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Expression, Collection And Storage Of Breastmilk


Expression of breast milk is when you remove milk from your breast with your hands or a breast pump.


Follow up with your primary healthcare provider (PHP) as directed:

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

Reasons you may need to express, collect, and store breast milk:

  • You are going to be away from your baby. Express and store your milk if you plan to be away from your baby during his feeding time. You can express and store a supply of milk if you are going back to work. Ask your PHP for more information on breastfeeding and the working mom.
  • Your baby cannot breastfeed right after birth. Some babies are born early and cannot breastfeed right away. Other babies may take a while to learn how to latch on. Some babies may be ill at birth and cannot breastfeed right away.
  • Your breasts are engorged. This is when your breasts are too full of milk. Express or pump out a small amount of milk before you breastfeed. This will help soften your breast and your nipple, and allow your baby to latch on better.
  • Your breasts are sore. You may want to express milk if you have nipple soreness or pain during breastfeeding. Ask your PHP for more information about nipple soreness.

When and how often to express:

If your baby was born early and cannot breastfeed right away, start to express within 6 hours after you give birth. During the first few days after delivery, you will produce colostrum. Colostrum is a special type of milk that has many nutrients in it. It may take about 2 to 4 days for your mature milk to come in to replace the colostrum. During the time that your baby cannot breastfeed, express your milk as often as your baby would breastfeed. This is usually at least 8 times a day. Express milk for about 15 to 20 minutes or until your milk stops coming out.

How to express breast milk:

Hand expression may work well if you only need to express milk once in a while. A breast pump may work well if you will be away from your baby for longer periods of time.

  • Hand expression: Use a container such as a clean bowl to collect your milk. Place your fingers on each side of your areola (dark area around your nipple). 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 PHP for more information on how to express your milk by hand.
  • 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 PHP to help you choose the best breast pump for you.

Milk let-down:

Let-down is when your breast milk flows from the milk ducts down to your nipple. You may have a warm, tingling feeling in your breasts when let-down happens. You need to have let-down to remove milk from your breasts. Express your milk in a comfortable setting with no distractions. Let-down may happen when you see, hear, or think of your baby. It may be helpful to look at a photo of him while you express milk.

How to collect breast milk:

Use plastic 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 you avoid wasting breast milk.

How to store expressed milk:

Store your breast milk right after you express it.

  • Room temperature: You can store breast milk for up to 6 hours at room temperature.
  • Insulated cooler with ice packs: You can store breast milk in a cooler with ice packs for up to 24 hours.
  • Refrigerator: You can store breast milk in the refrigerator for up to 8 days. If you thaw frozen breast milk in the refrigerator, you can store the thawed milk for up to 24 hours.
  • Freezer: If the freezer door is inside of the refrigerator, you can store the breast milk for 2 weeks. If the freezer section has its own outer door, you can store milk in the freezer for 3 to 6 months. Keep the frozen breast milk on the bottom or at the back of the freezer. You can keep breast milk in a deep freezer at 0°F for up to 12 months.

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. Do not heat breast milk in the microwave because the heat from the microwave will cause hot spots in the milk. Throw away any thawed milk that is left over after your baby's feeding.

Contact your PHP if:

  • You feel that you are not making enough breast milk for your baby.
  • You have nipple pain while you express your milk.
  • Your nipples look red, dry, or cracked, or they are bleeding and have scabs on them.
  • One or both of your breasts is very swollen or painful and keeps you from expressing.
  • You feel a tender lump in your breast.
  • One or both of your breasts is red, swollen or hard, painful, and feels warm or hot.
  • You have questions or concerns about how to express, collect, and store breast milk.

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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.