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Pumping And Expressing Breast Milk

A woman who breastfeeds may need to pump or express her breast milk if she is going to be away from her baby for a number of hours at a time. Pumping can be done with a commercially available pump, or it can be done with your hands. There are several potential reasons for pumping milk:

  • If you work, you may want to pump your milk and then refrigerate or freeze some of it, so your baby's caregiver can bottle-feed your baby with your milk.
  • Your breasts may feel tender and swollen with breast milk, or they may begin leaking. Therefore, you might want to release some of it.
  • Your breasts will generally continue to produce milk as long as you breastfeed. If you stop breastfeeding for any reason, your milk will begin to dry up within a few days. Therefore, pumping is a way to keep your breasts regularly stimulated while you are at work, on errands, or if you have to be away from your baby.

When choosing a breast pump, consider the following:

  • What types of pumps are available? Should I purchase a breast pump or rent one? There are several different categories of pumps. These include: hand pumps, battery-operated pumps, small electric pumps, medium-sized electric pumps, and hospital-grade electric pumps. Pumps are available for purchase or rental. Depending on your budget and the type of pump that you are looking for, you should discuss which option is best for you with your doctor or lactation specialist. If you plan to breastfeed for more than six months, it may be less expensive to buy a pump than to rent one. Rental companies generally require you to buy a kit to go with them.
  • Am I going back to work full-time or part-time? Depending on how many feeding times you will miss, you may need a single pump or a double pump (which pumps both breasts at the same time). Generally, double pumps are more efficient for the full-time working mother because they get the job done quicker. If you are pumping more than once a day, you should get a double electric pump. They can empty both breasts in 10-20 minutes. If you are only pumping once a day, you may be able to use a single pump.
  • How do I store breast milk? Human milk is quite different from other types of milk. It is not homogenized or pasteurized, so there are certain steps that you must take to ensure that it is safely stored.
    • Wash your hands before touching anything (breast pump, milk containers, breasts, etc.).
    • Always make sure that the collection cup is clean, and avoid touching the insides of bottles or caps whenever possible.
    • Make sure the milk is put in a sanitized storage container. Running containers and pump parts through the dishwasher is generally adequate.
    • Label the container with the time and date of collection.
    • Milk can be kept at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours.
    • Refrigerated breast milk can be stored for up to five days, according to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
    • Frozen breast milk can last longer. In a freezer compartment within the refrigerator, milk keeps for two weeks. In a freeze with a separate door, it can last from 3 to 6 months, and in a chest or upright manual defrost freezer, it will last from 6 to 12 months. You should NEVER refreeze breast milk!
  • How do I thaw breast milk? You should NEVER microwave breast milk (it can disturb the nutrients and the milk could be too hot for your baby). Thaw your container in warm water (or run warm water over it) for about 30 minutes, or leave it in the refrigerator over night to allow it to defrost. It is normal for the milk to separate into milk and cream. Gently swirl the bottle to mix it before feeding. Do not stir or shake it. In addition, the breast milk may normally appear bluish, yellowish, or brownish. Some mothers report that it smells soapy. This is fine, but it should not smell sour. Use the thawed breast milk immediately or keep it in the refrigerator for no more than 24 hours.
  • How do I help start my "milk flow"? By firmly massaging your breast in a circular motion, gently stroking your breast from the top to the nipple, and leaning forward to allow gravity to help bring the milk down, you can assist in stimulating the milk ejection reflex. Looking at a picture of your baby and taking slow, deep breaths to relax will also help.

Using a breast pump frequently will help to provide your baby with breast milk as if you were breastfeeding naturally. Likewise, it enables you to go back to work and feel comfortable that your baby is receiving the best food!!

Review Date: 12/9/2012
Reviewed By: Irina Burd, MD, PhD, Maternal Fetal Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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