The simple mention of “expressing” or “pumping milk” fills many new mothers with dread or prompts comments about “feeling attached to a milking machine”, but expressing breast milk really isn’t as difficult as many women imagines. There are a number of reasons a mother might choose to express breast milk including enabling a partner to be involved in feeding, if you’re leaving your baby with a relative, friend or at nursery for an evening out or working, to feed a premature or hospitalized baby, to help increase or protect milk supply or when a baby isn’t correctly latching at the breast.

In this article I share my advice on Expressing Breast Milk, how to get started, as well as how to store breast milk correctly.

You might choose to buy your own pump, both manual, single and double electric pumps are available, which pump you choose to use will very much depend on both finances and how often you are intending to pump, an electric pump is better if you will be pumping daily. You can also rent hospital-grade electric pumps from various outlets around the UK. If you baby is in the neonatal unit, they will allow you to use a hospital pump.

When storing and expressing breastmilk, everything coming into contact with the milk should be sterilized before being used. If you’re storing breastmilk for your own baby and baby isn’t in the neonatal unit or unwell, you might choose to sterilize the equipment each time for extra protection, but research suggests a wash with hot soapy water is sufficient. Some pumps parts can be washed in a dishwasher, just check each manufacturers instructions.

We know breast milk can be stored at room temperature for several hours, and in the fridge for several days, so some mums who are pumping frequently do choose to reuse the pump without washing, and then wash it carefully after several sessions. This isn’t an area where there is a lot of research and you can discuss your options with your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding advisor.


Pumping breast milk

Expressing or pumping breast milk can be done by hand or by using a manual or electric breast pump. When you pump for the first time don’t feel upset or frustrated if you only manage to pump a few drops of milk, it’s important to pump at the same time each day so your body knows there is an increased demand at this time of day and will then produce more milk. Over a period of 7-10 days of pumping at the same time every day you will start to see your supply increase. Always begin by washing your hands in hot soapy water and help yourself to relax as much as possible, this might be with relaxing music or meditation. Relaxing will assist the letdown reflex. You might also want to warm your breasts by laying a warm compress over them or expressing immediately after a hot shower or bath.


Expressing Milk by Hand

  1. Always begin by washing your hands in hot soapy water.
  2. Help yourself to relax as much as possible. This might be with relaxing mucis or meditation.
  3. Massage your breast in a circular motion. You can roll the nipple to optimize oxytocin release (the hormone needed for letdown).
  4. Have a sterile clean container ready to collect your milk in. Something with a wide opening, such as a bowl or jug, can make it easier to catch every drop.
  5. The ideal location to place your fingers is usually a couple of centimeters back from the nipple, but everyone is of course different.
  6. Cup the breast and make a ‘C’ shape with your thumb and forefingers. Compress the breast tissue inwards, you don’t need to compress downwards towards the nipple.
  7. Rotate the fingers around the areola to express a new area when the milk flow stops. There are lots of online videos you can watch on hand expression which will show the technique easily.

Expressing Milk using Breast Pumps

Breast pumps create a vacuum to remove breastmilk. Make sure the funnel on the pump you’re using isn’t too small, nor too large, as this could damage the nipple and reduce your milk flow. Pumping shouldn’t be painful nor leave a mark on your breast. If you’re expressing because you have low milk supply; shorter more frequent sessions will generate the best results and increase supply more than longer pumping sessions. Before pumping start with breast massage and a warm compress on the breasts to help open up the milk ducts and get milk flowing. You can also continue with both of them when using the pump.

Storing and defrosting breast milk

You can store your breast milk at room temperature for six hours, in the fridge for five days providing the temperature is lower than 5c, two weeks in an ice compartment section of the fridge and six months in the freezer. Be sure to label each container with the date and time of expression so you know which one to use first. Always store your expressed breast milk in a sealed container and in small quantities to reduce waste.

It is possible to defrost milk in a number of different ways, either slowly in a fridge or with the container a jug of warm water. If defrosting in water, make sure the water is no warmer than body temperature. Gently shake the milk before use as the fats may have separated. It is a myth that you will damage the proteins in the milk with vigorous shaking, but you may cause air bubbles to form in the milk. When ready to use decant the milk into a bottle and warm in the microwave using Milkymeter to ensure the ideal safe temperature is achieved, therefore reducing the risk of hot spots and preserving all essential vitamins and nutrients.


If you are bottle feeding, you may want to read the blog post about Sterilization of baby bottles