Healthy living

Expressing and storing breast milk

Expressing is done when you need to have some milk for your baby because you aren’t going to be there for a feed, or if your breasts are very full and uncomfortable. You can express after a feed or instead of a feed.


Drawing showing where hands should be placed to start the letdown processExpressing by hand costs nothing and you don’t need any equipment. It may empty your breasts more completely than using a breast pump.

Figure 1

To hand-express

  1. Wash your hands using soap and running water. Dry them completely with a clean, dry towel.
  2. Have a sterile container, such as a small bowl or large cup ready to collect the milk. See section about storing breast milk (below) for information on sterilising containers.
  3. Gently massage the breast towards the nipple to start the letdown, as shown in figure 1.
  4. Then place the end of your forefinger (index finger) and thumb on either side of areola (the brownish area around the nipple), near outer edge and opposite each other, as shown in figure 2.
    Drawing showing where fingers and thumb should be placed during the expressing process
    Figure 2
  5. Push back towards your chest and then press finger and thumb together. Let go, then press again in a rhythmic way.
  6. Gradually move your fingers around the areola to express different parts of the breast.
  7. Expect the milk to take a minute or so to start coming.
  8. Treat your breasts gently; expressing should not hurt.

Using a breast pump

  • Using a pump to express may be faster than doing it by hand.
  • You can get many different hand pumps or electric pumps.
  • They all need to be cleaned thoroughly between uses; see the information that comes with the pump.
  • If you need to express often, you may be able to hire an electric pump from a pharmacist.
  • If your nipples are sore or cracked, you may find that hand expressing is less painful.

To express with a pump

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water. Dry them with a clean, dry towel.
  2. Gently massage your breasts, stroking towards the nipple.
  3. Place the cup of the pump on your breast with the nipple in the centre.
  4. Work a hand pump with a smooth and rhythmic action.
  5. For an electric pump, start with low suction strength and gradually increase to find the most effective and comfortable level for you.
  6. If your pump has an attachment to express both breasts at once, you may find this quicker and more effective.

How often and how much?

  • Try to express 30 mL or so after feeds (especially morning feeds) for a few days and store the milk following the directions below.
  • As a rough guide, a baby of 1 to 3 months may take 100 to 180 mL for a feed, but it is very variable.
  • If you will only be away for a few hours, don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of milk to leave. You and your baby will be keen to have a good breastfeed when you return. 

Storing breast milk

  • Sterilise the containers that you are going to express milk into and store milk in. Make sure they are clean first, then boil them for 5 minutes, soak in sterilising solution or use a steam steriliser (for example, microwave steriliser).
  • Express milk straight into sterilised containers.
  • Store milk in sterilised plastic or glass. Plastic is better for freezing.
  • Breast milk can be kept at room temperature (26 °C) for 6 to 8 hours, but if a refrigerator is available, store it there.
  • Milk stored in the refrigerator is best used within 48 hours, but it will keep up to 3 days if necessary.
  • Keep it in the back of the refrigerator where it is coldest (not in the door).
  • Frozen milk will keep for 2 weeks in a freezer section inside a one-door fridge, or for 3 months in the freezer section of a fridge with a separate door, and for 6 to 12 months in a separate deep freeze (write the date on a label on the container).
  • You can add more breast milk to a container in the freezer if you chill it in the fridge first. It will only keep for as long as the oldest milk in the container.

Thawing and warming expressed milk

  • Thaw milk slowly in the refrigerator or more quickly in warm water, not in a microwave oven.
    • If it is thawed in the fridge, it will keep for 24 hours in the fridge.
    • If it is thawed in warm water, use it straight away or put it back in the fridge for no more than 4 hours.
    • Do not re-freeze thawed milk.
  • Once a baby has started to feed from a bottle of expressed milk, throw away any milk left after the feed.

Transporting breast milk

  • Use an insulated container with a freezer brick.
  • If frozen milk remains frozen, put it in the freezer on arrival.
  • If frozen milk has thawed, put it in the refrigerator and use it within 24 hours. Do not re-freeze.
  • If the milk has never been frozen, you can either store it in the refrigerator or freeze it if you wish, following the guide above.

Microwaving breast milk

  • The recommended way to warm breast milk is to stand it in a container of warm water.
  • Microwave ovens should never be used to thaw or heat milk.
  • The major problem with microwave ovens is that they cause uneven heating. The temperature of the surface may be a lot hotter or cooler than the rest of the milk.

More information

Local community, school or child health nurse

  • See inside your baby's purple All About Me book
  • Look in the service finder for child health centres
  • Visit your nearest child health centre

Local family doctor

Ngala Helpline

  • 8.00am – 8.00pm 7 days a week
  • Phone: (08) 9368 9368
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 111 546 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Ngala website (external site)

Raising Children Network

Kidsafe WA

  • 8.30am – 5.00pm (Monday to Friday)
  • Phone: (08) 9340 8509
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 802 244 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Kidsafe WA website (external site)

Red Nose

  • 9.00am – 5.00pm (Monday to Friday)
  • Phone: (08) 9474 3544
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 199 466 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Red Nose (external site)


Child and Adolescent Community Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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