Breast pumps: Choosing a breast pump Expressing milk
Put simply, expressing milk is the process of taking milk from your breast without your baby suckling. Many mums choose to express milk so they can store it and bottle feed it to their babies later.
Expressing milk explained
There are several reasons mums express milk, including:
- It means your baby can still be fed breast milk when you're not there – for example if you go out or return to work.
- If your baby is ill or premature he or she may not be able to feed from your breast at first.
- It allows dads to get involved in the feeding process.
- Expressing milk can relieve uncomfortably full breasts.
- If you're breastfeeding, expressing milk helps to maintain your milk supply.
- If you're not able to breastfeed, your baby still gets the benefits of breast milk.
How to express milk
Hand expressing milk
Some mums find it easier to express milk by hand rather than using a breast pump, while others find it tricky to get the hang of. It's down to your individual preference – here are some tips from the NHS to help you get started:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
- Squeeze gently using your thumb and the rest of your fingers in a C shape.
- Gradually build up a rhythm – change breast or shift position when the milk flow slows down or stops.
Manual breast pumps
Alternatively, a manual breast pump makes expressing milk a quicker, easier process for some mums. They're lightweight, low cost and quiet – but can be tiring to use for long periods. Discover the pros and cons of manual breast pumps in more detail.
Electric breast pumps
Electric breast pumps are generally more powerful and durable than manual breast pumps – but, unless you buy a battery-operated one, you'll need access to a plug socket. Find out exactly how an electric breast pumps page works, and see if it’s the right choice for you.
Hospital-grade breast pumps
Hospital-grade breast pumps from companies such as Medela or Ameda are larger, more powerful machines. If you have to stay in hospital for longer than usual, you may use one there. Once you're home, you can hire one on a monthly basis from the NHS or the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), a UK parenting charity.
Does expressing milk hurt?
Expressing, or pumping, breast milk shouldn't be painful, but it can be uncomfortable until you become used to it. Some women find expressing milk helps to relieve the discomfort caused by overly full breasts.
The NHS offers expressing milk and breastfeeding advice, as does the NCT and the La Leche League, a global support network for breastfeeding mums.
Storing expressed breast milk
According to the NHS, you can store expressed breast milk for up to five days in the back of the fridge (4ºC or lower), up to two weeks in the freezer compartment of a fridge or up to six months in a freezer (–18ºC or lower). Frozen milk should be defrosted in the fridge (not a microwave), used immediately and not re-frozen.
Breast pumps, feeding bottles and storage equipment should always be sterilised before use