What does expressing mean?
Expressing breastmilk is the act of squeezing milk from your
breasts, either by hand or with a manual breast
pump or electric
breastpump. It is the only way, apart from breastfeeding
itself, to release milk from your breasts. Once you extract the
milk, you can store it in baby bottles or breast milk containers to
feed to your baby at a later date.
Why should I express milk?
If you are going to be away from your baby (for either a few
hours or a whole day), you may want to pump or manually express
breast milk beforehand and store it. That way, your baby can still
get the benefits of breastmilk even though someone else will be
feeding him while you're gone. Expressing breast milk is also a
great way to relieve engorged breasts, and can increase milk
supply. It also helps prolong breastfeeding by keeping your milk
supply up if you're temporarily unable to breastfeed because you're
taking medication that can be harmful to your baby, for example, or
if you're hospitalised for a short time and can't breastfeed
throughout the day.
How do I express milk?
There are two ways. If you only need to express breast milk
every once in a while, for comfort or a rare bottle-feed, you may
be able to get by with expressing by hand. This is the cheapest way
to express breast milk because it requires no equipment, but it can
be time-consuming and takes practice.
Wash your hands before you start. Then, place your thumb 4-5cm
away from your nipple and your fingers below so they form a "C"
around the areola, and squeeze your finger and thumb together,
pushing your hand back against the chest wall, continuing this
process in a circular motion around your areola. If your finger and
thumb are too close to the nipple, the "squeeze" will hurt and be
ineffective. Use a sterile, wide-rimmed breastmilk container or
baby bottle to collect the milk.
Electric and manual breast
pumps may be faster and more efficient to express breast
To use an electric pump, you put a suction cup over your breast,
turn the breast pump machine on, and let it do the work of
extracting milk into an attached container.
Manual breast pumps also use a suction
cup, but you extract the milk by using a squeeze mechanism or
operating some other device rather than relying on a motor powered
by electricity. On average it takes 15 to 45 minutes to pump both
breasts. Good breast pumps try to mimic the sucking action of a
baby, stimulating your let down reflex, and don't cause pain.
Knowing which breast pump to buy depends on how often you plan
to use one and how much time you can spare for expressing. If you
work full-time and have to find time to use a breast pump during a
busy day, you might want to choose to hire an ultrafast
hospital-grade electric pump. But if you only need to express the
odd feed occasionally so your partner can feed the baby when you're
out, a cheaper manual pump may be sufficient, and some women prefer
them to electric pumps.
How do I store breast milk?
It is best to put breast milk in plastic feeding bottles with
secure tops to seal in freshness. You can also use plastic bags
made especially for storing milk. Remember to write the date on the
bottle or bag before putting it in the refrigerator or freezer so
you'll know how fresh it is. Use fresh, refrigerated milk within
three to five days, and keep it at the back of the fridge, away
from the door, at a temperature of 4 degrees centigrade or
Frozen milk lasts at week in the ice box of a fridge, and three
to six months if kept in a freezer set no higher minus 18 degrees
Centigrade (and then up to 12 hours, refrigerated, after thawing).
The process of freezing destroys some of the antibodies in milk, so
don't freeze any that you plan to use within the time limits. But
frozen breastmilk is still much healthier and offers more
protection from disease than formula milk does.
To thaw frozen milk, place the bottle or bag in a bowl of warm
water, run it under warm tap water, or defrost it in the
Don't use the microwave for defrosting or warming - it kills the
nutrients in breast milk.
And don't ever save partially drunk portions for later use -
health professionals recommend throwing out any milk that's left in
the baby's bottle.
Read more information on breastmilk storage.