Knowing how to express breast milk and how long to store it for can be confusing – but it’s important to get it right. And once you’re in the know, it’s simple. Watch our video above for more advice.
Don’t let the word ‘pump’ deter you from giving it a go – expressing milk is nowhere near as scary as you may think and a store in the fridge allows you to get a good night’s sleep while your hubby does the 2am feed…
When to start expressing
Unless your baby was premature or is ill it’s best to wait until your milk supply is established before starting to express. This is usually at around the six to eight weeks point.
‘Express often – after the first feed of the day is a good time,’ says midwife Sharon Trotter. ‘If you’re separated from your baby, use a photo, piece of clothing or even a video of your baby to stimulate your let-down.’
How to express milk
You can chose to express by hand or by breast pump or it can be a good idea to do a bit of both as the pump ‘sucks’ but hands ‘milk’ – the combo is similar to your baby feeding.
Start by relaxing. Expressing is a skill to practice and may take a while to get the hang of.
If you decide to express by hand, cup your breast with the palm of your hand and walk your thumb up from your nipple until you feel a change in texture. Place your middle finger opposite your thumb and make a ‘C’ shape and then start expressing – try to press back, bring together and press forward. Keep going until your milk flow subsides.
With a manual pump, make sure the funnel isn’t too small when your nipple is brought into the narrow part of the funnel, as this could be painful. Operate the handle as instructed on the packaging and swap breasts frequently. If you prefer an electric pump, the motor will operate the handle for you. You should be able to alter the suction to suit you and just like the manual pump, make sure it fits you correctly.
How long to store breast milk
Don’t worry if you’re out and about – your expressed breast milk is fine to stay at room temperature for about six hours. However, any longer at it needs to be in a fridge.
‘Your milk can stay in your fridge for between three and eight days,’ Sharon says. It can stay in the main part of the fridge (below four degrees Celsius) for up to eight days and in the warmer fridge (between five and 10 degrees Celsius) for three days. You can buy a fridge thermometer from a kitchen shop if you are unsure of the temperature.
If you want to keep the milk for longer, you can freeze it for up to six months and left for a further 12 to 24 hours after defrosting.
Refrigerate or freeze your milk in a sealed container and it’s a good idea to store it in small quantities to avoid waste and to warm or thaw quickly.
Feeding your baby stored breast milk
Your milk is best served fresh, as it’s perfect for your day on the day it’s expressed. But, if you’re giving it to your baby after having been in the fridge or freezer, there are some things to watch out for.
‘Don’t microwave expressed breast milk,’ Sharon advises. ‘It will create dangerous hot spots that will burn your baby’s mouth and you also run the risk of milk break-down.’ Defrost your milk by placing it in the fridge to defrost slowly or try holding the container under cold running water. Don’t shake the milk vigorously if it’s separated. Instead, gently swirl it.
Don’t be disheartened if your baby refuses to take expressed breast milk from you. This is because he’s so used to feeding from your breast. ‘Try offering it to him from a spoon, cup or bottle,’ Sharon suggests. ‘He will probably accept it from his dad or another close carer.’