Breast Milk Pumping and Storage 101
Breast milk is liquid gold. Breastfeeding is in itself, an act of love, but pumping breast milk takes it a step further. Not all mothers have the luxury of time and energy to breastfeed round-the-clock.
Pumping and storing breast milk can help to ensure that baby is breastfed exclusively, without the aid of formula milk. When done right, it is even possible to store breast milk to last for six months or more, giving your baby the best nourishment you can ever provide.
4 Conditions that Requires Pumping of Breast Milk
Breast milk is the best for babies; there’s no substitute that can compare. There might be lots of commercial formulas out there, but they cannot replicate breast milk’s nutritional properties.
More than nurturing, breast milk also protects. It gives babies passive immunity to ward off common infections brought about by certain bacteria, toxins, and viruses.
You might want to start pumping as soon as your baby is born but let me give a word of advice:
You can pump as early as you like but the baby must first get acquainted well and practice his latch on the breast. You can introduce bottles at about eight weeks old, no earlier than that. Nipple confusion might result if you resort to doing it earlier.
There are a lot of reasons why it is necessary to pump your breast milk:
- Mommy is not present 24/7 - You might be going back to work and can only see the baby at night. Pumping milk will also be necessary to prevent breast pain and unsightly milk leaks while mom is in the workplace.
- The baby is unable to nurse - Perhaps the baby is premature or is unable to suck well. He or she is still confined to the hospital, and you must visit him/her at certain times during the day. If this is the case, you need to create a good stash.
- Engorgement – Your breast might be too full that its contents must be released immediately. Frequent nursing can prevent this but this is inevitable in case the baby is not around.
- Mom is sick – Unless you have an infection and is advised by the doctor from breastfeeding, it is advisable to continue nursing. Pumping breast milk might be necessary if you need to be away for a particular time to say, visit the doctor or go to the hospital.
3 Breast Pump Methods Explained
There are three ways to express breast milk. You can do it by hand expression, through manual pumping or by using electric breast pumps. A good breast pump must imitate baby’s natural sucking action and must not cause you pain. This is how we do each of these three methods:
1. The Cheapest and Hardest Way: Hand Expression
Hand expression of milk is the most convenient especially if you don’t have a breast pump. I would not recommend it for regular pumping; reserve it for emergencies. To do hand expression:
Position your fingers on your breasts half an inch behind your nipple, with your thumb above and the rest of your fingers underneath. Your thumb and fingers must be direct across your nipples.
Press your thumb and your fingers straight back into the breasts.
Roll your fingers to squeeze milk out of the nipple sinuses.
Repeat the sequence of pressing and rolling of the breast tissue and the nipple. The milk must squirt from your nipple if you had done it right. Move your fingers and thumb an inch and squeeze again.
If the breast is still engorged after expression, massage once more then express again using the sequence above.
2. The Simple Way: Manual Pump
There are various breast pumps in the market nowadays. Big and bulky pumps can work well at home, but you will need something light and small if you have to pump at work. It usually takes around 45 minutes to pump out milk enough for one feeding. This is the typical sequence for manual pumping:
Place the nipple inside the opening of the pump. Make sure that you got an excellent fit; it must create a good vacuum. Selecting a breast shield or suction of the wrong size can result in pain and low milk production.
Use the lever or squeeze mechanism to get a good suction. Hold the suction in one hand and the squeeze or lever mechanism with your other hand. If the suction is right, milk will squirt into the receiving bottle.
Reposition the handle and experiment in various points. Leaning forward can also help with the milk let down. Do this right and you will feel your breasts slowly empty out.
3. The Best Way: Electric pump
Electric breast pumps can pump more milk in a shorter period. There are even some models that can pump both your breasts at the same time. Some units plug into electric outlets, and others are battery operated. To begin using an electric pump:
Read the manual that comes with the machine.
Assemble the unit and attach it to the receiving bottle. Place the breast shields into your breasts. Take note to position the shields in the middle or your nipples, or else you’ll feel pain, and the suction will be ineffective.
Turn on the machine.
If at the right position, milk will start to flow within a minute or two. Some models have self-adjusting speed features, mimicking baby’s sucking.
Once the milk flow has slowed down, turn the machine off.
Remove the breast shields and wash the parts of the pump.
4 Common Breastfeeding Misconceptions
a) Breastfeeding stops once mom resumed work.
Breastfeeding is possible at work. Not all workplaces can give a breastfeeding mom the privacy and time to pump while at work. Your office might not have a lactation room or refrigerator yet, but it is not illegal to ask your employer for accommodation.
Just because nobody has pumped milk at your workplace before doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. Talk to your boss before you had exhausted your maternity leave. Sometimes, all it takes for a “yes” is for you to ask.
b) All breast pumps are the same; its mom’s breasts that set the milk quantity.
An efficient pump saves you both time and money. You might think that an electric machine that sets you back a hundred dollars or two is not worth it. But imagine the price you will pay if you use a pump that cannot do its job?
You will gradually lose your capability to produce milk! If you use a pump that can only empty half of your milk, you will eventually resort to formula feeding. Compute its costs against the expense of a suitable breast pump and your will get what I mean.
c) Once your milk quantity trickles out; you can never bring it back.
A hospital grade pump can work wonders. Do not quickly give up and switch to formula just because you are producing less milk. To hasten the process of milk let down, you can rent a hospital grade breast pump from a lactation clinic or from the establishment where you had given birth.
d) Strong suction equals more milk.
If you are using an electric breast pump, do not crank up the suction to the highest level. If you start at the high suction setting, you’ll likely just produce pain and not milk. Pumping is not done by force but by technique.
Answers to Common Breast Milk Pumping Questions
# Start pumping on the weaker side – Initially pump or nurse baby on the softer side to stimulate an increase in milk production.
# Warmth and massage – A little heat and some massage can improve milk production. Put a warm towel on your weaker breasts and let it get engorged slowly.
# Relax and take your time pumping – do not force yourself, Hurrying won’t help. Changes take days so be patient.
# Drink lots of water – Drink at least half a liter of water all throughout your pumping session. Stay hydrated even if you don’t feel thirsty, it will make a difference in the quantity.
2) How long shall I pump my milk?
A typical pumping session takes 30 - 45 minutes if you are using a manual pump. Meanwhile, 15-20 minutes of your time will do to produce this same amount of milk with an electric pump. The frequency of your milk expression will be up to you. Schedule them immediately after your meals at least twice a day.
Your baby can consume about 24-28 oz (740 – 825 ml) of milk per day during his first two weeks of life. If you are pumping exclusively, you must be able to produce at least this amount or more. A baby’s need for milk increase by about 4 oz or more every month. If you are breastfeeding half of the time, aim to pump at least half of this quantity; the more, the better.
4) What if I am trying to pump, but it’s not working?
Not every pumping session is as productive; there are just those times when you can hardly extract an ounce. Pumping milk must be done with skill and patience. Here’s how you can troubleshoot should you encounter problems:
- The pump might be of the wrong type – Check your breast pump if you are always producing way less milk than is expected. It can either be due to a bad fit or poor suction. Experiment with other types of pump or machine if they will yield more as compared to what you are using.
- Inadequate time spent pumping – You will need at least 45 minutes to be able to extract adequate milk; that is if you are using a manual pump. Try to reposition the suction and spend more time to allow milk let down.
- You have not eaten enough or had pumped just recently – Pump too soon in between feedings and you will only get a small amount. This will also be the same outcome if you pump milk while you are hungry or thirsty.
- You are taking certain medications – You might be taking something new such as a birth control pill or maybe a food supplement. Ask your doctor for breastfeeding advice whenever you are planning to take a new medication.
Diminishing Milk Supply: How To Increase Breast Milk Quantity
There are some “Dairy Queens” out there that can produce gallons and gallons of milk with a lot to spare. There are also moms that can hardly keep up with her child’s voracious appetite. If you are like the latter, you can try the following tips to keep your milk supply in check:
A. Before you pump:
It is not just the actual pumping activity that produces the milk; more so, it is the mother’s preparation beforehand that shall ensure adequate breast milk expression. You must prepare and establish a good routine. The following tips can help a mother to set the stage right:
- Find the most favorable time of the day. For most moms, after breakfast is the most convenient time for this. It can also be after lunch or just before she goes to sleep.
- Try using an electric pump. They work twice as hard as manual pumps to make you release your milk. If you can use a hospital-grade electric pump, the better.
- Stay hydrated and eat lots of healthy snacks before pumping.
- Pumping after a warm shower will also likely yield more milk than usual. Warm water stimulates milk flow.
- Think of your child or look at his/her picture before you pump. You can also make a recording of your baby’s voice and play it beforehand.
B. While pumping milk:
- If you are using an electric pump, you can do so while doing activities such as reading or watching TV.
- Massage your breasts before pumping. After five minutes into pumping, massage them again.
- Have a refreshing drink or bring along some snacks with you during breast milk expression. Breast milk usually forms faster after every meal no matter how small it is.
- Increasing the duration time of pumping sessions is not advisable as your breasts can only produce so much at any given moment. Instead, shorten the interval in between your pumping time. You have to stimulate your breasts more frequently so trigger it to produce more milk.
E. Eat right!
Choosing what to eat during mom’s breastfeeding stage need not be complicated. Stay away from everything that is junk, highly preserved or laden with sugar.
The following foods are nutritious and may help a breastfeeding mom produce adequate milk for her newborn:
- Oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes – Choose brown rather than white, this applies to your rice and bread. Sweet potatoes are better than your usual potato staple because of they contain more potassium, fiber, B-complex and Vitamin C.
- Spinach, fenugreek leaves, beet leaves, mustard greens – these greens are all good sources of calcium, iron, folate and other vitamins that help enhance lactation
- Salmon – excellent source of healthy fatty acids and Omega-3
- Carrots – aside from its lactation promoting capabilities, carrots are rich in Vitamin A.
- Basil leaves – Sprinkle this herb to your soup, stew or salad. Basil improves the taste of any dish and may also help to promote calmness and relaxation.
- Asparagus – This is a must have for lactating mothers as asparagus is high in Vitamin K and A aside from fiber.
- Fruits – Papaya, banana, and apricot are all rich in Vitamin C and fiber.
Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding:
- Citrus fruits - Take note to stay away from citrus. They might contribute to diaper rash, increased gas and fussiness.
- Coffee, Chocolate, Tea, and Soda – Caffeine will always end up in breast milk, this can make babies fussy and irritated.
- Spices – Just a little dash of pepper or chili can already give the little kid some gas.
- Soy, Shellfish and peanuts – What do these three have in common? They are allergy triggers. Take your family history on both sides to determine allergies that might have been passed on to the baby. Proceed with caution before adding these foods into your diet.
- Alcohol – There is nothing wrong with indulging in a glass of wine occasionally. Just do it once the baby is done nursing for the day.
Tips & Tricks For Successful Breast Milk Collection
1. Start with Hygiene
- Wash your hands. This is necessary if you want your milk to last long.
- Read the manufacturer’s instruction on how to disassemble and sanitize your breast pump parts. Rinse them in hot water. You may even put them in the dishwasher or sanitize them if the manual says so. Thorough cleaning and disinfection of the pump parts must be done every day. A good sterilizer will make it easier.
- Rinse and put the parts in a zip lock. Store the pump parts in the fridge or at a dry location in between sessions; just take note to sanitize them at the end of the day.
- Do extra sanitation if you are using shared breast pump either at the hospital or a local clinic.
Just like breastfeeding, pumping must not feel like a chore. You can make every pumping session a relaxing activity through:
- Designating fixed times every day for pumping. Drink lots of water beforehand. Pick spots on your daily schedule when you are not yet tired or hungry. Establish a routine to cue your body to let down your milk at certain times.
- Avoiding rush. Breast milk expression takes time. Feeling rushed will make you let down less milk. You will not empty out your breasts thoroughly. It will eventually make you produce less and less milk since your breasts only make them on demand.
- Creating a relaxing breast pumping nook at home. At work, find a room that will give you privacy. Have everything within your arms reach before pumping. Bring over some water and snacks to munch on, you’ll need to eat to produce milk.
- Seeking privacy and minimizing distractions. Let everyone in the house know your pumping schedule so they can also help to look out for the baby.
- Thinking of your child while expressing your milk. You can also have your child’s picture nearby or listen to their voice recording. For most mothers, just thinking or seeing their baby is enough to make their breast engorge with milk.
3. Deal with Breast Pain
Nursing mothers can experience nipple and breast pain during the first months of breastfeeding. What’s essential is to differentiate typical soreness from the pain that needs the attention of your lactation consultant or doctor.
How can you relieve yourself of breast pain?
- Empty out your breasts via nursing or pumping.
- Massage your breast before and after breastfeeding or pumping.
- Apply warm compress before pumping and cold compress afterward to ease the pain.
Consider the following as merely “transient soreness” that can go away without medical intervention:
- Latch on the pain that happens during the first minute into feeding or pumping. This type disappears immediately. Rarely does this last throughout the feeding or pumping session.
- Breast pain that peaks at around the first days after birth and goes away within two weeks.
- Pain due to baby’s teeth or nipple soreness – This is alright as long as there aren’t any inflammation, pus, or bleeding.
Immediately seek your doctor’s advice for the following types of breast pain:
- Pain that doesn’t go away in between feeding and all throughout the pumping session.
- At least two episodes of intense or excruciating pain. The mother can hardly tolerate this without resorting to pain medication.
- Pain that continues into the second week and beyond.
- Pain that is unrelieved by emptying of the breast milk.
- Breast appears red, warm and painful to touch or has some signs of infection.
4. Find the right equipment
What breast pump will work best for you? It will depend on your need and your convenience:
- Hospital grade / Heavy-duty Breast Pumps. The heavy-duty pump works well for mothers who have a difficulty producing milk or breastfeeding. They can cost a lot of money, but most of them are durable enough to last you into your succeeding pregnancy.
- Portable electric or battery-operated pumps. They don’t cost or weigh as much as the hospital-grade pumps. They can be used either at home or on-the-go. Electric pumps make breast milk expression easier and faster as compared to the manual pumps; they just cost a little bit more.
- Manual pumps. They work best for moms who are an inexpensive and handy option. Manual pumping takes twice the time to produce the same amount of milk as electric pumps, but they are less complicated to use.
5. Pumping at work
Inform your employer of your plans to express your milk while at work. Make arrangements to use the office refrigerator as your breast milk storage. To be able to do this for the long-haul, remember:
- Schedule your pumping breaks and let your colleagues know. Block it out on your calendar in advance to let everyone aware that you are busy during that time.
- Bring a backup manual pump and extra bottles at the office for contingencies. This will be useful should you decide to extend your work hours, as your breast can get engorged before you get home.
- Pump directly into breast milk storage bags or storage bottles. Bring a thermal insulated bag with you so that you can control your milk’s temperature while on the way home.
6. Pumping milk while baby is around
You might not yet have given it a try, but it is possible to nurse the baby while having your other breast pumped. This is a difficult feat to accomplish with a manual pump but is easy if you are using an electric pump. Prepare your pump beforehand as you will not have much time once the baby is on your lap.
Both of your breasts will be working twice as hard since they are being emptied simultaneously. If you attempt to do this, be prepared to hold your baby well. Put the breast shield, tubes and bottles out of his reach as they can spill. You can keep baby occupied by giving him something to play with like a small toy.
7. Download some breastfeeding app:
Let us have a quick run-down of the most useful free baby apps for Android and iOS as of January 2017:
You cannot write down everything but with this app, pumping/feeding, baby’s nap time and diaper change routine can easily be recorded. Your daily data can even be consolidated to show you stats about baby’s feeding, sleeping and potty habits. There is also a feature whereby you can compare baby’s measurements (height, weight, and head size) to assess his growth against what is normal.
This app is also an excellent tool to track down your baby’s day. Use this to record the quantity of your pumped milk for little one’s consumption. You can also record here baby’s sleep time and nappy changes. There are a timeline feature and customizable alarms to remind you of when is the next feeding and diaper change time.
# Baby Tracker
Track down and record all those new baby’s “firsts” with this app. Its simple interface also allows for simple tracking of baby’s routine for the day. There is also provision for a breastfeeding timer for you to get a good grasp of how long your baby feeds each session. You can later summarize all the data you input on this app, for easy reference by your child’s doctor.
Safe Storage Of Breast Milk
A. How long can I store my milk before it goes stale?
Room temperature (up to 77°F or 25°C)
Containers should be covered and kept as cool as possible; covering the container with a cool towel may keep milk cooler.
Insulated cooler bag
5-39°F or -15-4°C
Keep ice packs in contact with milk containers at all times, limit opening cooler bag.
39°F or 4°C
Store milk in the back of the main body of the refrigerator.
Store milk toward the back of the freezer, where temperature is most constant. Milk stored for longer durations in the ranges listed is safe, but some of the lipids in the milk undergo degradation resulting in lower quality.
Freezer compartment of a refrigerator
5°F or -15°C
Freezer compartment of refrigerator with separate doors
0°F or -18°C
Chest or upright deep freezer
-4°F or -20°C
Your breast milk can only be fresh at room temperature for about six hours. You may store them in an insulated cooler for 24 hours maximum and five days at the refrigerator. Not all freezers are created equal. There is a huge difference between storing milk in the fridge’s freezer compartment as compared to storing it in a refrigerator with a separate door. If you are looking to store breast milk for the long haul, better buy an upright deep freezer since it can safely freeze milk for around 6-12 months.
Here’s a video that simplifies this breast milk freezing and storage stuff:
B. How can I know if my breast milk is still good or not?
Breast milk once frozen can produce a soapy off-odor and rancid-like taste. This happens to the milk of women who have high lipase content in their breast milk. If this is the case, the baby will outright refuse to take this milk and most of the frozen batches can just go to waste. Use the following tips to check and prevent this from happening to your milk stash:
- Experiment – Taste your milk before and after freezing. Thaw and taste your milk once it had reached at least a week old at the freezer. Do the same for the oldest batch, the older, the better. If there isn’t any difference, then continue doing your current practice of milk storage.
- Scald – If your frozen milk tastes foul or soapy after a few weeks at the freezer, then it's about time to try scalding it before storage. Scalding works by heating the breast milk to below-boiling level in a sauce pan or through a bottle warmer. It works by deactivating the enzyme lipase, the one that causes milk to turn sour or rancid.
C. What kind of container shall I use to store my milk?
- Short Term Storing (less than five days) - If you are keeping milk in the refrigerator for use in a day or two, you can store them in baby’s feeding bottles or clean mason jars. If you are pumping at your workplace, you can store them in the refrigerator or an insulated container with ice.
- Long Term Storing (For freezer storage) - To maximize freezer space and ensure a complete seal, use plastic freezer bags specially made for breast milk. You must label each bag with the date and year using a permanent marker. Same as with water, breast milk expands when frozen. Make sure to add some extra space; do not fill your milk bags to the brim.
D. Can I add freshly expressed milk to old milk?
It is alright to add freshly expressed milk to milk that is stored in the fridge, that is, as long as this milk is no older than 24 hours. If the milk had been frozen and then thawed, consider giving it to the baby as it is, without mixing in the fresh breastmilk.
Try to store your milk in small containers; each bag must just be enough for one feeding. Do not reheat your milk all at once; your baby might not be able to consume everything, and they will eventually just go to waste.
E. What shall I do if I am running out of freezer space?
Here’s how you can make the most use out of your freezer space:
- Take out frozen goods that must not be mixed with your milk. Perhaps you have some frozen veggies, fish or meat beside your milk stash. They can contaminate your stored milk and can also take up lots of space. Remove from your freezer those items that can be stored just as well in the refrigerator.
- Buy a chest freezer. Your fridge-freezer combo cannot hold all that milk for so long. Your milk will also go stale after just two weeks inside it.
- Rent a freezer. If you don’t have a chest freezer, you can also ask your friends or neighbors to lend or rent out theirs.
- Donate your milk. Your last option if you don’t want your milk to go to waste is to donate it to your local hospital. There are lots of babies that can benefit from your breast milk, just go and ask.
F. How can I travel with my breast milk stash?
Whether you are traveling by land or air, I suggest you bring along with you a small insulated ice pack to hold your frozen milk bags. Feeding bottles are too bulky; they will take up lots of space. Just bring one bottle with you, to be able to feed the baby. Label all your milk bags and bottles legibly; you don’t want anybody to pry your luggage open since they might contaminate your milk.
Inform the personnel at the check-in counter of your intent to hand carry breast milk bags. Airports and terminals are usually accommodating to the needs of nursing mothers, as long as you declared it to them ahead.
G. What if there is a power blackout?
You can never know when there will be a power outage. You might have already built up a good stash of frozen milk, and you don’t want it to go to waste. This was difficult, especially if the blackout will extend for a few days, but here’s how you can cope:
- Take out whatever it is that you need in the fridge or freezer then keep the door closed. Tape it, seal it if you must, but what’s important is to keep it closed. The temperature of the freezer will remain stabilized for about 24-48 hours.
- Buy lots of ice and dump them in a big insulated container. Before the 48 hours timeframe had lapsed, put all your milk stash here.
- Even better, pack your milk supply in dry ice. Ask your local ice store or meat dealer for advice. These people usually have contacts that can help you.
H. How can I scald my milk while at my workplace?
Some working moms scald their milk at work using the microwave. I would not recommend this option as the microwave can diminish the quality and nutrition of breast milk. But microwaving breast milk is still the better choice as compared to using a formula. If you cannot bring along your bottle warmer for scalding, you may resort to using the microwave.
You’ll need the microwave to heat your milk, not to boil it. You just want to inactivate the lipase. If your milk comes out steaming hot, then you might have overdone it. As per my experience, 1-minute microwave heating is enough for a 4 oz, of breast milk. Use a microwave-safe container and let your milk cool down before transferring it to the bags.
Wrapping it all up
Exclusive breastfeeding is a difficult feat. Giving what is best for baby rarely come easy. Breastfeeding takes time and energy. Pumping your milk is even harder; it is not for the faint of heart. A mother’s milk will always be the better option.
Breastfeeding is a labor of love that only you can provide. Breastfeeding about giving your child the best head-start in life. You might not be able to give your baby the world, but your milk is more than the value of gold.