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Pumping and breastmilk storage

Pumping your breastmilk

If you are unable to breastfeed your baby directly, it is important to remove milk during the times your baby normally would feed. This will help you to continue making milk.

Before you express breastmilk, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Make sure the area where you are expressing and your pump parts and bottles are clean. Breasts and nipples do not need to be washed before pumping.

If you need help to get your milk to start flowing, you can:

  • Think about your baby. Bring a photo or a blanket or item of clothing that has your baby's scent on it.
  • Apply a warm, moist compress to your breasts.
  • Gently massage your breasts.
  • Gently rub your nipples.
  • Visualize the milk flowing down.
  • Sit quietly and think of a relaxing setting.

Ways to express your milk by hand or pump

Type How it works What's involved Average cost
Hand expression You use your hand to massage and compress your breast to remove milk.
  • Requires practice, skill, and coordination.
  • Gets easier with practice, and can be as fast as pumping.
  • Good if you are seldom away from your baby or you need an option that is always with you. But all moms should learn how to hand express.

Manual pump

You use your hand and wrist to operate a hand-held device to pump the milk.

  • Requires practice, skill, and coordination.
  • Useful for occasional pumping if you are away from your baby only once in a while.
  • May put you at higher risk of breast infection.
$30 to $50
Electric breast pump Runs on battery or plugs into an electrical outlet.
  • Can be easier for some moms.
  • Can pump one breast at a time or both breasts at the same time.
  • Double pumping may collect more milk in less time, which is helpful if you are going back to work or school full-time.
  • Need a place to clean and store the equipment between uses.

$150 to over $250

You can rent an electric pump from a lactation consultant at a local hospital or from a breastfeeding organization. This type of pump works well for creating a milk supply when a new baby can't feed at the breast. Mothers who have struggled with other expression methods may find that these pumps work well for them.

Electric breast pump Milk storage bag Manual breast pump

Under the Affordable Care Act, your health insurance plan must cover the cost of a breast pump. You may be offered a rental or a new one for you to keep. Your plan may provide guidance on whether the covered pump is manual or electric, how long the coverage of a rented pump lasts, and when they'll provide the pump (before or after you have the baby). Learn more about your breastfeeding benefits at healthcare.gov and talk to your insurance company to learn their specific policies on breast pumps.

Did you know?

You can keep germs from getting into the milk by washing your pumping equipment with soap and water and letting the equipment air dry.

Storage of breastmilk

Store your breastmilk in clean glass or hard BPA-free plastic bottles with tight-fitting lids. You can also use milk storage bags, which are made for freezing human milk. Do not use disposable bottle liners or other plastic bags to store breastmilk.

Storage bottles or bags to refrigerate or freeze your breastmilk also qualify as tax-deductible breastfeeding gear.

After each pumping

  • Label the date on the storage container. Include your child's name if you are giving the milk to a child care provider.
  • Gently swirl the container to mix the cream part of the breastmilk that may rise to the top back into the rest of the milk. Do not shake the milk. This can cause some of the milk's valuable parts to break down.
  • Refrigerate or chill milk right after it is expressed. You can put it in the refrigerator, place it in a cooler or insulated cooler pack, or freeze it in small (2 to 4 ounce) batches for later feedings.

Tips for freezing milk

  • Wait to tighten bottle caps or lids until the milk is completely frozen.
  • Try to leave an inch or so from the milk to the top of the container because it will expand when freezing.
  • Store milk in the back of the freezer, not on the shelf of the freezer door.

Tips for thawing and warming up milk

  • Clearly label milk containers with the date the milk was expressed. Use the oldest stored milk first.
  • Breastmilk does not need to be warmed. Some moms prefer to take the chill off and serve at room temperature. Some moms serve it cold.
  • Thaw the bottle or bag of frozen milk (1) by putting it in the refrigerator overnight, (2) by holding it under warm running water, or (3) by setting it in a container of warm water.
  • Never put a bottle or bag of breastmilk in the microwave. Microwaving creates hot spots that could burn your baby and damage the milk.
  • Swirl the milk, and test the temperature by dropping some on your wrist. The milk should be comfortably warm, not hot.
  • Use thawed breastmilk within 24 hours. Do not refreeze thawed breastmilk.

Guide to storing fresh breastmilk for use with healthy full-term infants

Place Temperature How long Things to know
Countertop, table Room temp (up to 77°F) Up to 3 to 4 hours is best.

Up to 6 to 8 hours is okay for very clean expressed milk.
Containers should be covered and kept as cool as possible. Cover the container with a clean cool towel may keep milk cooler. Throw out any leftover milk within 1 to 2 hours after the baby is finished feeding.
Refrigerator 39°F or colder Up to 3 days is best.

Up to 5 days is okay for very clean expressed milk.
Store milk in the back of the main body of the refrigerator. When at work, you can place your expressed milk in the refrigerator. Use a canvas or insulated bag that blends in with your coworkers' lunch bags, and place it at the back of the refrigerator.
Freezer 0°F or colder Up to 3–6 months is best.

Up to 9 months is okay for very clean expressed milk.
Store milk toward the back of the freezer where the temperature is most constant. Milk stored at 0°F or colder is safe for longer durations, but the quality of the milk might not be as high.
Deep freezer -4°F or colder Up to 6 months.

Up to 12 months is okay for very clean expressed milk.
Store milk toward the back of the freezer where the temperature is most constant. Milk stored at 0°F or colder is safe for longer durations, but the quality of the milk might not be as high.

Guide to storing thawed breastmilk

  Room temperature (60°F to 85°F) Refrigerator (39°F or colder) Any freezers
Thawed breastmilk Up to 1 to 2 hours is best. Up to 3 to 4 hours is okay. 24 hours Do not refreeze.

Adapted from 7th Edition American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Pediatric Nutrition Handbook (2014); 2nd Edition AAP/American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Breastfeeding Handbook for Physicians (2014); PDF - Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) Clinical Protocol #8 Human Milk Storage Guidelines (2010); CDC Human Milk Storage Guidelines (2015).

All material contained on this page is free of copyright restrictions and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services. Citation of the source is appreciated.

Content last updated: August 3, 2015.


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