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How to express your breast milk

Expressing means squeezing milk out of your breasts, by hand or with a pump, to store and feed to your baby later.

The benefit of expressing is that your breasts will continue producing milk, so even if you are having a break from breastfeeding you can easily restart again after.

Expressing your breast milk

You can express by hand, or with a manual or electric breast pump. It can take a little while to get your milk flowing, so be patient with yourself.

You may find having your baby near (or even looking at a photo of your baby) can encourage your milk to flow.

Before expressing by hand or with a pump, make sure you have clean hands.

Expressing by hand

To express breast milk by hand:

  1. Have a clean container ready to collect your breast milk.
  2. Gently massage your breasts to encourage the milk.
  3. Cup your breast in one hand and with the other hand form a "C" shape with your forefinger and thumb.
  4. Squeeze gently with your finger and thumb a few centimetres from your nipple.
  5. Move your hand around your breast so are you are expressing from a different area. Keep repeating.

For advice and tips have a look at our guide to expressing your breast milk by hand.

Expressing with a pump

To express breast milk with a pump:

  1. Sterilise the pump before use.
  2. Gently massage the breasts for a few minutes to encourage milk flow.
  3. Place the pump's breast shield or funnel over your nipple. Pump manually if using a manual pump, or switch the electric pump on and it will do the rest.
  4. Once you've finished, wash and sterilise the pump and all the parts.

For advice and tips have a look at our guide to manual and electric breast pumps.

Tips on expressing your breast milk

Get as comfortable and relaxed as possible before you start.

Try not to worry too much about the amount of milk you're producing – distracting yourself with a good book or watching something on television may help.

When you're expressing, it's best not to rush the process as it will make it harder for your milk to flow.

It can take a while to get the hang of expressing, so allow 30 to 45 minutes when you first start. Once you've got the hang of it, it may take around 15 to 20 minutes to empty both breasts.

How to store breast milk

You can store breast milk in a sterilised container or in special breast-milk storage bags:

  • in the fridge for up to 8 days at 4C or lower
  • for 2 weeks in the ice compartment of the fridge
  • for up to 6 months in a freezer at -18C or lower

Have a look at our guide to storing breast milk for more information.

Help and support

​If you are finding expressing your breast milk difficult, ask for support from your midwife or health visitor.

Or you can call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 for confidential breastfeeding information and support. Lines are open 9:30am to 9:30pm every day.