Expressing breast milk
You can choose to feed your baby breast milk that you have expressed.
If your baby is not breastfeeding often or well, you may need to remove milk from your breast. This is called expressing breast milk.
Expressing your milk is usually short-term and can help your body make more milk. This is not necessary when you have enough milk and your baby is feeding well at the breast. See signs breastfeeding is going well.
Moms who have enough milk for their baby can also choose to express their milk for additional storage. See bottle feeding breast milk.
It can take time to learn how to express breast milk and may be easier once your milk supply has been established.
You can express by hand or with a breast pump.
Our Public Health Nurses can help you learn how to breastfeed and how to express breast milk when necessary. Learn about our services.
Why express breast milk
- Your breasts are engorged or feel very full.
- Your doctor or health care provider would like you to try to increase your milk supply to meet your baby's needs.
- You have a condition which prevents you from breastfeeding, such as, sore nipples, breast abscess, acute or chronic illness.
- You are taking medications that are not safe with breastfeeding. If you aren't sure, ask your pharmacist.
- You have had breast surgery or have been diagnosed with a hormonal problem that has affects your milk production.
- You and your baby are separated for some reason. For example, you are sick, require surgery or need to return to work.
- Your baby is unable to latch.
You can express if your baby is:
- Adopted and you need to establish your milk supply.
- Born early or is unable to breastfeed for any reason.
- Not gaining weight, which may mean you need to increase your milk supply.
- Unable to latch or is not breastfeeding well.
- Not getting enough milk because of poor suck and swallow patterns.
You can also express breast milk if your baby has a medical condition, for example, cleft lip and palate, cardiac anomalies and genetic conditions.
It may be easier to express in the morning, when your breasts feel fullest, or right after you breastfeed your baby. If you are expressing because your breasts are very full, you can express any time of day.
- Find a clean container with a wide opening to collect the expressed milk.
- Wash your hands and remove your bra.
- Apply warmth and gently massage your breasts before you hand express to help your breast milk flow.
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Manual or electric breast pumps are another way you can express your breast milk. You can buy or rent a breast pump.
Some women find pumps don’t work well for them and they have more success expressing by hand. We recommend trying hand expressing first before buying or renting a pump.
View our instruction sheet on breast pumps (PDF).
Use any of the following containers to store your breast milk:
- Glass containers with tight lids. For example, small jars and bottle with lids.
- Hard plastic containers or bottles that are BPA free.
- Breast milk freezer bags.
Storing breast milk at home
- You can keep it at room temperature (less than 25°C) for 6 to 8 hours.
- You can keep it in the fridge for 5 days for healthy full-term babies. Place breast milk at back of the fridge where it is coldest.
- You can add freshly expressed breast milk to the same container as breast milk expressed on the same day. Always cool freshly expressed milk before adding it to the already cooled breast milk.
- If your baby is born early or is in the hospital, talk to your doctor or health care provider about cleaning containers to store breast milk.
Freezing breast milk
- You can freeze breast milk in small amounts (2 to 4 oz or 60 to 120 ml) and label it with the date.
- You can add freshly expressed breast milk to the same container as already frozen breast milk. Always cool freshly expressed breast milk before adding it to already frozen breast milk. The amount of cooled freshly expressed breast milk added should be less than the amount of frozen breast milk.
- Leave a 2.5 cm space at the top of the container when freezing.
- Store in the back of the freezer on the top shelf in separate fridge freezer for 3 to 6 months.
- You can keep up to 6 to 12 months in a deep freezer.
Thawing breast milk
- Check the date on the container to make sure it has not expired. Use the container with the earliest date first.
- Thaw breast milk by first putting the container under cool running water, then change to warm running water until fully thawed.
- You can thaw frozen breast milk in the fridge. You must use it within 24 hours of taking it out of the freezer. Do not thaw breast milk at room temperature.
- Frozen breast milk separates into different fat layers. Gently shake to mix.
Warming breast milk
- Warm breast milk by placing container in a bowl of very warm water.
- Do not heat on the stove or in a microwave. To avoid any risk of burning your baby. A container heated in a microwave may feel cool but can contain pockets of very hot liquid.
You can give breast milk to your baby using a spoon or cup. If breast milk is not available, use infant formula.
Spoon or cup feeding works well if you need to give your baby additional breast milk or formula after your baby feeds at the breast. This method of feeding is meant to be used short-term and is usually done on the advice of a health care provider.
How to cup or spoon feed
- Wash your hands.
- Half fill a small cup or spoon with breast milk or formula.
- Sit your baby on your lap and support your baby’s upper back and neck with your hand.
- Place cup or spoon at baby’s lips and tip it slowly so the breast milk or formula touches your baby’s lips. Your baby’s tongue will move forward and lap up the liquid.
- Listen for the swallowing.
- Leave the cup in the position at your baby’s lips during the feed. Do not remove it when baby pauses.
- If using a spoon, allow baby to swallow the liquid before refilling the spoon.
- Let your baby feed at their own pace. Do not rush the feed.
- Burp your baby frequently as your baby will swallow more air during cup or spoon feeding.
- Keep feeding until your baby stops lapping up the liquid. This means your baby is finished feeding.
- Do not pour the liquid into your baby’s mouth as it can cause choking.
Watch a video about how to cup feed your baby.
- Wash cup or spoon in warm soapy water and rinse well.
- Store dry cup or spoon in a clean, covered container.