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.
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.
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7 things you need to know about expressing breast milk
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