Breastfeeding your guide to expressing and storing

breastfeeding expressing

Planning an evening out or thinking of returning to work soon? We show you how to cope. Discover flexible breastfeeding for longer

Are you thinking of going back to work soon, or would you like the flexibility of taking an exercise class, going out with your partner, or simply catching up on some sleep? All this is possible when you express your breastmilk and keep it stored for your baby.

Your little one can be fed by your partner or a carer and you can relax, knowing that your milk will keep most of its nutrients. With simple equipment and being a little careful about hygiene, your baby can continue to enjoy your milk even if you can’t be there in person.

Obviously, feeding your baby straight from the breast is the freshest and most nutritious that it can be but the next best thing is feeding freshly expressed milk. Next comes milk that has been stored in the fridge, followed by frozen milk. This is still better for your baby than any formula.

How long can I store my milk?

If your baby was born at full term and is healthy, you can store milk:

  • At room temperature for four hours
  • In the fridge for three days
  • In the freezer for six months
  • If you have thawed frozen breastmilk, use within two hours, or 24 if it is in the fridge. Never re-freeze thawed milk.

If your baby was premature or is unwell, you should ask a lactation consultant about expressing and storing with a stricter hygiene routine.

What do I need?

To be able to offer your baby your own breastmilk even if you are away from the house, you’ll need some simple equipment.

A breastpump will help you express enough milk to be able to keep a store in the freezer, and you can use storage bottles or bags available from most of the pump manufacturers. You can attach these (via an adaptor sometimes) to the pump and express straight into them. These will usually have a handy label, on which you can write the date you expressed the milk. Only fill three-quarters full, as the milk will expand on freezing, and freeze in small amounts that will be easy to defrost. Always store at the back of the fridge or freezer, where the temperature is lowest and most consistent.

Defrosting tips

Defrost breastmilk in the fridge, not at room temperature; if you’re in a hurry, you can hold the bag or bottle under warm running water (never use very hot or boiling water, as this can impair the milks’s nutrients). Warm milk by submerging a bag or bottle in warm water or by using a bottle warmer. Shake or swirl it well to ensure it’s mixed, as fats can separate, and that’s it’s the same temperature throughout. Don’t use a microwave.

Pumping at work?

If you have to go back to work, you’ll need to express during the day, both for your own comfort and so that you’ll have enough milk for your baby’s daily needs.

Your employer should be helpful and provide a space for you to do this . Make sure you take all you need with you – your pump, sanitised storage receptacles, cool packs and anything else you might need (a photo of your baby actually helps the let-down reflex).

See our tips in the previous issue for expressing, keep your milk in the fridge at work, then transport it home or to daycare in a cool bag with ice packs to keep it fresh.

If you’re the first at your company to be an expressing Mummy, help your employer set up a great pumping room. There should be a comfortable chair, perhaps with a footstool so that you can get really comfortable, a handy table next to it and a small freezer or fridge. Maybe you could get in a supply of breastmilk storage bags, tissues, nipple cream and breast pads. A jug of water or tea making facilities would be a bonus, as would a lock on the door – or at least a sign to put on the door to tell people you don’t want to be disturbed!

Travelling while expressing?

If you are going on a plane, make sure you check with the airline about rules on carrying a pump and milk. Nobody wants to have to throw their milk away because of the liquids rules!

Check with your hotel to see if there is a place for expressing and if you’ll have a fridge in your room. You may want to find local supplies of ice or dry ice too to help pack your milk.

Futher reading

In our previous issues, we gave you an introduction to breastfeeding: and also offered some advice when you have queries: plus some tips and advice on how to keep feeding your baby for longer.

Top tips for expressing milk

  • Wash your hands before starting.
  • Make sure your breastpump is thoroughly cleaned after each pumping session and washed in hot, soapy water.
  • Use sterilised containers. Look for storage bags, as these are pre-sterilised. Avoid glass containers for freezing, as they can crack.
  • Be sure to label milk you have expressed and when you want to feed your baby with expressed milk, use the oldest packs first.
  • You may find that gently massaging your breasts before expressing helps with your let- down reflex. Having a photo of your baby with you can also help!
  • Having a little difficulty? Ask for help with the experts at the National Breastfeeding Helpline; you can reach them on 0300 100 0212.
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