular freezer for 3 to 6 months. Store the breast milk in the back of the freezer to make sure it stays frozen. Do not store it in the door of the freezer. It may start to thaw each time the freezer door is opened.

How to use stored breast milk safely:

  • Place frozen breast milk in the refrigerator overnight to thaw it. You can also thaw breast milk in warm water. Breast milk does not need to be warmed. You can give it to your child at room temperature or cold. Do not heat breast milk in the microwave. Microwaving creates hot spots that can damage the milk or burn your baby.
  • Use the oldest stored milk first. Use thawed breast milk within 24 hours. Do not refreeze thawed breast milk. Throw away any thawed milk that is left over after your baby's feeding.

For support and more information:

  • La Leche League International
    957 North Plum Grove Road
    Schaumburg , IL 60173
    Phone: 1- 847 - 519-7730
    Phone: 1- 800 - 525-3243
    Web Address:

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© Copyright Merative 2023 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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