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Expressing, Storing and
Feeding Breast Milk

If you are unable to feed your baby at the breast, this page will provide you with information about alternative healthy and safe feeding methods.

Sometimes babies are unable to feed at the breast and it is necessary to express your breastmilk. Expressing your milk:

  • provides milk for your baby if you will be away from him
  • stimulates your body to make more milk

Methods to express breastmilk

There are two ways to express your breastmilk:

Hand expression

Hand expression can be especially useful during the early days of breastfeeding. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, it 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.

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

Breast pumps

Manual or electric breast pumps are another option for expressing milk, and can be purchased or rented. Breast pumps are available in single flange (one breast at a time) or double flange (both breasts can be pumped at the same time).

Reasons you may consider using a breast pump:

  • Your baby is not breastfeeding well (or not breastfeeding at all)
  • You and your baby are separated from each other
  • You need to increase your milk supply
  • You are planning on returning to work or school and want to pump milk for your baby
  • You prefer to give your baby expressed milk part or all of the time

Keep in mind, breast pumps are not a requirement for breastfeeding! If you choose to use a pump, look for a good quality one. Good quality does not necessarily mean expensive... manual pumps are cheaper than electric pumps. Some women find pumps don't work well for them and they have more success with hand expression.

For more information on pumping, refer to this pump fact sheet (external PDF).

Best practices and guidelines for storing and using expressed breastmilk

Tips for storing (external PDF) 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 your name if taking to hospital or child care).
  • Chill freshly expressed breastmilk before adding it to already refrigerated or frozen milk.
  • Freeze breastmilk in small amounts (60-120 ml) to avoid waste and speed thawing.
  • Due to the high fat content, it is normal for breastmilk to separate when stored. Gently swirl the container to mix the milk.

Breast milk storage guidelines for healthy full-term babies at home

Location of storage Temperature Maximum recommended storage duration
Room temperature 16–29oC (60–85oF) 4 hours optimal
6–8 hours acceptable under very clean conditions
Refrigerator 4oC (39.2oF) 4 days optimal
5–8 days under very clean conditions
Freezer <-4oC (24.8oF) 6 months optimal
12 months acceptable
  • Use plastic containers that are BPA free.
  • Use clean glass or bags made for freezing breast milk that seals well. Avoid using baby bottle liners because they often break.
  • Use a new clean container each time you express milk.
  • Label containers for storage with the date of milk expression.
  • Store breast milk near the back of the refrigerator where it is coldest. Don’t store it in the fridge door where it is not as cold.
  • Throw out any milk that is older than recommended storage times.

Source: Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, 2017 / Best Start Resource Centre, 2018.

Note: If your baby is ill or premature, consult your health care provider or call 311 to speak to a public health nurse about storing your breastmilk.

When using expressed milk:

  • use the oldest storage date first.
  • thaw it slowly in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
  • for a quick thaw, place it in a container of warm water or run under warm tap water. Make sure the water doesn’t cover the lid.
  • do not microwave the milk. It removes the immune benefits and creates hot spots.

Supplementing formula for breastmilk

Are you breastfeeding and thinking about giving formula as well?

Giving formula to your breastfed baby when not required can decrease your milk supply.

One reason women give formula is because they think they do not have enough breast milk. 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
  • experience illnesses and diseases such as:
    • diarrhea
    • ear infections
    • intestinal issues
    • diabetes
    • some childhood cancers
    • lung and breathing problems
    • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Formula can provide adequate nutrition, however it does not provide the antibodies and digestive enzymes that are so important to newborn health. Formula can also present risks when it comes to storage and preparation.

If you plan to feed your baby formula, read these instructions about safe preparation first. Call 311 to speak to a public health nurse for more information.

If you need to supplement...

  • Breastmilk expressed by hand and/or pump is the best option.
  • Follow up with a breastfeeding professional who can:
    • work with you to determine whether a supplement is needed.
    • help you to improve your milk supply so that you may not need to keep supplementing.
    • help you to maintain your milk supply.

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

Methods for feeding your baby a supplement

Bottles may interfere with your baby learning to latch. Consider feeding your baby in alternate ways.

  • Some good options include a small cup (e.g. medicine cup) or spoon.
  • Talk to your breastfeeding professional about other options.

Cup and spoon feeding

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

  • use a teaspoon or medicine cup.
  • express your milk directly into the cup or spoon.
  • 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:

  1. Sit your baby upright on your lap with their head supported.
  2. Place the cup or spoon on your baby’s bottom lip.
  3. Keep the milk level to make it easier for your baby.
  4. Do not pour the milk into your baby’s mouth. Allow your baby to lap up the milk with her tongue.

Learn more about cup feeding (external link).

Other feeding methods

In some situations, it may be best to try:

  • finger feeding
  • feeding your baby using a syringe
  • a lactation aid

Your breastfeeding professional can instruct you how to feed using these methods.

mother and baby