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Expressing milk

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Our advice on expressing your milk by hand or using a pump

Generally, it's best to wait until breastfeeding is well established before offering your baby expressed milk, unless your baby is premature or ill and is unable to breastfeed.

Once feeding has been established, you may decide to express milk for a number of reasons, for example, you may be going back to work but want to continue to give your baby breast milk, or it may make your life easier if someone else can feed your baby occasionally.

Whatever your reasons, there are two methods of expressing milk - by hand and using a pump.

Expressing by hand

If you only want to express milk occasionally, you may find expressing by hand the best method. Make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly and then gently massage your breast before you start. Have a sterilised container ready to collect the expressed milk.

How to express

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water and gently massage your breast.
  • Cup the breast just below the areola (the dark area surrounding the nipple).
  • Using your thumb and the rest of your fingers in a C-shape squeeze gently about 3 – 6cm behind the nipple.
  • Release the pressure then repeat, building up a rhythm (this shouldn't hurt).
  • A few drops will appear, and with practice and time your milk should begin to flow freely.
  • When the milk stops coming, move your hands to another part of the breast and try again.
  • Once the flow has been reduced to a few drips change to the other breast and repeat the process.
  • Keep changing breasts until the breasts are empty.

Using a breast pump

You can choose between a manual breast pump and an electric one. An electric pump is faster – and more expensive – and takes around ten to 15 minutes to pump both breasts.

A manual pump can take up to 45 minutes to do the same thing. Breast pumps mimic the sucking action of a baby and won't cause you any discomfort, provided they are used correctly.

How to choose

Choose a breast pump that is right for you and your circumstances. If you only want to pump a few ounces, occasionally, an inexpensive manual pump is probably all you'll need.

If you need to pump frequently, an electric pump will allow you to pump both breasts quickly at the same time. Whichever pump you buy, it will need to be cleaned and sterilised after each use.

Storing breast milk

Breast milk should always be stored in a sterilised container and can be kept in:

  • The fridge for up to five days at 4°C or lower. The milk should be put in the back of the fridge where it is coldest, not in the door.
  • Ice compartment of a fridge for up to two weeks
  • A freezer for up to six months

It's a good idea to store the milk in the amounts that you normally use for feeding. Remember to put the date on each container so you know when the milk was pumped.

Always use the oldest milk first and never combine fresh breast milk with milk that has been frozen.

If you express milk at work, place it in a cool bag with ice packs and then refrigerate or freeze it as soon as you get it home.

Breast milk separates during freezing, so once it's defrosted gently swirl it around to mix it up. Don't shake it.

Using expressed breast milk

Fresh breast milk is the very best option as freezing does destroy some of the antibodies in breast milk (even after its been frozen, breast milk still offers more protection than formula milk).

Frozen breast milk can be defrosted in the fridge over night, or it can be defrosted by holding the container under a warm running tap until it's thawed. Don't use the microwave for defrosting or warming because it kills the nutrients in breast milk and hot spots can develop which will burn your baby.

Once breast milk has been thawed it should be used straight away. Any left over milk should be thrown away. Never re-freeze breast milk once it’s been defrosted.

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