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North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust - 70 years of the NHS


Expressing milk means squeezing milk out of your breast so that you can store it and feed it to your baby at a later time.

You may want to express milk if you have to be away from your baby because your baby is ill or premature or perhaps because you’re going back to work. You might want to express milk if your breasts feel uncomfortably full or if your baby isn’t sucking well but you still want to give them breast milk. You may also want to express some breast milk to use with your baby’s first solid foods.

How to express breast milk

You can express breast milk by hand or with a breast pump. Different pumps suit different women, so ask for advice or see if you can try one before you buy it. Always make sure that the container or pump is clean and has been sterilised before you use it.

Expressing by hand

You might find it easier to express milk by hand than to use a pump, especially in the first few days.

Our tips may help you:

  • Before you start, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water then gently massage your breast
  • Cup your breast just behind your areola (the darker part of your breast)
  • Squeeze gently, using your thumb and the rest of your fingers in a ‘C’ shape. This shouldn’t hurt (don’t squeeze the nipple directly as you’ll make it sore and unable to express)
  • Release the pressure then repeat, building up a rhythm. Try not to slide your fingers over the skin. At first, only drops will appear, but keep going as this will help to build up your milk supply. With a little time and practice, milk may flow freely
  • When no more drops come out, move your fingers round and try a different section of your breast and repeat
  • When the flow slows down, swap to the other breast. Keep changing breasts until the milk drips very slowly or stops altogether
  • If the milk doesn’t flow, try moving your fingers slightly towards the nipple or further away, or give the breast a gentle massage
  • Hold a sterilised feeding bottle or container below your breast to catch the milk as it flows

Storing breast milk

  • Remember to use a sterilised container to put the milk in
  • You can store breast milk in the fridge for up to 5 days at 4 ºC or lower (usually at the back of the fridge -  never in the door)
  • Breast milk can be stored for 2 weeks in the ice compartment of a fridge or for up to six months in a freezer
  • Once the milk is defrosted, use it straight away. Milk that's been frozen is still good for your baby and better than formula milk. Don't re-freeze milk once it's thawed

Warming breast milk

Expressed milk can be given at room temperature or you can warm the milk to body temperature by placing the bottle in lukewarm water. Don’t use a microwave to heat up or defrost breast milk has it can cause hot spots, which can burn your baby’s mouth. Any unused milk that has been warmed must not be reused and should be thrown away.

If your baby is in hospital

If you’re expressing milk because your baby is in hospital, ask the hospital staff caring for your baby for information about storing it, as the hospital will have its own guidelines.

The maternity, neonatal and childrens ward have a variety of electric pumps you can use whilst your baby is in hospital. Local schemes for the hire of breastpumps are also available - ask your midwife or health visitor for details.