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Expressing, storing and feeding breastmilk


Sometimes babies are unable to feed at the breast and it is necessary to express your breastmilk. Expressing your milk also stimulates your body to make more milk.

Hand expression of breastmilk

There are many times you may find it helpful to express colostrum or mature breastmilk. Hand expression can be especially useful during the early days of breastfeeding.

Hand expression can be used to:

  • interest your baby in latching;
  • soften your breast near the areola if it is very full and hard for your baby to latch;
  • relieve fullness if your baby is not feeding;
  • apply a few drops of milk to your nipples to prevent soreness: and
  • provide milk for your baby if you will be away from him.

For more information on hand expression refer to this fact sheet.

Breast pumps

Some women may choose to use a manual or electric breast pump to express their milk. Make sure to choose a pump that best meets your needs, and that you feel comfortable using it properly.

Breastmilk storage

Tips for storing your breastmilk:

  • Keep it in glass or BPA-free plastic bottles, clean food storage containers with tight lids or storage bags designed for breastmilk (do not use bottle liners as these are not suitable).
  • Containers should be no more than 75% full.
  • Label the container with the date of expression (and name if needed).
  • Chill freshly expressed breastmilk before adding it to already refrigerated or frozen milk.
  • Freeze breastmilk in small amounts of 60 to 120 ml to avoid waste and speed thawing.
  • It is normal for breastmilk to separate when stored, due to the high fat content. Gently swirl the container to mix.

Guidelines for the storage of expressed breastmilk for healthy term infants
Note: If your baby is ill or premature, consult your health care provider or call to speak to a public health nurse about storing your breastmilk.

Storage Method Storage Time
Chilled breast milk brought to room temperature (16-29°C) 1-2 hours
Freshly expressed breast milk at room temperature (16-29°C) 3-4 hours
Fresh milk in refrigerator (at or below 4°C) 72 hours
Thawed milk in refrigerator 24 hours from when it started to thaw
Cooler with a freezer pack 24 hours
Freezer compartment 2 door (not in door) 3-6 months
Deep freezer (at or below -17°C) 6-12 months
Throw out all milk that is older than the above storage times
Source: Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, 2010 / Best Start Resource Centre, 2016

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Are you breastfeeding and thinking of supplementing?

Feeding a supplement when not required can decrease your milk supply.
One reason women supplement is because they think they do not have enough milk, when in fact most women will make the amount their baby needs. Breastfeeding early and often is the key.

Breastmilk and formula are not created equal.

Breastmilk provides immunity, prevents infections and is the healthiest option for your newborn. Babies who receive breastmilk are less likely to be overweight and experience illnesses and diseases such as:

  • diarrhea
  • ear infections
  • intestinal issues
  • diabetes
  • some childhood cancers
  • lung and breathing problems
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

While formula can provide adequate nutrition, it does not provide the antibodies and digestive enzymes so important to newborn health that breastfeeding provides, and can also present risks when it comes to storage and preparation. Talk to your nurse before using any supplement. If you are going to feed your baby formula, read these instructions about safe preparation first. Call 311 to speak to a public health nurse for more information.

Get advice from a knowledgeable breastfeeding professional.

If you do need to supplement, breastmilk expressed by hand and/or pump, is the best option. If you go home with a feeding plan that includes supplementing, it’s important to follow up with a breastfeeding professional.

A breastfeeding professional can:

  • tell you whether a supplement is truly needed
  • help you to maintain and improve your milk supply.
  • help you build your milk supply so that in most cases you will not need to keep supplementing.

Bottles may interfere with your baby learning to latch.
If you choose to supplement, consider feeding your baby in ways that don’t interfere with learning to latch. Some good options include a small cup (such as a medicine cup) or spoon. Talk to your breastfeeding professional about other options.

Call 311 to speak to a public health nurse for more information.

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Feeding a supplement to your baby

When using expressed milk:

  • use the oldest storage date first;
  • thaw it slowly in the refrigerator or at room temperature;
  • if you need to thaw milk faster, place it in a container of warm water or run under warm tap water, but make sure the water doesn’t cover the lid; and
  • do not microwave the milk because it removes the immune benefits and creates hot spots.

Cup and spoon feeding

Cup and spoon feeding is the ideal method for feeding your baby if they are not latching  onto the breast. If cup or spoon feeding your baby:

  • use a teaspoon or medicine cup;
  • express your milk directly into the cup or spoon; and
  • avoid using a bottle, especially in the early weeks; your baby sucks differently on a bottle than at your breast, so this can interfere with breastfeeding.

How to cup or spoon feed your baby

  • Sit your baby upright on your lap with their head supported.
  • Place the cup or spoon on your baby’s bottom lip.
  • Do not pour the milk into your baby’s mouth; instead, allow your baby to lap up the milk with her tongue.
  • Keep the milk level to make it easier for your baby.

Learn more about Finger and Cup Feeding

Other feeding methods

In some situations, it may be best to try finger feeding, feed your baby using a syringe, or use a lactation aid. Your breastfeeding professional can instruct you how to feed using these methods.

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