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If you plan to go back to work/college, or planning a night out with your partner/friends, your baby can still be given breast milk by someone else using a more simple method than trying to introduce formula milk. Expressing of breast milk can also help if your breasts are really full and your baby appears to be struggling to latch on. Milk can be expressed from the breast using the hand, or by using hand or electric pumps. Once you learn how to do it, expressing can be easy and needs little preparation.
- Remember to wash your hands before starting.
- You will need a container that has preferably been sterilised.
- You can express milk between or after feeding, which is your choice.
- Try to use clean containers each time you collect milk.
Tips to help your milk flow
- Find somewhere comfortable to sit and have your baby close to you if possible. If not, have a photo of him/her.
- Relax with a drink
- You can try using warm water or flannels first if your breasts feel really full and uncomfortable.
- Massaging the breast using stroking or circular movements can help the let down reflex (when your breasts start to tingle and milk starts to flow)
Expressing by hand
You may find this easier than using a pump and it is much cheaper. Your midwife/ health visitor should be able to show you how to do this properly but here is a brief outline.
- Make a "C" shape with your hand and place your thumb above and fingers below your breast just before the areola (the dark skin). You may find the skin around this area feels a bit lumpy. This is normal and is the change in breast tissue.
- Keeping your hand away from the nipple, move your fingers and thumb together, then release them slowly.
- You may find it easier moving your hand towards and away your chest at the same time.
- When the milk starts to flow, move your hand around the breast.
- Express from both breasts if you want to.
- Don't worry if you only get a few drops at first. The more you practice the easier it gets. Try expressing at different times of the day.
Hand expressing is cheaper and can be a lot easier than buying hand or electric pumps.
Storing breast milk
- Breast milk can be left for a maximum of 6 hours at room temperature.
- It can be stored in the fridge (at a temperature of 4 degrees Celsius) for between 4 and 8 days.
- It can also be kept in a freezer for up to 6 months.
- Milk needs to be placed in either the fridge or freezer as soon after expressing as possible.
- Try to use a new container every time you express.
- Storage container/bag should be labelled with your name, time and date on it, and placed inside a clean sealed bag or box.
- Store the milk away from meat products, eggs or anything that is uncooked. Do not use the door of the fridge to store breast milk as it is cooler inside the body of the fridge.
Using stored breast milk
- Frozen breast milk should be defrosted in the fridge and used within 12 hours. If it is needed more quickly, run it under cool, then warm running water.
- NEVER heat milk in a microwave.
- Use defrosted milk immediately and throw any waste away.
- The milk may separate when defrosted. This is normal, just shake it a little.
Written following guidance from "expressing and storing breast milk" (BfN 2006)