expressing your breast milk

How to express and store breast milk

Expressing allows you to have supplies of your breast milk for feeding your baby even when you’re not around – useful if you are returning to work or become ill. We go through how to express and store breast milk so you can relax and know you have everything covered. 

Expressing your breast milk is when you take milk out of your breast. Expressing your milk is a very handy skill to learn. In the early days, you may want to express milk if:

  • Your baby needs to be cared for in a special care baby unit or paediatric hospital.
  • You or your baby is too ill to breastfeed after birth.
  • Your breasts feel very full or uncomfortable or your baby is having difficulty latching on after your milk comes in.
  • You have returned to the paid work force, study or other commitments.
  • You are leaving your baby with a babysitter while you are out. Some mothers find it easy to express breast milk, while some can sometimes take a while to learn how to express.

Top tip

Expressing breast milk can be easier if you are in a comfortable, private place. Sit in a comfortable chair and make sure that you have a large glass of water to drink and most importantly, give yourself time.

How to express breast milk

  • By hand
  • With a hand held pump
  • With an electric pump

Each breast is divided into around 15 sections, each with its own milk ducts. It is from these ducts that you express the milk. Whatever method you choose, the technique requires some practice in the early days to build up a steady rhythm and get the milk to flow. Don’t be alarmed if you find that it’s taking a while to flow.

Encouraging milk flow

For hand expressing, gently massage your breast. This can be done with your fingertips or by rolling your closed hand towards the nipple. Work around the whole breast, including underneath. Do not slide your fingers along your breast, as it can damage the skin. After massaging your breast, gently roll your nipple between your first finger and thumb. This encourages the release of hormones, which stimulate your breast to produce and release the milk.

Milk can be continuously expressed from one breast for a few minutes before the supply slows down. To give the ducts time to refill, express milk from your other breast. Then go back to the first breast and start again. Keep changing breast until the milk stops or drips slowly. With practice, it is possible to express from both breasts at the same time.

How to store breast milk

If you are storing breast milk for a fullterm healthy newborn infant, you can use the following methods.

1. The fridge. Breast milk can be stored in the coolest part of a refrigerator at a temperature of 2-4°C for up to five days. If you do not have a refrigerator thermometer, it is probably safest to freeze any breast milk that you do not intend to use within 24 hours. Breast milk can be stored for one week in the ice compartment of the refrigerator or up to three months in the freezer section of a fridge freezer with separate doors, or six months in a chest freezer. If you have a self-defrosting freezer, store the milk as far away as possible from the defrosting element.

2. The freezer. When freezing breast milk for occasional use at home, any plastic container can be used providing it has an airtight seal and can be sterilised. Remember to date and label each container and use them in rotation.

3. For ‘special care’ babies. If you are expressing breast milk because your baby is premature or ill, ask the staff who are caring for him for advice about storage containers and how to store your milk.

Breast milk storage guideline

  • Room temperature: at 26°C for 6 hours
  • Fridge: at 4°C for 5 days
  • Freezer compartment inside fridge: at -18°C for 2 weeks
  • Fridge/freezer: at -18°C for 3 months
  • Chest freezer: at -18°C for 6 months

How to thaw breast milk

Thaw frozen milk in its container under warm, running water or standing in a jug of warm water. Do not use boiling water. Milk may be heated to room temperature or body temperature, do not bring to boiling point. Shake before testing the temperature. Breast milk should not be defrosted in a microwave because this may cause the milk to become an uneven temperature, which may scald the baby’s mouth. It may also cause the loss of some of the beneficial properties of the milk.

More like this:

Burping your baby
7 things you need to know about expressing breast milk
8 things to do while breastfeeding (and immobile)


Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.


Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.