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Expressing and storing breast milk

  • You can release milk by hand (manually) or with a breast pump. This is called expressing.

    There may be times when you need to express your breast milk.

    This can happen when you miss a feeding, your baby takes a bottle, or your breasts are engorged.

    You can save the milk for a later feeding. Read on for how to store breast milk.


    Always wash your hands before expressing or pumping breastmilk.

    Hand expressing breastmilk

    To express your breastmilk:

    • Wash your hands.
    • Help your milk let down by first massaging or stroking your breast. (See photo A.) Avoid sliding your hand over your breast down to the nipple. This can cause skin irritation.
    • Place your hand on your breast with your fingers 1 to 1 ½ inches behind the nipple. (See photo B.)
    • Push straight back into the chest wall without spreading your fingers. If your breasts are large, lift your breast and then push. (See figure C.)
    • Gently compress (squeeze) the areola in one motion. Do not pull your nipple out.
    • Repeat in a rhythm: position fingers, push in, compress and release. Position, push in, compress and release.
    • Expressing should be comfortable.
    • When you no longer get milk, rotate your thumb and fingers.
    • Switch back and forth from breast to breast.
    • Collect the breastmilk in a clean cup, spoon or other clean container. (See photo D.)

    All photos © Allina Health System

    Hand express

    A: Position for massage.

    Hand express

    B: How to place your hand

    Hand express

    C: Gently push straight back.

    Hand express

    D: Gently compress then collect the breastmilk.

    Expressing milk with a breast pump

    Not every woman needs a breast pump. It depends on your situation and lifestyle. Wait to buy one until you determine if you need one.

    Not all pumps are created equal. Breast pumps vary a lot in quality and effectiveness. Choose a high-quality pump. Your lactation resource will help you find a pump that's right for you.

    Remember: Using a breast pump should never cause you pain. If you do have pain, stop using the pump and call your lactation resource right away.

    Before you start pumping, wash your hands well. Sit comfortably and take a few slow relaxing breaths. Massage your breasts to help your milk let down.

    Pump your breasts according to the pump's directions. It is important that any part of the pump that comes in contact with the breast, milk, or collection containers be very clean. Wash them in hot, soapy water. Rinse and air dry them on a clean towel. You can also wash them in a dishwasher.


    The Federal Drug Administration cautions that no one should ever "… buy a used breast pump or share a breast pump. The money you may save by buying a used pump is not worth the health risks to you or your baby. Breast pumps that are reused by different mothers can carry infectious diseases …"

    Storing breastmilk

    Breastmilk can be safely kept in the refrigerator or freezer. There are different styles of containers for storing breastmilk: special plastic bags, bottles and glass containers.

    Be sure to wash the milk containers in hot, soapy water. Rinse them and let them air dry. Wash your hand well before you touch your breasts and clean milk containers.

    How to store fresh breastmilk

    • Write the date on the container.
    • Pour the pumped milk into the container.
    • You can collect small amounts of milk during the day and keep it in the refrigerator.
    Breastmilk How to store How long to store How to use
    Fresh (best choice) Pour pumped milk into a storage container. Keep containers in the back of the refrigerator. Do not keep containers in the refrigerator doors. in a cooler packed with ice: 24 hours room temperature: 66-72 F for up to 10 hours, 79 F for 4 to 8 hours refrigerator: up to 8 days if the temperature is 32-39 F Bring to room temperature (if cold). Place the container in warm water or under warm running water. Gently shake before giving. Test the temperature.
    Frozen (freezer portion of a refrigerator or a deep freeze) Freeze in 2 to 4 ounce portions. Place the plastic storage bags into a larger plastic bag. Do not keep containers in the freezer door. Freezer portion of the refrigerator: 3 months. Deep freeze kept at 0 F: up to one year Use the oldest frozen breastmilk first. Thaw in the refrigerator. Place the container in warm water or under warm running water. Gently shake before giving. Test the temperature.

    How to store frozen breastmilk


    Freeze milk in 2- to 4-ounce portions. This is about what a newborn takes during a feeding. This portion also thaws quickly in warm water.

    • Write the date on the container.
    • Pour the pumped milk into the container.
    • If you are using special plastic bags, fill about three-quarters full. Leave space at the top of the bag to allow the frozen milk to expand.
    • Fold the top of the plastic bag over several times and seal with freezer or masking tape, or a twist tie.
    • Put the plastic storage bags into a larger plastic bag.

    How to warm breastmilk from the refrigerator


    Pumped milk can have a soapy or metallic odor when it is refrigerated or thawed. This does not mean the milk has gone bad. Call your lactation consultant if your milk has an odor.

    • Put the container of milk in a bowl of warm tap water or warm it under warm running water.
    • Gently shake the milk.
    • Test the temperature by shaking out some milk on your wrist. It is normal for the milk to separate into a milk and a cream layer.
    • Warning: Do not bring the milk to the boiling point. Do not warm milk in the microwave. This can create "hot spots" that can burn your baby.

    How to thaw frozen breastmilk

    You may thaw frozen breastmilk one of two ways. For either way, be sure to use the oldest milk first.

    1. Place the container in the refrigerator. Thawed milk can stay in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
    2. Place the container in a bowl of warm tap water or warm it under warm running water.

    If you pump in small quantities, you can add fresh milk to frozen milk. Just chill the fresh milk before adding it. The amount of added cold milk must be less than the amount of the frozen milk.

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This site is presented for information only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Allina Health®, Allina®, the Allina Health logo, and Medformation® are registered trademarks of Allina Health System. Presentation and Design ©2015 Allina Health. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED