You’ve decided to breastfed–Great! But you might want a date night, an afternoon to yourself, or even need to return to work. Here’s a guide to expressing and storing your breast milk so you can continue to provide breast milk to your baby as long as you want.

The first step is getting the milk out effectively.

Whether you use your hand or a pump to express your milk your hands should always be involved. Your hands are warm and massage is the best way to help your letdowns come easier and more frequently. Warm skin contact mimics the feeling of a baby’s skin being pressed against you to nurse and the massage is something your baby does while nursing instinctually to stimulate the milk.

Start off with warm clean hands and massage your breasts, you may see some milk start to come out just from the massage. Then place your hands around your breast in a C-hold as shown above. Your thumb should be behind and above your areola and your index finger below. Press these fingers back towards your chest gently, and then begin to bring your fingers together to put pressure on the milk ducts. You may not see any milk at first but neither does your baby when they are nursing. Repeat this method in a rhythm to try and simulate the rhythm of your baby nursing.

You don’t need to squeeze your nipple or to bring your fingers forward along your breast; this can cause friction and pain. While you are expressing it helps to be sitting up and leaning forward into the container you are using to store your milk. Once you get the hang of it you wont have to think about it at all. Some moms prefer to hand express and find it faster and more effective than a pump. Some benefits to hand expression instead of pumping are a more thorough relief of the ducts preventing a blockage. It is also very inexpensive and more effective when used to express colostrum especially. You don’t need to sterilize anything aside from washing your hands or carry around any equipment, you can express into a coffee mug if you like.

Now what?

Now that you have the knowledge to express your milk effectively you will need to store it if you are not feeding it to your baby right away. It is a good idea to label your milk with the date and time you expressed it so that you can determine if it is still good after a period of time. There are many different ideas of how long to store your milk so go with what makes you comfortable. Here are some guideline time periods:

Fresh milk at room temp: 8 hours
Fresh milk refrigerated: 8 days
Thawed milk in fridge: 24 hours
Frozen below 0 degrees: 12 months
Normal home freezer: 6 months
Frozen in mini-fridge: 2 weeks

Avoid freezing in the door shelves of your fridge or freezer since the temperatures fluctuate more, and do not refreeze thawed breast milk.

Using frozen milk.

When you freeze your milk you should be labeling it so you know when it was expressed. That way you can use the oldest milk first; it helps to arrange it this way in the freezer for quick access. If you don’t need your milk immediately and can plan ahead for its use you can place a frozen bag of milk in the fridge to thaw overnight. Or you can run warm water over it in the sink to defrost it for sooner use. It is normal for milk to separate when stored into fat rich milk and foremilk, you can gently swish your milk around the mix it but avoid shaking it. Shaking the milk causes bubbles, which can affect the composition of the breast milk.

Never reheat breast milk in the microwave! You can reheat it by sitting it in warm water.

Returning to work? Read our article about Tips for Breastfeeding and the Working Mom.

Having trouble with your supply? Read How to Increase Your Breast Milk Supply.

This article is advice. Remember that the information in it should not be substituted for any advice from a medical professional.

References:

• Counseling the Nursing Mother by Judith Lauwers and Anna Swisher
• Stanford School of Medicine:http://newborns.stanford.edu/Breastfeeding/ShipNStore.html
• La Leche League: http://www.llli.org/nb/nbmarapr96p51.html