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Everything you need to know about expressing and storing breastmilk

There are many reasons why you may wish to express and store you breast milk – returning to work, travelling on a short trip, night out with friends or your breasts sometimes feel too full and uncomfortable.


Here are few rules to stick to, and some sage advice that will get you well on your way to mastering the art of expressing.

Why you need to pump your breast milk?

The most common reasons to pump are to collect your milk so your baby can have it when you’re not around and to maintain your milk supply for when you’re together. This is important if you’re going back to work but want to continue nursing.


Pumping also means you don’t have to be on call for every feeding when you’re at home. Your partner (or another helper) can feed your baby your milk from a bottle, allowing you to get more uninterrupted sleep or take a break from baby care.


To get the hang of it, it’s a good idea to practice pumping for a few weeks before you need to rely on expressed breast milk for your baby.


Ways to express 


Manually (by hand)
  • Make a ‘C’ shape by placing your thumb above and your fingers below your breast near the edge of the areola (the dark skin) but away from the nipple. Your breast will feel slightly firmer here, but you may need to experiment where to place your fingers and thumb as everyone is slightly different.Keeping this position gently press the breast backwards
  • Then press your thumb and first finger towards the nipple so as to ease the milk from your breast
  • Release this pressure to let the milk flow again. Repeat.
  • When the milk ceases to flow, switch to the other breast

Remember to rotate your finger and thumb positions to ‘milk’ the whole breast.


Hand pump

Place the sterilised suction cap over your nipple and squeeze the handle down to draw out the milk, collecting the milk in a sterilised container.


Electric pump

These work similar to hand pumps, but electrical parts exert the pressure. Pick from a simple electric pump or go for a more advanced pump that is said to mimic a baby’s natural sucking behaviour – and in some cases proves to increase your milk supply. Be sure to use the right size phalanges for your nipples and position them just right so you don’t pinch or irritate yourself. Also, consider buying a hands-free pumping bra so you don’t have to hold the phalanges on your breasts.


What kind of breast pump should I use?

Choosing the breast pump that’s right for you depends on how often you plan to use it.If you work full time and have to find time to pump during a busy workday, you’ll want to use a fully automatic pump so you can pump both breasts quickly at the same time. But if you only need to pump a few ounces occasionally, an inexpensive manual pump may do just fine. It usually takes ten to 15 minutes to pump both breasts with a good electric pump and up to 45 minutes with a hand pump.


How it works

Before you express, make sure all of your equipment has been sterilised and wash your hands. And of course, once you’re finished everything will need to be sterilised again. Basically, when you first place the cushion part of the breast pump onto your nipple, use the stimulation mode to help your milk start flowing – the same way a baby vigorously sucks to initiate let-down. Once you can see that the milk is flowing through the funnel and into the bottle or storage cup, then you can adjust the mode to suit. Make sure it feels comfortable, and try to be calm and  relaxed!


You’ll find that at different times of day, you’ll have different amounts of milk. For instance, first thing in the morning you may be able to express quite a lot, particularly if it’s been a while since your baby fed.


Everything about storing Breast milk

Whether you use milk storage bags or cups to store your milk, there are some rules you’ll need to follow.

Breastmilk Room Temperature Refrigerator Freezer
Freshly expressed into a closed container 6–8 hrs (26ºC or lower). If refrigeration is available store milk there No more than 72 hours. Store in back, where it is coldest 2 weeks in freezer compartment inside refrigerator (-15°C)

3 months in freezer section of refrigerator with separate door (–18°C)

6–12 months in deep freeze (–20°C**)

Previously frozen— thawed in refrigerator but not warmed 4 hours or less

(ie the next feeding)

Store in refrigerator

24 hours

Do not refreeze
Thawed outside refrigerator in warm water For completion of feeding Hold for 4 hours or until next feeding Do not refreeze
Infant has begun feeding Only for completion of feeding, then discard Discard Discard



  • When you store your breast milk, you’ll notice that it separates into two layers – with the cream on top, so make sure you swirl the milk around once warmed.
  • Freshly expressed breastmilk should be cooled in the fridge before being added to other chilled or frozen expressed breastmilk.


What can I do if I’m having trouble pumping?

For many women, the most difficult thing about pumping is finding the time to fit it into their schedule during the workday or finding a comfortable, private space to do it in. But pumping doesn’t come easily for everyone. Here are some reasons you may be having trouble getting much milk out and some tips for what to do about it:

  • You may be pumping too soon. You won’t get much milk out of your breasts if you or your baby has recently done a good job of draining them. Don’t stress about exactly when is the optimum time to pump, but take note if you’re having trouble.
  • You may need to change the settings on your pump. It can be hard to get enough milk if the suction pressure is too low or the cycling speed is too fast. In some cases, your pump may not provide the right pumping pattern for you no matter how you adjust it. The most advanced pumps now come with a reprogrammable setting card that you can send back to the manufacturer for adjustment.
  • You may not be using a very good breast pump. Some women have trouble getting enough milk out if they’re using a manual pump or an electric one that doesn’t work very well (after about a year of use the battery may be worn out). You’ll get the best results from a high-quality, electric double pump.
  • You may be using shields (phalanges) that are too small for your nipples. This is a common problem because most pumps come with phalanges that are designed for women with small nipples. If your phalange is too small and your nipples swell up once you start to pump, you won’t be able to get as much milk out of your breasts.


Many breast pump companies now make breast phalanges in larger sizes. Make sure you’re using the size that’s right for you.


  • You may not be producing very much milk. There are many reasons for this, including not nursing often enough and not staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Some medications, like decongestants or estrogens, can also inhibit milk supply.
  • You may be having trouble with the letdown of your milk. Try to relax and get yourself comfortable while pumping. (Some women like to look at a picture of their baby, close their eyes and think of their baby, or even listen to a recording of their baby’s coos or gurgles.) You might also try gently massaging your breasts or using warm compresses on them before pumping.


Breast Pumps moms love

Whatever pump you consider buying- look at the details that help customise it for you – correct shield size, tubes should fit the nipple size etc. Here are some popular breast pumps:


  • The Medela Swing single electric breast pump is comfortable, silent and efficient. The Swing breast pump is ideal for daily electric pumping.
  • The Philips Avent single electric breast pump is comfortable and efficient but some moms do find it a tad bit noisy.
  • The Spectra S1 and S2 are often referred to as the “Cadillac” of breast pumps. They are hospital grade pumps but carry a very affordable price tag.
  • Mums who don’t express regularly sometimes feel more comfortable with a manual pump because you maintain complete control over the level of suction all the time and you can increase it very gently. If you do go for a manual pump, make sure you choose one which has a specially-designed ergonomic lever to stop your hand from getting worn out!


Expressing milk efficiently takes practice, relaxation and a bit of a routine – but if you stick at it, and keep thinking about your baby’s cute little face, you’ll be a pro in no time. Good luck!



By Prerna S Joon
Chief Content Officer