How to Express Breast Milk 101

Expressing breast milk can supplement your feeding regime when you need to build your milk supply. It is also helpful when you can’t be with your baby (like when you have to return to work), when you want help with feeding (let dad take a shot at feeding too), or just in case you missed a feed (say, in the event your baby wanted to sleep longer).

If you are experiencing low milk supply, the extra simulation from a breast pump will help you increase your supply and maintain it. Breast pumps try to mimic the sucking pattern of babies, ensuring optimal milk flow and comfort.

Don’t even worry about not having enough milk for the next feed. Remember supply equates to demand. The more milk you produce, the more you will make.

Expressing like breastfeeding, is a skill learned over time. It will feel weird and quite painful at first, but you will eventually improve and gain confidence. Practice makes perfect!

Try to lean forward to help the milk flow. Also have a towel and drink beside you.

Expressing with a pump


Electric breast pumpChoose a good quality pump. There are several options to think about. Depending on your preference and budget, you can opt for a manual or an electric pump.

Manual pumps are easy to use. No need for batteries or outlets. You also control the way you use the pump using your hand.

If you will be returning to work soon, I would recommend an electric pump. You have a choice of a single or double pump.

Double pumping (simultaneous breast pumping) is twice as fast as single pumping to get the same amount of milk. Your session may be shorter, but it is heavier on the pocket. If budget is not an issue, go for it. Otherwise, most would go for a single pump.

As you start off, choose a time when your breasts are relatively full or when your baby is happy with just one breast during a feed.

Expressing by hand


Even if this is the cheapest and easiest way to express milk, this didn’t really work for me since I didn’t have that much patience. I personally preferred to go for a breast pump. But there are moms who do this, so I suggest that you go for it. Who knows, it might work for you.

Before you go ahead, have a warm shower or place warm, wet towels on your breasts to help with the flow. Then, gently massage down the nipples.

Place a towel under your breast and hold a sterilised plastic container with a wide opening in one hand to catch the milk. Hold the outer edge of your nipple with your thumb and forefinger, and gently squeeze your breast inwards. Continue until the milk flow stops.

Cleaning equipment


After expressing, rinse your pump with cold water, wash in hot soapy water, rinse again, and leave to drain.

Don’t forget to sterilise your equipment before use.

I like the Milton method of cold sterilisation. Just use 2 Milton anti-bacterial tablets to make 4L of solution. All it takes it 15 minutes. No need to boil, steam, or rinse. The sterile solution is reusable for 24 hours.

I also like the Medela Quick Clean Micro-Steam bags. After cleaning, put it in the microwave with some water, and it only take 3 minutes.

Storing breast milk


Storage containersBreast milk can be stored in sterile plastic containers or sterile plastic bags.

Freshly expressed breast milk can stay 3-5 days in the centre-back of the fridge where its the coldest. If you won’t use it, freeze it right away or not more than two days.

Don’t fill the bottle more than 3/4 full before freezing. Allow space for expansion. And if you are using sterile plastic bags, lay it flat in the freezer. You can save on space this way as you continue to collect milk.

Label the container with the volume of milk collected, date, and time. Use the oldest one first.

Frozen milk keeps 2 weeks in the freezer compartment of the fridge, 3 months in the freezer of a 2-door fridge, and it can last 6-12 months in deep freeze.

Don’t defrost or heat breast milk in a microwave. Thaw frozen milk in the fridge (milk will last for 24 hours) or by letting it sit in a container with warm water until the milk is at body temperature (milk will last for 4 hours).

Also, please never re-freeze breast milk.

Here’s one more tip, express after each feed to build up supply. Put the expressed milk in the fridge as soon as possible. You can continue to add to the container throughout the day, as long as you put it back right away in the fridge every time. After 24 hours, freeze what you have collected.

22 comments

  1. Kris says:

    Hi Raquel,

    What a lovely site! I always used to express after each feed using a hand pump so I had frozen milk stored for if I had to ever leave my bub. I never actually got to use the frozen milk though, because I never had to leave the baby!

    Thanks, Kris

    • Raquel says:

      Thanks Kris! It’s good to have milk supply handy in the freezer in case you ever needed it. In this case, it was truly just an emergency stash. 🙂 Have fun travelling around Australia! 🙂

  2. Allen Adkins says:

    Hi Raquel,

    Your website is very informative and relevant. A lot of women do not understand how important it is to breastfeed their babies and I think the information that you have provided here is great! I hope to see focus on teenagers because they really do not understand how important breastfeeding is.

    Donna

    • Raquel says:

      Thanks for this suggestion, Donna! Will definitely look into it since we do need to reach out to more people about the goodness of breastfeeding, and in this case, even teens. Cheers!

  3. Dawn says:

    Hi Raquel. I love, love, love your site!

    Keep up the excellent work and i really hope that those in need of breastfeeding advise come to you for help. You’re doing a wonderful job helping breastfeeding mothers.

    Regarding breast pumps, I would personally go for an electric pump. I found a manual pump such hard work at times, although it is obviously cheaper. Looking forward to read your review of different pumps.

    • Raquel says:

      Thank you Dawn! An electric pump is indeed more efficient, although it does tend to cost more. Although you’d be surprised that there are moms who prefer a manual pump to an electric one. Even I switch between manual and electric. I do have to admit that it can be tiring if you pump often and use a manual pump. Will definitely post reviews of breast pumps soon. Cheers!

  4. Olive says:

    This is very informative. 10 years ago when I was breastfeeding, I had a difficulty using my hands to pump milk out and so tried on the pump. It is more effective and you get more milk quicker but it does feel weird in the beginning like you said. Putting in the fridge is a great way. I didn’t think about it before. This site has many helpful tips that I’m sure will help moms that are currently breastfeeding.

    • Raquel says:

      Thanks Olive! Yeah I also think pumping is better than hand expressing if you want to get more milk. Hand expressing can support your efforts though. I really do hope that through Breastfeeding Mommas, more moms can be educated about breastfeeding.

  5. simon says:

    Excellent post, my friend. It is jam packed with information on expressing breast milk. Although I am male, I found it to be a really easy read. It is very interesting and engaging. Kudos to you for an amazing post. 🙂 Looking forward to reading more from you and no doubt I’ll hear about you soon. 🙂 Thanks.

  6. Heather Grace says:

    Great article! I remember not being prepared for the stares and rude comments about nursing that I received after I had my first baby. I nursed both my sons for two years and would still be taken back by how rude people can be.

    I loved my nursing cover and agree with you that it does give you some confidence out in public. I am a bit of a prude so it wasn’t even an option to let it all hang out haha.

    Best wishes to you!

  7. Ehab says:

    Thanks for your reply! Actually we will have a baby girl, She is planning to do both expressing and breastfeeding, So i think the single one will be a good choice in her situation, Thanks so much.

  8. Glenn says:

    Hi Raquel, what a great theme! Love your site – how it’s set out. It really flows. You have a wealth of information here which is really great, with very nice links. Well done! I like this site very much. The information you have is really good, with very good links to topics that breastfeeding mothers need to know.

    • Raquel says:

      Thank you Glenn! Glad to see that you find the information helpful. Feel free to share this with breastfeeding moms who need help with their breastfeeding journey. It will be great to reach out and help as many moms as we can.

  9. Ehab says:

    Hello there,

    Great article, my wife pregnant at the last month now and we was searching for a pump as it’s maternity holiday is around 50 days only and she will be back to work after this period, i see that you recommended the electric pump as we do, we found electric pump from Philips it seems that is good one what do you think? do you recommend the single or double one? thanks for sharing.

    • Raquel says:

      Hi Ehab. First off, congratulations on your little one! These are exciting times ahead. Since your wife will be returning to work pretty soon, I have a few questions. Are you having twins? How often will she be expressing? Will she express and breastfeed at the same time?

      It is important to choose a good breast pump. An electric pump is a good choice. Look at the adjustable suction and settings. It should allow for milk let down, and then be adjusted for efficient pumping. Check if it is lightweight and if you have a choice of battery operated and/ or plugging it in an electric socket. If you are looking at Avent, suggest you compare it with Medela Swing.

      A double pump will cut the time from 20-30 mins to about 10 mins. It is better if you have twins. A single pump is more affordable, and is a good choice if your wife will breastfeed and express milk. Hope this helps.

  10. Sarah says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with my breast pump. I’m back at work after 2.5 months from delivering my third baby now. I like how the pump gets the most bang for my buck and time. But I also hate how it never gets everything. It took me awhile to really learn how to manually express well just with my hands, and I hate doing it for a long time. But I always manually express after my pump can no longer draw more milk because there’s always extra. You can get a good half ounce and maybe more even after pumping if you’re skilled at it.

    • Raquel says:

      Oh wow! You’re already back at work… Hats off to you… By the way, congratulations on your third! 🙂

      It’s great how you’ve managed to express milk with your hands. It’s truly amazing that you can squeeze every bit of liquid gold. Every bit does count. I also try to put in every last drop I can get. A breast pump is the best thing ever invented, but I can relate with you on the love/hate part. 🙂 All the best! 🙂

  11. Linda says:

    I wish I had access to this information when I was still breastfeeding. I’m sure then I would have been breastfeeding for allot longer.
    Be Blessed
    Linda

    • Raquel says:

      Thanks Linda! Its really something to have help or information at your fingertips especially as new mom. Life will take a complete turn and sleepless nights will take a toll, yet you will feel much happier at the sight of your precious one. I wish you all the best. Feel free to share this along so we can continue to help other moms out there. 🙂

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