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Expressing milk

It is best to express after a breastfeed. If milk is expressed immediately before a feed this may reduce the amount available for the baby’s feed. Usually the easiest time to express is in the morning.

If Mum is going to be away from the baby when a feed is due, she may wish to express milk and leave it for them to be fed by the person taking care of the baby. The amount expressed may vary during the day and differs between mothers. Nothing is as effective at getting milk from the breast as the baby’s sucking.

Milk can be expressed by hand, or with a hand pump or electric pump.

Hand expressing

To hand express:

  • support the breast with one hand and use the other to stroke downwards from the top to the areola
  • squeeze the lower part of the breast (not the nipple) between thumb and forefinger, pressing to express the milk out
  • move fingers and thumb around the outer sides of the breast

Cleaning equipment for expressing

It is important to clean and sterilise the equipment, teats, and bottles/cups. If you are using a breast pump, clean it with washing-up detergent, water and a brush. If you are feeding by bottle, clean the teat and the bottle with washing-up detergent and water, then rub the inside of the teat with salt and rinse it. Sterilise the breast pump, the bottle/cup and storage container by boiling them for 5 minutes (teats boiled for 3 minutes) or use a sterilising solution. When baby is over 3 months, equipment does not need to be sterilised, just cleaned thoroughly.

Keeping milk at room temperature and in the fridge

Put the expressed breastmilk in a sterilised bottle or sterilised plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. It will keep at room temperature for 4 hours and in the fridge for up to 2 days. Milk should be stored in the back of the fridge where it is the coldest. Do not add freshly expressed breastmilk to cold expressed milk. Wait until it has cooled to the same temperature.

Keeping milk in the freezer

Expressed milk will keep in a freezer box inside the fridge for 2 weeks, in a separate-door fridge/freezer for 3–6 months (stored as far back as possible), or in the deep freeze for 6-12 months. The milk will probably separate into layers, but when thawed will mix again. Do not add freshly expressed milk to already frozen milk as it warms the frozen milk.

Thawing/defrosting & heating breastmilk

Frozen expressed milk can be thawed in the refrigerator or by placing the container of milk in warm water until the milk has thawed. Then warm it to body temperature in a bowl of hot water, testing the temperature on the inside of your wrist. Use the milk immediately and throw away any left over after the feed. It is not safe to reheat or refreeze milk.

Microwave heating can destroy important qualities of breastmilk. It can also cause uneven heating that can burn the baby’s mouth. For these reasons it is safer not to use a microwave for heating or defrosting milk.

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