Expressing Breastmilk


If you are going to be away from your baby when a feed is due, you may wish to express breastmilk and leave it for her.  It is best to express after a breastfeed so that more milk will be made by the time your baby wants her next feed.  Usually the easiest time to express is in the morning.  The amount you express may vary and differs between mothers.  Milk can be expressed by hand, or with a specially designed breast pump.

To hand express:

  • Support your breast with one hand and use the other to stroke downwards from the top towards the areola.
  • Squeeze the lower part of the breast between your thumb and forefinger, pressing firmly to force the milk out.
  • Move your fingers and thumb around the outer sides of your breast.
  • Express this milk into a sterile container.

You might find a hand pump or an electric pump easier and more effective than expressing by hand.  Remember nothing is as effective as your baby getting milk from your breast.

Cleaning Equipment for Expressing Breastmilk

It is important to sterilise the equipment, teats and bottles/cups.  If you are using a breast pump, clean it with washing up detergent, water and a brush.  If you are feeding by bottle, clean the teat and the bottle with washing up detergent and water and rinse it well.  Sterilise the breast pump and feeding equipment by boiling them on a rolling boil for 5 minutes or use a sterilising solution (following the instructions provided). You don’t need to rinse/towel dry the bottles etc when you remove them from the solution.  When baby is over three months equipment does not need to be sterilised, just cleaned thoroughly.

Keeping Breastmilk in the Fridge

Put the expressed breastmilk in a sterilised bottle or sterilised plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.  It will keep at room temperature for 4 hours and in the fridge for 2 days.  Milk should be stored in the back of the fridge where it is the coldest.  Do not add freshly expressed breastmilk to cold expressed milk, store in a separate container.

Keeping Breastmilk in the Freezer

Expressed milk will keep in a freezer box inside the fridge for 2 weeks, freezer for 4 months (stored as far back as possible), or deep freeze for 6-12 months.  The milk will probably separate into layers but when thawed can be mixed again.  Do not add freshly expressed milk to already frozen milk as it warms the frozen milk.

Storing Milk

Freshly expressed milk can be stored in the fridge in a sterile container for 2 days (48 hours).  Defrosted milk can be stored in the fridge for 24 hours.  If frozen it can be stored for 4 months in a freezer, or 6-12 months in a deep freezer.  These timeframes are given as a guide but please discuss them with your LMC before you discard any breastmilk.

Thawing/Defrosting and heating Breastmilk

Place expressed milk in a tightly covered sterilised container.  Defrost in the refrigerator or by placing the container of milk in warm water until the milk has thawed.  An alternate way is to thaw under running lukewarm water until thawed and at room temperature.  Use the milk immediately and throw away any left over after the feed.  It is not safe to reheat or refreeze milk.

Microwave heating can destroy important qualities of breastmilk.  It can also cause uneven heating that can burn baby’s mouth.  For these reasons, it is safer not to use a microwave for heating milk.