Breastfeeding A to Z

Providing Breastmilk For Your Baby-Pumping & Storing Breastmilk

Pumping breastmilk can be done by hand, with a hand-held pump, a battery-powered pump or an electric pump.  Pumping breastmilk is a learned skill that takes practice.

Remember that an effective baby breastfeeding is still better at emptying your breast than the most effective pump.  The amount of breastmilk you pump does not necessarily show the amount of milk your baby is getting.

Hand Expression

Many women find that hand expressing breastmilk is an efficient way to provide breastmilk for their baby when only occasional expression is needed.

Expressing by hand: (1)

  1. Place your hand in a C-shape around the breast.  Thumb on top, fingers underneath breast.  Thumb and fingers need to be about 1-2 inches (3-5 centimeters) back from the nipple.
  2. Press thumb and fingers gently inward toward your rib cage.
  3. Roll, fingers together in a slight downward motion.  Towards nipple.  (Thumb and fingers slide and push towards nipple)
  4. It may take 3-5 minutes to establish a let-down of breastmilk.  Be patient.  As you practice hand expressing the let-down will come more quickly.  See Getting the Most Breastmilk  for ways to enhance a let-down.
  5. Continue this motion until the flow of milk slows and then shift thumb and finger pressure to another area on breast, slowly going around the entire breast.  You have milk ducts around the entire circumference of the breast, you want to release milk from all parts of the breast.
  6. Use a clean container to catch your breastmilk and store it according to the Storage of Breastmilk guidelines given below.

Choosing A Breast Pump

If you choose to use a breast pump, there are many brands and types on the market.  They fall into three categories, hand-held, battery-operated, or electric.  Many factors will determine the best type of pump for your needs.  Check out the following websites for more information so you can make an informed decision.

Times to Express Breastmilk

A good time to express breastmilk can be when your baby doesn’t completely empty a breast or after a feeding that your baby has slept for a longer stretch of time.

Sometimes setting aside a specific time to pump every day or pumping after your baby has gotten your milk to let down works too.

Some women find the best time to express is early in the day when milk supply is usually at its highest.

Storage of Breastmilk

These guidelines are for home use (not for hospital or donor situations) for a healthy, full-term baby.  If you have a premature or ill baby or if you are not expressing milk for your own use; check with your healthcare provider or milk bank about other guidelines for pumping and storing breastmilk that you might need to follow.

General Guidelines for Storing Breastmilk (2)

  1. Always use a clean container.  Standard glass or plastic baby bottles (bisphenol A [BPA] free preferred) or disposable bottle liners can be used.
  2. Label container with date (day, month and year may be helpful) and time and name if needed for daycare.  You’ll want to use the milk in the order it was expressed.
  3. Make sure to leave a space at the top of the container of about 1/2 inch (1-2 centimeters).  Milk expands when it is frozen.
  4. You can add breastmilk together to make enough for one feeding in the same container.  Chill freshly expressed milk for a least 30 minutes in the refrigerator before adding to already refrigerated or frozen breastmilk.
  5. Freeze your milk in 1-3 ounce (30-90 milliliters) so you can easily meet your baby’s changing appetite without wasting much milk, or until you know what your baby consistently takes at a feeding.  Breastmilk has been referred to as “liquid gold”.
  6. Storing breastmilk can be done in any container that you would use in your refrigerator or freezer, but it is helpful to put expressed breastmilk in bottles so you aren’t losing any milk when you are transferring it to another container.
  7. Thaw frozen breastmilk in its container under lukewarm running water or let it stand briefly in warm water, shaking to thaw.  Gently shake the container of thawed breastmilk to mix the fat layer that separated out.  Avoid using the microwave or hot water to defrost breastmilk.  Both can create hotspots in the milk that could burn your baby’s mouth.
  8. Use thawed milk within 24 hours.  If your baby does not consume all the breastmilk you have given them at a feeding, you should not save it to be used at another time.
  9. If your baby has taken some breastmilk, but not finished the bottle, often people ask if they can save what is left.  The science of food safety has shown, food between 40 -140 degrees F (5-60 degrees C) (3)  is more likely to grow bacteria and the warmer the environment the faster it multiplies (even though breastmilk has been shown to resist bacteria growth more than other foods, once you chill it, freeze it or heat it, it changes some of those components)  So remember, if it has been between 40-140 degrees F ( 5-60 degrees C)  for 2 hours it needs to be tossed out.  Putting it back in the fridge and hoping to use it again is a problem because baby’s saliva breaks down the breastmilk that is left in the bottle.  If you have given the bottle of breastmilk and it has NOT been consumed within 2 hours, of starting the bottle, throw it away.  No need for a sick kid.

Temperature & Time Guidelines

These guidelines apply for mothers of healthy, full-term babies, (if you are doing this for hospital, donor milk or sick/preterm baby, check with the facility first) who are storing the milk for home use, wash their hands before expressing and using containers that have been washed in hot, soapy water and then rinsed well: (1)

At room temperature

Colostrum (expressed within 6 days of delivery)

12 hours at 80.6 to 89.6 degrees F (27-32 degrees C)

Mature Milk

24 hours at 60 degrees F (15 degrees C)

10 hours at 66-72 degrees F (19-22 degrees C)

4-6 hours at 79 degrees F (25 degrees C)

4 hours at 86-100 degrees F (30-38 degrees C)

In a refrigerator

Mature Milk

8 days at 32-39 degrees F (0-4 degrees C)

In a freezer

Mature Milk

2 weeks in a freezer compartment located inside a refrigerator

3-4 months in a self-contained freezer unit of a refrigerator

6 months or longer in a separate deep freeze at a constant 0 degrees F (-19 degrees C)

Note:  The reason your milk can be stored longer in the deep freeze is because a refrigerator freezer’s door is opened and closed more often and the temperature doesn’t stay as consistent.


  1. Mohrbacher, N, Stock, J, La Leche League International The Breastfeeding Answer Book, 3rd Revised Edition, Schaumburg, IL, La Leche League International, Jan 2003, pp 216, 229.
  2. Wambach, K, Riordan, J, Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, 5th edition, Burlington Ma, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2016, p 647.  Note: publishing date does say 2016.
  3. United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety Education Danger Zone Available at  Accessed Sept 17, 2015.