How to express your breast milk

manual breast pump

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

We have a more detailed guide on expressing in the breastfeeding area of our site.

Ways of expressing breast milk

You can express by hand, or with a breast pump (manual or electric). It can take a little while to get your milk flowing. Some mums find that having their baby near (or even just a picture of your baby) can encourage your milk to flow. It may also help to express after a shower or bath.

Hand expressing

  • Always make sure you have clean hands.
  • Have something clean to put the expressed milk in.
  • Gently massage the breasts to encourage the milk and cup your breast in one hand then the other to form a "C" shape with your forefinger and thumb.
  • Squeeze gently with your finger and thumb a few centimetres from your nipple.
  • Move your hand around your breast so are you are expressing from a different area and keep repeating.

Check out our guide to expressing your breast milk by hand.

Expressing with a pump

You can choose between a manual or electric pump. Manual pumps are cheaper, lighter and quieter whilst electric pumps are quicker and do the work for you.

The basic methods for both types of pumps are the same.

  • Make sure you have clean hands.
  • Sterilise the pump before use.
  • Gently massage the breasts for a few minutes to encourage milk flow.
  • Place the pump's breast shield or funnel over your nipple and either pump manually if using a manual pump or switch the electric pump on (and it will do the rest).
  • After use wash and sterilise the pump and its parts.

Check out our detailed guide to manual breast pumps and electric breast pumps.

Did you know?

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, most mums say it takes around 15 to 20 minutes to empty both breasts.

General tips on expressing

  • Try to get as comfortable and relaxed as possible.
  • Do not rush as this will make it harder for your milk to flow.
  • Try not to worry too much about the amount of milk you're producing – distracting yourself with a good book or by watching the TV can help.

Storing

  • You can store breast milk in a sterilised container or in a special breast milk storage bag in the fridge for up to 8 days at 4C or lower or for 2 weeks in the ice compartment of the fridge or up to 6 months in a freezer at -18C or lower.
  • Store the milk at the back of the fridge, not the door.
  • If you store breast milk in small quantities, you'll be less likely to have to throw any away after defrosting.
  • Make sure you date and label any stored breast milk.
  • Defrost frozen breast milk slowly in the fridge.
  • Never re-freeze breast milk once you've defrosted it.

Expressing feeding problems

If you're finding expressing difficult, you can talk to your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding support for help or you can call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 (9.30am to 9.30pm daily).

More on expressing breast milk

We have a more detailed guide about expressing where you can find out more about how to express your breast milk, where you can store it and how to bottle feed it to your baby.

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