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Expressing milk

  • 0-1 Years
  • 1-5 Years
  • Feeding and eating
Expressing milk with hand pump, baby in other arm

Hand expressing is where you manually remove milk from your breast. There are lots of reasons to express milk including:

    • your breasts feeling uncomfortably full, painful or engorged
    • your partner or close family member helping feed your baby
    • you want to boost your milk supply
    • you are going to be away from your baby

If your baby is struggling to suck well or get a good latch you read about positioning and latching. You can also contact us for support.

The let-down reflex

The let-down reflex (also known as the milk ejection reflex) is when milk is being released from your milk ducts. This happens when hormones are triggered by a baby sucking on the breast. The let-down reflex can also happen when:

    • hearing, seeing or thinking about your baby
    • looking at a picture of your baby
    • hearing your baby or any baby cry
    • having a warm bath or shower

Preparing to express breastmilk

Good hygiene and preparation are very important when expressing breastmilk.

Always wash your hands before expressing and handling breastmilk. Ask anyone who is feeding your baby your expressed milk to do the same.

Always use a sterile container with a lid, not the collection jug, to store your breastmilk. You can buy disposable containers. Take care with plastic bags that can puncture easily. Try to use a different storage container each time you collect milk. If necessary, newly collected milk may be cooled and added to previously stored milk on the same day only.

Sit in a comfortable position somewhere that you feel calm and relaxed. This will encourage your let-down reflex and help you express.

Some people find it easier to express when they cover their breasts with a warm towel or after a bath or shower.

Hand expressing milk

Some breastfeeding parents find it helpful to massage their breast before expressing. You may find it helpful to work from the outside of the breast and massage towards the nipple. Try to take care not to drag your skin. You can try making circular motions, stroking with your fingers or rolling with your knuckles.

To start expressing:

  1. Make a ‘C’ shape with your thumb and fingers.
  2. Start at the nipple and gently feel back 2 to 3cm towards the chest wall or until you find a change in breast tissue texture. 
  3. Once you find the change in texture, gently compress your breast between your thumb and fingers.  Repeat this in a rhythmic movement. Some people find pressing towards your torso as you compress helps the flow of milk.
  4. You may need to do some trial-and-error to see how far back from your nipple you need to compress. Everyone is different!
  5. Keep the milk flowing for as long as possible. When the milk flow slows, you can re-position your fingers and thumb (like you’re moving them around a clock face). You can then express a different area of your breast. Try to express all areas of your breast, and alternate between breasts.

Below is a video showing how to hand express breastmilk.

The colour of your breastmilk

Breastmilk comes in lots of different colours. It may be white, yellow, clear or have a blue or pink tint to it. The colour of your breastmilk can change throughout the day or even during a feed. Read more about the colour of breastmilk and what the colour may mean.

Storing breastmilk

Breastmilk can be stored at room temperature, in a fridge or in a freezer. If you plan to store the breastmilk in the fridge or freezer, do it as soon as possible after expressing.

Below is a table showing how long breastmilk can be stored for:

Storage location

Maximum amount of time

Room temperature

6 hours

Fridge: 5°C to 10°C

3 days

Fridge: 4 °C or lower*

5 days

Freezer: -18°C or lower

6 months

*If the temperature rises above 4 degrees, use within 4 hours or throw away

Information taken from Breastfeeding Network

When storing breastmilk, make sure to label the storage containers or syringes with the time and date they were expressed.

  • The best way to defrost breastmilk is in the fridge. If you find that your milk is still frozen after 12 hours in the fridge, try to freeze the milk in smaller amounts.
  • If you need the frozen breastmilk quickly, try defrosting under cool water and then hot water. Dry the outside of the container before using the milk.
  • Do not heat breastmilk in the microwave. Microwaving breastmilk can heat the milk unevenly. This can cause hot spots in the milk which can scald or burn your baby.  It will also destroy the antibodies and nutrients in the milk.
  • Do not refreeze defrosted milk. Any milk not used by your baby within 4 hours of defrosting must be thrown away.
  • Breastmilk does not need to be warmed up from the fridge. If you would like to warm your breastmilk after it’s been in the fridge you can place the container of milk in warm water. This can take the chill off the milk. Make sure not to over warm your milk.
  • If your breastmilk smells sour, contact us.
  • Make sure to store your breastmilk away from meat products, eggs or any uncooked foods.
  • Do not store breastmilk in the fridge door. If the fridge door is opened a lot or for a long time, this can warm up the breastmilk. Store the breastmilk in the back of the fridge instead.
  • If your fridge does not have a built in thermometer, you can buy one online or at a local kitchenware shop.
  • If you don’t have a fridge and you want to keep the breastmilk cool. Use a cool-bag or cool-box with deep frozen ice packs. These icepacks will need to be changed every 24 hours. Avoid the milk from coming into direct contact with the icepacks as this can cause the milk to freeze. You can wrap the icepacks in a kitchen towel or tea towel.
  • You can store breastmilk in the ice compartment of a fridge for a maximum of 2 weeks.
  • When storing breastmilk, you may see that is separates. This is perfectly normal. Shake the milk before using it.

What information can you trust?

There is lots of information available on the internet about infant feeding. The information provided on this website is evidence based and has been approved by a clinical team.

If you are doing your own research, please bear in mind the quality of the source.

Last reviewed: 1 November, 2023


Who can help

If you have any questions or concerns about infant feeding, a health professional in our team will be able to offer advice and support.

You can Call Us on 0300 029 50 50 or Text Us on 07520 649887 to start a conversation.

Open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays).


Breastfeeding support helplines

If you have a question or concern outside our opening hours, try contacting one of the following helplines which are dedicated to help parents breastfeed. 

National Breastfeeding Helpline: 0300 100 0212, open every day 9.30am to 9.30pm


Association of Breastfeeding Mother: 0300 330 5453, open every day 9.30am to 10.30pm


The breastfeeding network supporter line (in Bengali/Sylheti): 0300 456 2421; open every day 09.30am to 09.30pm


NCT Breastfeeding Line: 0300 330 0771 (option 1), open every day 8.00am to 12.00am 


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