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Expressing and storing breastmilk

Expressing 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.

Storing breastmilk

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 statusStorage at room temperature
(26°C or lower) 
Storage in refrigerator
(5°C or lower)
Storage in freezer
Freshly expressed into sterile container 6-8 hours.
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

More information

Queensland guidelines

National guidelines and strategies

Last updated: 12 July 2016

Resources for parents, families and carers

Professional development