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Pumping and storing breastmilk

Pumping and storing breastmilk

Whether you're going back to work, want to have your partner help with feedings, or want to make sure you have breastmilk for your baby if you are away for a few hours, you will need to pump and store your breastmilk. Get tips on pumping your milk and storing it safely.

Pumping your breastmilk

If you are unable to breastfeed your baby directly, make sure to pump during the times your baby would normally eat. This will help you to continue making milk.

Before you pump, wash your hands with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol. Make sure the area where you are pumping and your pump parts and bottles are clean. You do not need to wash your breasts and nipples before pumping.

If you need help to get your milk to start flowing without your baby there, you can:

  • Think about the things you love 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 cloth to your breasts.
  • Gently massage your breasts.
  • Gently rub your nipples.
  • Visualize the milk flowing down.
  • Sit quietly and think of a relaxing setting.

Pumping: Ways to express your milk by hand or pump

Ways to express your milk by hand or pump


How it works

What's involved

Average cost

Hand expression

You use your hand to squeeze and press on 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 not often away from your baby or you need an option that is always with you. But all moms should learn how to hand express in case of emergency.


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 (pumping both breasts at the same time) 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.
  • Electric pumps require batteries or a place to plug in.

$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 pumping methods may find that these pumps work well for them.

Most insurance plans 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 and talk to your insurance company to learn their specific policies on breast pumps.

Storage of breastmilk

After each pumping, you can:

  • Keep milk at room temperature. Breastmilk is OK for up to 4 hours after pumping at room temperature (up to 77°F).
  • Refrigerate it. Breastmilk is OK in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Place milk in the freezer. If you're not going to use refrigerated breastmilk within 4 days of pumping, freeze it right after pumping.
  • Use cooler packs. You can put breastmilk in a cooler or insulated cooler pack with frozen ice packs for up to 24 hours after pumping. After 24 hours in a cooler the breastmilk should be refrigerated or frozen.

When storing breastmilk, use breastmilk storage bags, which are made for freezing human milk. You can also use clean glass or hard BPA-free plastic bottles with tight-fitting lids. Do not use containers with the recycle number 7, which may contain BPA. 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. Most insurance plans must cover breastfeeding supplies, such as storage bags, in addition to breast pumps. Call your insurance company to learn more.

View our guide to storing fresh breastmilk or learn tips for freezing milk.

Storage: Tips for freezing milk

  • Clearly label milk containers with the date the milk was expressed. Include your child's name if you are giving the milk to a child care provider.
  • Freeze in small amounts (2 to 4 ounces, or ¼ to ½ cups) for later feedings.
  • Leave an inch or so from the milk to the top of the container, because it will get bigger when freezing.
  • Wait to tighten bottle caps or lids until the milk is completely frozen.
  • Store milk in the back of the freezer, not on the shelf of the freezer door, so that it doesn't start to thaw out.

Storage: Tips for thawing and warming up milk

  • Thaw the oldest breastmilk first.
  • Breastmilk does not need to be warmed. Some moms prefer to serve it at room temperature. Some moms serve it cold.
  • Thaw the bottle or bag of frozen milk by putting it in the refrigerator overnight.
  • If you decide to warm the breastmilk:
    • Keep the container sealed while warming.
    • Hold it under warm, not hot, running water, or set it in a container of water that is warm, not hot.
    • Never put a bottle or bag of breastmilk in the microwave. Microwaving creates hot spots that could burn your baby and damage the milk.
    • Test the temperature before feeding it to your baby by dropping some on your wrist. The milk should feel warm, not hot.
  • Swirl the milk to mix the fat, which may have separated. Do not shake the milk.
  • Use breastmilk within 24 hours of thawing it in the refrigerator. This means 24 hours from when the breastmilk is no longer frozen, not from when you take it out of the freezer.
  • Once breastmilk is thawed to room temperature or warmed after being in the refrigerator or freezer, use it within 2 hours. If you have any leftover milk when the baby is finished feeding, be sure to throw it out within 2 hours.
  • Do not refreeze breastmilk after it has been thawed.

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

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



How long

Things to know

Countertop, table

Room temperature (up to 77°F)

Up to 4 hours

Containers should be covered and kept as cool as possible. Covering the container with a clean cool towel may keep milk cooler. Throw out any leftover milk within 2 hours after the baby is finished feeding.



Up to 4 days

Store milk in the back of the refrigerator. When at work, it's OK to put breastmilk in a shared refrigerator. Be sure to label the container clearly.


0°F or colder

Within 6 months is best.

Up to 12 months is acceptable.

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.

Source: 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); Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) Clinical Protocol #8 Human Milk Storage Information for Home Use for Full-Term Infants (2017); CDC Human Milk Storage Guidelines (2018).

Guide to storing thawed breastmilk


Room temperature
(up to 77°F)


(0°F or colder)

Thawed breastmilk

1 to 2 hours

Up to 1 day (24 hours)

Do not refreeze.

Source: Adapted from ABM Clinical Protocol #8 Human Milk Storage Information for Home Use for Full-Term Infants (2017).

Did we answer your question about pumping and storing breastmilk?

For more information about pumping and storing breastmilk, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations: