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Expressing your breast milk

Expressing your breast milk can be a helpful skill to learn in the early days of having a baby.

If you’re separated from your baby, or your baby won’t or can’t breastfeed it’s important to:

  • start expressing within 6 hours of birth
  • express 8 to 10 times in 24 hours
  • express once at night.

This will help to stimulate and maintain your milk supply.

All breast milk collected will help your baby. Initially the volume of the thick, rich early milk in the first few days (colostrum)  can be as little as 1ml but will increase as you express regularly. We’ll discuss with you the best way of giving your breast milk to your baby.

Preparing to hand express

Before you start you must:

  • wash your hands
  • wash and sterilise any equipment for collecting and storing your breast milk in hot soapy water
  • have a clean, damp cloth and dry tissues close by in case of accidental splashes or spillages of milk.

To encourage your milk to flow, we recommend you:

  • find a warm, comfortable and relaxing place to
  • hold your baby ideally with skin to skin contact, have baby nearby or have a photo of a baby which you can see
  • apply warm flannels to your breasts or have a warm bath if you can
  • gently massage all areas of your breasts, don’t slide your fingers along the breast as this can cause skin damage – see below.

Spend a few minutes massaging the breast/s before moving on.

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How to hand express

You should:

  • cup your breast and make a ‘C’ shape with your thumb and forefinger
  • put your thumb and finger on opposite sides of the nipple, 3 to 4cm apart, or where the texture of the breast tissue feels different
  • gently squeeze your thumb and finger together without sliding your fingers over the skin. This shouldn’t hurt
  • release the pressure and squeeze again and again, building up a rhythm.

You may only see a few drops at The more you practice, the more colostrum will start to appear.

Once the flow of colostrum has slowed down, rotate your fingers round to try a different part of the breast. When you have tried all parts of one breast, repeat the process on the other breast.

Expressing from both breasts at the same time, whether by hand or pump, may increase milk volume and reduce the time taken.

Pause for 30 to 60 seconds when the milk flow slows down to allow the ducts to refill.



Expressing using a manual or electric pump

It’s useful to hand express before using an electric pump as it may reduce the time it takes for the milk to start.

Make sure you correctly assemble the sterilised pump which your midwife will give you/

To use a pump, you should:

  • support your breast if needed
  • put the funnel centrally onto your nipple and areola
  • turn the suction dial to its lowest setting
  • switch on the pump and increase suction gradually to the maximum comfortable level. If it’s uncomfortable the suction is too high.

Some pumps have ways of varying the speed to mimic how a baby feeds. This might include quick sucks at the start of a breastfeed followed by slower sucks as the milk flow increases and the baby settles into a breastfeed. Some dual phase pumps do this.

You should also:

  • swap breasts each time the milk slows to allow the milk ducts to refill
  • remember to switch the pump off before removing the funnel from your breast
  • stop after 20 to 40 minutes or when the milk stops

Storing your breast milk at home

The lower the temperature of your fridge, the longer you can safely store your expressed milk.

Use the table below as a guide

Place Maximum time to keep
Fresh breastmilk Always store in a sealed container
Room Up to 6 hours
Fridge (5 to 8C) Up to 3 days (back of the fridge)
Fridge (0 to 4C) Up to 5 days (back of the fridge)
Ice compartment 2 weeks
if temperature rises above 4C After 3 days use within 6 hours (or throw away)
Freezer -18C or lower 6 months in a deep freezer
Previously frozen breastmilk
Defrosted in fridge Defrost in the fridge for 12 hours. Use as soon as possible after thawing
Defrosted outside fridge Use immediately

Hygiene and handling breast milk

Always wash your hands before expressing and handling breast milk. You must:

  • always use a sterile plastic container with a sealed lid, or specially designed pre-sterilised bag to store your breast milk
  • use a fresh storage container each time you collect milk. You can cool newly collected milk and add it to previously stored milk collected on the same day
  • label your milk container as breast milk with date and time of expressing
  • keep expressed milk in the back of the fridge above and away from meat products, eggs or uncooked foods

Remember, if you open your fridge frequently the temperature will rise.

Using stored breast milk

Ideally, defrost frozen breast milk in the fridge. If you need it quickly try defrosting under cool, then warm, running.

You must use thawed milk warmed to room temperature immediately or throw it away.

You must:

  • warm the milk to body temperature by standing the container in warm water for a few minutes
  • never use a microwave to defrost or warm breast milk. It’s heated unevenly and could burn your baby’s mouth.
  • shake stored milk gently to mix before use and avoid separation
  • never refreeze or reheat thawed breast milk

Local breastfeeding support

Find out more about our infant feeding service

National Breastfeeding Helpline

0300 100 0212

9.30am to 9.30pm

NCT Breastfeeding Helpline

0300 330 0700

8am to 10pm

Breastfeeding Network Supporter line

0300 100 0210

Visit their website 

9.30am to 9.30pm

Association of Breastfeeding Mothers Helpline

0300 330 5453

Visit their website

La Leche League Helpline

0845 120 2918

Visit their website

Ardo Breastpump Hire

Hire a breastpump

Contact us

Rothschild Ward, Stoke Mandeville Hospital
Community Midwives Office, Stoke Mandeville Hospital
Community Midwives Office, Wycombe Hospital
Infant Feeding Team, Stoke Mandeville Hospital
Rothschild Ward, Stoke Mandeville Hospital

01296 316158

Community Midwives Office, Stoke Mandeville Hospital

01296 316120

Community Midwives Office, Wycombe Hospital

01494 425172

Infant Feeding Team, Stoke Mandeville Hospital

07798 520830