Breast milk - pumping and storing
Milk - human; Human milk; Milk - breast; Breast pump information; Breastfeeding - pump
Take time for you and your baby to learn and get good at breastfeeding. Before you go back to work, establish your milk supply. Take care of yourself so you make plenty of breast milk. Try to:
- Breastfeed or pump on a regular schedule
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Eat healthy
- Get plenty of rest
Giving Your Baby a Bottle
Wait until your baby is 3 to 4 weeks old to try a bottle. This gives you and your baby time to get good at breastfeeding first.
Your baby has to learn to suck from a bottle. Here are ways to help your baby learn to take a bottle.
- Give your baby a bottle while your baby is still calm, before hunger starts.
- Have someone else give your baby the bottle. This way, your baby is not confused as to why you are not breastfeeding.
- Leave the room when someone is giving your baby a bottle. Your baby can smell you and will wonder why you are not breastfeeding.
Start bottle feeding about 2 weeks before you go back to work so your baby has time to get used to it.
Plan How You Will Pump Milk at Work
Buy or rent a breast pump. If you start to pump before you go back to work, you can build up a supply of frozen milk.
- There are many breast pumps on the market. Pumps may be hand-operated (manual), battery-operated, or electric. You can rent hospital-quality pumps at a medical supply store.
- Most mothers find electric pumps the best. They create and release suction on their own, and you can easily learn to use one.
- Either a lactation consultant or the nurses at the hospital can help you buy or rent a pump. They can also teach you how to use it.
Figure out where you can pump at work. Ideally, there is a quiet, private room you can use.
- Find out if your workplace has pump rooms for working moms. They often have a comfortable chair, sink, and electric pump.
- If pumping at work is going to be hard, build up a store of breast milk before you go back. You can freeze breast milk to give to your baby later.
Pump, collect, and store breast milk.
- Pump 2 to 3 times a day when you are at work. As your baby gets older, you probably will not have to pump as often to keep up your milk supply.
- Wash your hands before pumping.
Collect breast milk when pumping. You can use:
- 2- to 3-ounce (60 to 90 milliliters) bottles or hard plastic cups with screw-on caps. Make sure they have been washed in hot, soapy water and rinsed well.
- Heavy duty bags that fit into a bottle. Do not use everyday plastic bags or formula bottle bags. They leak.
Store your breast milk.
- Date the milk before storing it.
- Fresh breast milk can be kept at room temperature for up to 4 hours, and refrigerated for 4 days.
You can keep frozen milk:
- In a freezer compartment inside the refrigerator for 2 weeks
- In a separate door refrigerator/freezer for up to 3 to 4 months
- In a deep freezer at constant 0 degrees for 6 months
Do not add fresh breast milk to frozen milk.
Breast milk is the perfect food for babies. And because of that, many women will pump and store to give to their baby at a later date. I'm Dr. Alan Greene and I want to share with you a few tips about that. First, how long can you store breast milk? Well it turns out that it stores remarkably well. At room temperature, it only lasts for about 4 hours or so. But just a bit below room temperature, say in a cooler with an ice pack in there, it will last for at least 24 hours. In the refrigerator, it will last for a full 8 days and be just as fresh as the day you started. And in the freezer it will last for 3 or 4 months. But if you think you'll be using it in the next week or so, keeping it in the refrigerator is probably the best because you keep most of the wonderful properties of breast milk still intact. If you're going to be freezing breast milk, a few tips. First is make sure the container you use is intended for freezing. If you use bag, make sure the bag says it's for freezing. Some are for rapid use. And if you use a glass bottle, again make sure it's for freezing. And if you're going to freeze in glass, you want to leave the lid slightly ajar until the milk is frozen and then screw it all the way down so you don't create too much pressure inside. Whatever container you use, you'll want to put the date that it was frozen on the there. The date it was collected and frozen. And that way you can always keep your supply as fresh as possible by going back and taking the first one in should be the first one out. I do suggest though another important tip. Is some time after the first week or so, go ahead and pull out a bag and use it so that you can find out if there were any problems along the way. If it doesn't look right, or it doesn't smell right, talk to your lactation consultant. It can usually be fixed with just a simple extra step in the process. And it's well worth finding that out now rather than waiting until you have 3 or 4 months worth of breast milk all there at the same time it didn't turn out the way you wanted it to. It's well worth the effort to nurse and any extra breast milk to go ahead and collect it now to give to your baby at moments when you're not nursing.
Thawing and Using Breast Milk
To thaw frozen milk:
- Put it in the refrigerator
- Soak it in a bowl of warm water
Thawed milk can be refrigerated and used for up to 24 hours. Do not refreeze.
Do not microwave breast milk. Overheating destroys nutrients, and "hot spots" can burn your baby. Bottles may explode when you microwave them for too long.
When leaving breast milk with a child care provider, label the container with your child's name and the date.
Nursing and Bottle Feeding
If you are nursing as well as bottle feeding:
- Nurse your baby before leaving for work in the morning and right when you get home.
- Expect your baby to nurse more often in the evenings and weekends when you are home. Feed on-demand when you are with your baby.
- Have your child care provider give your baby bottles of breast milk when you are at work.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you exclusively give breast milk to your baby for the first 6 months. This means not giving any other food, drinks, or formula.
- If you use formula, still breastfeed and give as much breast milk as you can. The more breast milk your baby gets, the better. Supplementing with too much formula will decrease your milk supply.
- You can ask your health care provider about medicines and remedies to help increase your milk supply.
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Louis-Jacques A, Lawrence RM, Lawrence RA. The breast and the physiology of lactation. In: Lockwood CJ, Copel JA, Dugoff L, et al, eds. Creasy and Resnik's Maternal-Fetal Medicine: Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 11.
Newton ER. Lactation and breastfeeding. In: Landon MB, Galan HL, Jauniaux ERM, et al, eds. Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 25.
US Department of Health and Human Services website. Office on Women's Health. Breastfeeding: pumping and breastmilk storage.
Last reviewed on: 11/21/2022
Reviewed by: LaQuita Martinez, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Alpharetta, GA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.