There are many mothers' groups, health organizations, and health care provider associations that provide very detailed information and support on how to pump breast milk. The following overview is provided for information only—it is not meant to take the place of a health care provider or lactation consultant's advice or recommendation. Visit the Resources and Publications section to find organizations that provide information on pumping breast milk.
If you are unable to breastfeed your infant directly, it is important to remove milk during the times that you would normally feed your infant. Removing milk from your breasts is called expressing the milk. Expressing milk will help you to continue making milk.
Before expressing breast milk, wash your hands thoroughly. Only express milk when you are in a clean area. You do not need to wash your breasts or nipples before expressing milk. If you need help to get your milk flowing, placing an item of your infant's near to you often works.
There are three methods for expressing your breast milk:1
- Hand expression: For hand expression, you use your hand to manually massage and compress your breast to remove milk.
- Manual pump: To operate a manual pump, you use your hand and wrist to operate a hand-held pumping device that removes milk from your breast.
- Electric breast pump: An electric breast pump runs on a battery or through an outlet plug. It can pump milk from one breast or from both breasts at the same time.
For more information on pumping breast milk, visit the Office on Women's Health page on pumping and breast milk storage.
Breast milk can be stored in clean glass bottles or hard, BPA-free plastic bottles with tight-fitting lids. After pumping, refrigerate or freeze milk immediately. You should store milk in small batches (2 to 4 ounces), depending on the amount that you normally feed your infant at one time.1,2
For refrigeration, storage for as long as 5 to 8 days is acceptable only for very clean expressed milk. If freezing, store the milk in small (2-ounce to 4-ounce) batches. Frozen milk is good for 3 to 6 months. After thawing, use milk within 24 hours and do not refreeze it because of the risk of contamination.1,3
For more information on pumping and storing breast milk, including recommended storage temperatures, visit these pages:
- Pumping and breast milk storage, at the Office of Women's Health webpage
- Proper handling of breast milk, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage
- La Leche League International
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health. (2015). Breastfeeding: Pumping and milk storage. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from http://womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/pumping-and-breastmilk-storage.html
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (n.d.). Breastfeeding initiatives: FAQs. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from https://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/pumping-and-storing-breastmilk
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Breastfeeding: Proper handling and storage of human milk. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/handling_breastmilk.htm