Expressing and storing breastmilk
Many mothers will express breastmilk at some stage during breastfeeding. This allows breastfeeding parents to continue giving their baby breastmilk when they are away from the baby (e.g. when returning to work). Expressing breastmilk may also be used for other reasons, including:
- The infant is unwell or preterm
- For physical comfort (e.g. engorgement or mastitis requiring breastmilk to be drained)
- To help increase, or maintain, a good milk supply
- The mother is unable to breastfeed for a short period of time for medical reasons
Educating parents about expressing breastmilk may help mothers to breastfeed for longer by offering more lifestyle options. Parents should be encouraged and supported to express and store breastmilk prior to discharge.
Advice and instruction about expressing and storing breastmilk can be provided by:
There are three methods of expressing breastmilk: hand expression, hand pump, or electric pump. Both electric and hand breast pumps are available for sale, and electric ones for hire, from the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA), some retail stores, and some pharmacies.
Expressed breastmilk can be stored in glass or plastic containers in the fridge or freezer and transported for later use (e.g. during child care).
The following is a simple guide for mothers storing expressed breastmilk at home and work.
- Hands should be washed thoroughly prior to handling expressed breastmilk.
- Breastmilk should always be refrigerated or frozen after expressing.
- Place milk towards the back of the fridge where it is coldest.
- If milk will not be used within two days it should be frozen.
- Always date the container at the time of collection and use the oldest milk first.
When storing expressed breastmilk at work ensure that the container is clearly labelled before placing in the fridge.
Length of time breastmilk can be stored
|Breastmilk status||Storage at room temperature|
(26°C or lower)
|Storage in refrigerator|
(5°C or lower)
|Storage in freezer|
|Freshly expressed into sterile container||
Store in refrigerator if available
No more than 72 hours.|
Store at the back of refrigerator where it is coldest
2 weeks in a freezer compartment inside refrigerator.|
3 months in a freezer section of refrigerator with separate door.
6-12 months in deep freeze (-20°C)
|Previously frozen – thawed in refrigerator but not warmed||4 hours or less – that is, the next feeding||24 hours||Do not refreeze|
|Thawed outside refrigerator in warm water||For the completion of feeding||4 hours or until next feeding||Do not refreeze|
|Infant has begun feeding||Discard after feed||Discard||Discard|
- Child and Youth Health Practice Manual, Queensland Government (PDF, 3.6MB)
- Maternity and Neonatal Clinical Guideline: Establishing breastfeeding (PDF 395 kB)
- Maternity and Neonatal Clinical Guideline Supplement: Establishing breastfeeding
(PDF 179 kB)
National guidelines and strategies
- Infant Feeding Guidelines: Summary (PDF, 825kB)
- Infant Feeding Guidelines: Information for health workers
- Australian Dietary Guidelines (Refer to section 4: Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding)
- Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010-2015 (PDF, 4MB)