Expressing milk for your healthy baby

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Read about pumping or hand expressing your breast milk when you will be away from your breastfed baby during feeding time. Learn how to help the pumping process go more smoothly.

Key points

  • You can express milk by using an electric pump, a hand pump or with only your hands.
  • The best time to express milk is as soon as possible after feeding your baby.
  • You can freeze fresh breast milk at home for up to 12 months in a deep freezer.

The terms 'mother' and 'breastfeeding' are used throughout our documents; we recognize and respect that individuals and families may use other preferred terminology.

You may find that after breastfeeding is established, there will be times when you cannot be with your baby when they need to eat. You can still provide your baby with breast milk during these times. You can do this by collecting milk from your breasts. This is called expressing or pumping breast milk. You can then store your breast milk for your baby to drink when you cannot be with your baby during the feed.

How can you express breast milk?

There are three ways to express your breast milk:

  • You can use an electric pump.
  • You can use a manual (hand) pump that does not need batteries or electricity.
  • You can express your breast milk with your hand (hand expression).

How to express your breast milk with your hand

After washing your hands, gently massage your breasts. To express milk, place the tip of your thumb and finger on opposite sides of the dark area around your nipples, called the areola, on the line where the darker and lighter skin of the breast meet. Press your thumb and finger back towards your chest wall and squeeze gently with a slight rolling motion forward toward the nipple opening. Rotate your finger and thumb placement around the breast in a clockwise motion to remove milk from different parts of your breast. It may take several rhythmic squeezes with thumb and finger in proper position before milk is expressed from the nipple. This is quite normal. Hand expressing will take 10 to 15 minutes for each breast. Collect the breast milk in a well washed and rinsed bowl or cup. Ask a lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist for help to learn this skill as needed. For more information about expressing breast milk with your hand, please see the SickKids video on how to establish and maintain a breast milk supply.

When should you express your milk?

The best time of day to express is in the morning because that is when most mothers get the most milk, but you can express any time right after a feed.

It is best to pump right after you have nursed your baby. This will not interfere with your milk supply for the next feed.

How long should you pump?

Generally, 10 to 15 minutes per breast is long enough.

If you would like more information about pumping breast milk, or your baby is ill in the hospital and you would like to express milk for them, please see: Breastfeeding: Expressing breast milk for your hospitalized baby.

If you are using a breast pump to express breast milk, you can view this video to learn how to clean your breast pump kit.

How much milk should you expect to express?

The amount of milk you express will vary depending on your baby's age, the time you last pumped or fed, the time of day that you are pumping and the quality of the pump. If you pump between breastfeeding, you can usually pump about half the volume needed for a feeding. If you are pumping because you missed a feeding time, you can expect to pump a full feed. Usually, a baby older than four or five days of life can take 30 to 60 mL of milk per feed. A baby between one and three weeks old can take 60 to 90 mL of milk. A baby between one and six months can take anywhere from 90 to 150 mL of milk per feed.

How long can you store your breast milk at home?

Fresh milk

  • Room temperature: four hours
  • Refrigerator: three to five days
  • Refrigerator freezer: three to six months
  • Deep freezer: up to 12 months

Thawed milk

  • Room temperature: one hour
  • Refrigerator: 24 hours
  • Refrigerator freezer: do not refreeze
  • Deep freezer: do not refreeze

Expressing breast milk if your baby is in the hospital

If you would like more information about pumping breast milk or your baby is ill in the hospital and you would like to express milk for them, please see Breastfeeding: Expressing breast milk for your hospitalized baby.

Last updated: August 30th 2023