Expressing Breastmilk

Expressing Milk for Your Baby

It is good to know how to pump efficiently, whether it is just to express some milk for comfort, expressing breastmilk for your baby or essentially to increase milk supply.

It is important to remember that the amount of milk that you pump is not an indicator of how much milk you are producing. A healthy baby with no sucking issues will remove more milk from the breast than any breast pump. Also, if you start to pump your milk instead of breastfeed your baby, your milk supply will decrease.

Reasons why you Might Need to Express Breast Milk

  • You may need to start work soon and will need to begin expressing breast milk for those times when you are away from your baby. 
  • You may want to leave your baby for short periods, without having to worry about being back before your baby needs another feeding. 
  • Your baby may refuse the breast; this is not very common, unless if your baby is struggling with nipple confusion.
  • Your baby might be struggling to remove enough milk from the breast, despite all your efforts. (this is also not very common)
  • You may, for some reason, need or want to feed your baby expressed milk instead of breastfeeding directly. 
  • Your baby may be premature, sick or have sucking issues. You may need to feed your baby via alternative feeding methods until your baby is strong enough to continue to feed directly from the breast. 
  • If your baby has latching problems, you can use an SNS to feed your baby expressed milk, while continuing to breastfeeding. 

Different Ways of Expressing Breastmilk

  • Hand expressing milk: This method is used when a mother does not express milk very often. Hand expression can be used to relieve some engorgement, or when other equipment is not available.
  • Manual breast pump: No electricity is required, but a hand pump can still be somewhat time-consuming and a little less effective than an electric pump. 
  • Electric breast pump: These pumps vary in quality. I always recommend a hospital grade, double action electric pump for most efficient milk removal. 

Pumping Tips

  • Sit as relaxed as possible. Make sure that the flange on the pump is the right size for your breasts. 
  • Use a warm face cloth on your breast or take a warm shower before expressing. 
  • Massage your breasts before a pumping session. Breast compressions can be done during pumping. 
  • Oxytocin and expressing breastmilk: Look at your baby or a picture of your baby while expressing, this helps the release of Oxytocin, the love hormone. This hormone helps with the flow of milk. 

When Pumping Exclusively

  • Pump frequently, at least 10 times per day for 15 minutes at a time, or for as long as it takes to drain the breast. 
  • Once supply has been established, the mother can pump less but should pump at least 5 times per 25 hour periods and for a total of at least 100 minutes altogether. 

Breast milk Expressing for Increased Supply

  • Pumping for one hour after every morning feed can produce the best results.
  • You can also pump in-between regular feedings. 

Storing your Breast Milk

  • Breast milk can be stored at room temperature, for between 8 to 10 hours safely. (19-22˚C)
  • Breast milk can be stored at warm room temperature for between 4 – 6 hours. (25˚C )
  • Breast milk can be stored at hot room temperature for 4 hours. (30-38˚C)
  • Breast milk can be kept in a refrigerator (0-4˚C) for 8 days. 
  • Breast milk can be kept in a freezer compartment for 2 weeks. This is when the compartment is opened often. 
  • Breast milk can be kept in a freezer that is not opened often, for 3 – 4 months. 
  • Breast milk can be kept in a stand-alone deepfreeze (-19˚C) for 6 months. 

Storage Containers and Storage Tips

  • Glass is the best storage container for breast milk. Your jars should be sterilized before used. 
  • Store your milk in amounts that your baby drinks, so that not much of the milk goes to waste. 
  • Label your milk with dates, so that you can use the older milk first. 
  • Cream of the milk will rise to the top, this is normal; a little swirl will mix it up again. 

How to Thaw Breast Milk

  • Leave in a basin of warm water until thawed.
  • Do not heat breast milk on the stove or in the microwave. High heat will kill the immune properties of breast milk. 
  • Thawed milk can be kept in the fridge for 24 hours, but may not be refrozen. 

Breast milk storage guidelines discussed here in more detail.

Donate Milk

Have you got more milk, than what your baby needs? Please consider donating your milk, you could increase the quality of life or even save a baby’s life! 

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Expression and Storage Video

Tracy Ann Behr, CBC, CLD (CBI)

Reference: Course information through Childbirth International on the physiology of breastfeeding / expressing breast milk.

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