Expressing and storing breast milk

BreastpumpExpressing breast milk ranks right up there with having a midwife inspect your stitches as one of the most gloriously undignified acts of new parenthood.

Hunching half-naked in a chair with one breast squeezed down a plastic funnel is not a sexy look - even before the schlurp-schlurp-drip of milk hitting bottle kicks in. But, for all its aesthetic downsides, you may come to love your breast pump: it is a breastfeeder's passport to a night out or (even better) an undisturbed night in. 

Tips for stress-free expressing

Expressing breast milk can take a little while to master but things will run (out) a lot more smoothly if you:

  • Find the right pump

Do you want a hand-operated one (generally cheaper and smaller but often more fiddly to operate) or an electric one (pricier and noisier but often better at getting the milk out)?

Annoyingly, you probably won't know which sort will work best for you till you've tried both sorts. If neither of them work for you there is always the option of expressing by hand. 

  • Hold your horses

Don't start pumping until you (and your baby) have got the feeding-from-the-breast thing licked. You need time to build up your milk-dispensing confidence.

Some people feel ready to express within the first couple of weeks, and are happy to spend time pumping in the day in return for the promise of a few extra hours' kip at night. Others find breastfeeding a newborn takes up enough of their day already, and prefer to wait a while before having to find time to express as well.

Obviously, if you're expressing instead of breastfeeding - because your baby's in special care, for example - that's a completely different story.

  • Pick your moment

You'll probably find it easier to express your breast  at certain times of the day than others. Pumping success can often be as much psychological as physical - if you feel you have 'full' breasts, you're more likely to relax and 'release' more milk.

  • Lower your expectations

Hardly anyone fills a bottle on their first go at expressing (or second or third). As with most parental tasks, practice makes, well, a little bit better next time.

And, however small the amount of milk you collect, don't panic that your breasts are running dry. As this Mumsnetter wisely puts it: "The amount you produce when you're expressing has nothing to do with the amount you've actually got." 

  • Refine your expressing technique

The hardest thing about expressing is that your baby isn't there. Pumps can 'suck' like your baby but they don't give you that gooey maternal feeling that helps get your milk flowing. Cue alternative milk-trigger tactics such as:

  • Feeding your baby on one side and expressing on the other
  • Starting while your pump's still nice and warm from the steam steriliser - the heat can help get things flowing

And, once you're 'in production', here are some neat ways to max up the flow:

  • If you're using a hand pump, try to mimic your baby's suck pattern. So, fast and shallow (not much pressure) to begin with and then, when the milk begins to flow, change it to long and deep (more pressure)
  • Try switching to the other breast when the first breast slows - switching back and forth will produce more milk than pumping for a set time on first one breast and then the other

Storing breast milk

Follow these guidelines to make sure you store your precious breast milk safely

  • You can keep expressed breast milk in the fridge (at 4C or below; the back of the fridge is better than the door) for five days, for up to two weeks in the freezer compartment of the fridge or for up to six months (date it or you'll forget!) in the freezer (at -18C or below).
  • Freshly expressed breast milk can keep for 6 hours without refrigeration. Try and transport it in a coolbag.
  • You should always defrost frozen breast milk in the fridge and never refreeze it once it's been thawed. Don't use a microwave as it will defrost it unevenly and will also kill off antibodies and nutrients.
  • Once your baby has drunk from a bottle, the milk in the bottle should be used or discarded within an hour.

A word to the wise: it's always (crushingly) possible that, after all the pumping palaver, your baby may be not at all keen on taking a bottle of your expressed milk. Don't leave it till the restaurant's booked and your babysitter has arrived to find this out. 


Last updated: 8 months ago