7 things you should know about Expressing and storing breastmilk
Whether you’re going back to work or you need an occasional break from breastfeeding, pumping your breastmilk can be very useful. Here’s everything you need to know.
I breastfed my eldest until she was 21 months old and my twins until 11 months. But if it weren’t for my trusty breast pump, I don’t think I would’ve made it that long. Having breastmilk stored in the freezer allowed me to leave the house on my own for an hour or two (hello, sanity!) and to go back to work part-time when my kids were still young.
I can’t tell you how many times I googled how long I could keep breastmilk in the fridge or whether I could give my baby a bottle she’d started drinking an hour earlier – my sleep-deprived brain was like a sieve! To help you save time (and your cell phone data), I’ve compiled everything you need to know about pumping, storing and preparing expressed breastmilk. Bookmark it so you can refer to it later – easy!
You can try to express from one breast while your baby feeds from the other, from both breasts right after your baby has breastfed, or between feeds when your baby is napping. You’ll figure out with trial and error what works best for you.
Before you start, wash your hands with soap and warm water. Make sure you’re seated comfortably and feel relaxed. To help your let-down reflex, you can try massaging your breast with gentle stroking motions starting at the top and moving towards the nipple. Looking at photos of your baby may also help to get your milk flowing.
There are three ways to express your breastmilk: by hand, with a hand-held breast pump or with an electric pump. Hand expression can be tricky at first and may feel painful if you’re not doing it right. Make sure to place your thumb and finger opposite each other on either side of your nipple and press them toward each other in a rhythmic rolling motion.
Breast pumps can make expressing quicker and easier. If you don’t need to express regularly, a hand-help pump may be enough. Place the breast shield over your nipple, making sure your nipple is properly centered. Squeeze the pump handle until drops of milk appear. Once your milk lets down, it will spray into the bottle. Continue pumping until your milk stops flowing.
If you need to pump several times a day, an electric breast pump is your best bet. You can buy a single or double electric pump, or you can rent a hospital-grade double pump for maximum efficiency (I did this with my twins and it was worth every penny). If you rent, you’ll need to buy your own double breast pump kit, which comes with everything you need to collect your milk, including breast shields, connector tubes, bottles and more. There are also plenty of other accessories you can buy to make your life easier, such as a hands-free bustier that holds your breast shields in place so you can go about your business and a breast milk cooler set to help you safely transport your milk.
Place your expressed milk in a clean breastmilk collection bottle or breastmilk storage bag and write the date of expressing and quantity of milk on it. If you plan to freeze it, only put a few ounces in the bottle or bag to help it thaw more quickly and avoid wastage.
The following storage guidelines apply to healthy babies born at term. If your baby was born preterm or has any health issues, talk to your doctor for specific instructions.
Freshly expressed breastmilk can be stored:
- Up to 4 hours at room temperature (60-77ºF)
- Up to three days in the refrigerator (39ºF or colder)
- Up to 6 months in the freezer (-18ºF or colder)
Breast milk thawed in the refrigerator (but never heated) can be stored:
- Up to 2 hours at room temperature (60-77ºF)
- Up to 24 hours in the refrigerator (39ºF or colder)
- Do not refreeze thawed milk.
Preparing expressed breastmilk
Warm up fresh breastmilk that’s been stored in the fridge by placing the container in a bowl of warm water until the milk reaches body temperature. Don’t immerse the bottle to avoid contamination and always test the temperature of the milk before giving it to your baby.
Thaw frozen breast milk in the fridge overnight or by placing it in a bowl of warm water. You may need to change the water several times to heat the milk to the correct temperature. Breastmilk that’s been thawed in the fridge is safe for 24 hours.
Never microwave breastmilk. Microwaving can create hot spots that could burn your baby’s mouth and destroy some components of the breastmilk.
You can add fresh breastmilk to previously cooled or frozen milk, but it’s best to let the freshly pumped milk cool first.
If your baby doesn’t finish their bottle, you can’t save it for the next feed because bacteria could start to grow. Throw out any leftover milk.
You can transport fresh or frozen breastmilk in a cooler bag with an ice pack. Place your milk in the fridge or freezer as soon as you arrive at your destination. If frozen milk has thawed and you can’t refrigerate it, use it within two hours.
Cleaning your equipment
Wash all breast pump parts and collection bottles in warm, soapy water or the dishwasher before the first use and allow to dry thoroughly. While sterilizing used to be recommended, the American Academy of Pediatrics says it’s no longer necessary because our tap water is safe.
If you use your breast pump several times a day, it’s safe to rinse out all the parts in cold water between pumping sessions and store them at room temperature. Wash the parts thoroughly with soap and water once every 24 hours.
See more about How to keep your breast kit pump clean.
Choosing a brand you can trust
Founded in Switzerland in 1961, Medela has become the global leader in breastfeeding products and technology thanks to its commitment to supporting nursing mothers and providing them with research-backed information to set their minds at ease. Here are our favorite Medela products:
Double electric breast pump: The Medela Symphony is a hospital-grade double electric breast pump that uses two-phase expression technology to achieve faster milk let-down and flow. Once you try it, you’ll never want to use anything else.
Store, freeze, transport and warm your breastmilk safely and easily with Medela’s Breast Milk Storage Bags.
The Medela Pump In Style Advanced On-The-Go Tote is designed for moms who pump several times a day. The tote features a discreet, built-in double electric pump, a double pumping kit, breastmilk bottles, bottle holders, a cooler bag and more.
The Easy Expression bustier allows you to work or attend to other tasks while you pump. Genius!