Breast Milk Expression and Storage

Breast Milk Expression and Storage

breast milk expressionInformation about breast milk expression and storage….

I’ve expressed milk by hand, with a manual breast pump, and with an electric breast pump. Here’s what I think:

  • Expressing milk by hand works but it takes time and can be messy. The breast milk doesn’t always squirt out into the container; sometimes it dribbles down the breast and gets your hands all wet and slippery. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s a “down to earth” approach to expressing milk.
  • Expressing milk with a manual breast pump (I used the syringe type) was not very effective. It works, but I didn’t like the feel of the funnel-shaped breast-piece, and it took quite a bit of work to pull the pump: it would have been better to just hand express. On the other hand, my sister used it 3 times a day, everyday – she loved it! So clearly it works for some women.
  • For me, the electric breast pump was the best. It works, it’s fast and you can express directly into a baby bottle or into a storage bag. I still didn’t like the feel of the breast-piece, but the whole process was completed so quickly that it was worth it.

manual breast pump
How to use a Breast Pump

To use a breast pump, follow the instructions that come with the box. Read more about breast pumps here. Basically:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  2. Assemble the clean containers, tubes, and so forth.
  3. Cover your breasts with the funnel which is connected to the pumping device (a hand held piston or an electric pump).
  4. Start pumping – the milk is drawn out by negative pressure (also called “suction”).
  5. Stop when there is no more milk coming out. Takes about 10 to 20 minutes per breast.

How to Express Milk by Hand

Some women prefer to express breast milk by hand. This was done before breast pumps were invented, so clearly it works, and it’s more organic than hooking yourself up to a machine. Hand expression:
    – is less expensive,
    – allows for skin-to-skin contact (more natural),
    – is great for once-in-a-while expression (see box below), and
    – is great for daily expression too.

how to hand express breast milk

Image from
M Davis, RN IBCLC.

  1. Get a clean container to collect the milk. Have a clean towel nearby for wiping.
  2. Wash your hands with soap and water. Wipe your breasts with a wet cloth to clean the area around the nipple.
  3. Use your thumb, the index and middle fingers to form a C around your areola. The fingers should be about an inch away from the edge of the areola.
  4. With the C shape position, push your breast towards your chest.
  5. Slightly squeeze your fingers and thumb together and roll the milk out of your breast. Avoid pulling and yanking. Envision your fingers guiding the milk out of the breast by rolling them from the center of the breast towards the nipple
  6. Change the positioning of your hands occasionally so that you can express from all the ducts. Move your hands from top & bottom to left & right. Rotate like a clock.
  7. Stop when there is no more milk coming out.

Why would you express breast milk “once-in-a-while”?

  • Your breasts are engorged and you wish to alleviate some of the pain & pressure.
  • You want to encourage let-down.
  • You want some breast milk to rub over your cracked nipples.

How Long can Breast Milk be Stored

After the breast milk has been expressed, you can transfer it to a baby bottle or a cup and feed it to Baby right away. Use within 10 hours of expression.

You can store the breast milk in the refrigerator (stays fresh for about a week).

You can also freeze it. Breast milk can be frozen in plastic containers or in storage bags which are especially designed for freezing breast milk. See breast milk freezer bags here; and breast milk expression and storage containers here.

Freezing breast milk is no different than freezing other kinds of food.
    • Seal it well so that it doesn’t leak or get freezer burn.
    • Don’t freeze & thaw repeatedly.
    • Label it so you know how old it is.
    • Use the older batch before using the fresh batch.

If your freezer is opened and closed repeatedly, try to use the frozen breast milk within 4 to 6 months. If you store the breast milk in a deep freezer that stays at -20 degrees, then it should be good for 12 months.

How to Use Frozen Breast Milk

To thaw and use frozen breast milk: take it out of the freezer and place it under warm running water. Swirl the contents around so the components mix together again (sometimes the fat separates out). When warm, pour it into a baby bottle or a cup and feed it to Baby. Keep in mind that:

  • Breast milk has gone bad if it tastes or smells sour.
  • Do not microwave or boil breast milk because it will destroy the enzymes and antibodies that are in breast milk.

When Terri was a young, working mother, she hand expressed milk during her lunch break. She did this for more than a year for each of her two boys. Terri’s sons are grown now and have sons of their own. “I wouldn’t have done it any other way,” she says.