Pumping and storing breastmilk

Whether you're going back to work, want to have your partner help with feedings, or want to make sure you have breastmilk for your baby if you are away for a few hours, you will need to pump and store your breastmilk. Get tips on pumping your milk and storing it safely.

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Pumping your breastmilk

If you are unable to breastfeed your baby directly, make sure to pump during the times your baby would normally eat. This will help you to continue making milk.

Before you pump, wash your hands with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol. Make sure the area where you are pumping and your pump parts and bottles are clean. Breasts and nipples do not need to be washed before pumping.

If you need help to get your milk to start flowing without your baby there, you can:

  • Think about the things you love about your baby. Bring a photo or a blanket or item of clothing that has your baby's scent on it.

  • Apply a warm, moist cloth to your breasts.

  • Gently massage your breasts.

  • Gently rub your nipples.

  • Visualize the milk flowing down.

  • Sit quietly and think of a relaxing setting.

Pumping: Ways to express your milk by hand or pump

Ways to Express Your Milk by Hand or Pump

TypeHow it worksWhat's involvedAverage cost

Hand expression

You use your hand to squeeze and press on your breast to remove milk.

  • Requires practice, skill, and coordination.

  • Gets easier with practice and can be as fast as pumping.

  • Good if you are not often away from your baby or you need an option that is always with you. But all moms should learn how to hand express in case of emergency.


Manual pump

You use your hand and wrist to operate a hand-held device to pump the milk.

  • Requires practice, skill, and coordination.

  • Useful for occasional pumping if you are away from your baby only once in a while.

  • May put you at higher risk of breast infection.

$30 to $50*

Electric breast pump

Runs on battery or plugs into an electrical outlet.

  • Can be easier for some moms.

  • Can pump one breast at a time or both breasts at the same time.

  • Double pumping (pumping both breasts at the same time) may collect more milk in less time, which is helpful if you are going back to work or school full-time.

  • Need a place to clean and store the equipment between uses.

  • Electric pumps require batteries or a place to plug in.

$150 to over $250*

* You can rent an electric pump from a lactation consultant at a local hospital or from a breastfeeding organization. This type of pump works well for creating a milk supply when a new baby can't feed at the breast. Mothers who have struggled with other pumping methods may find that these pumps work well for them.

Most insurance plans must cover the cost of a breast pump. You may be offered a rental or a new one for you to keep. Your plan may provide guidance on whether the covered pump is manual or electric, how long the coverage of a rented pump lasts, and when they'll provide the pump (before or after you have the baby). Learn more about your breastfeeding benefits at HealthCare.gov and talk to your insurance company to learn their specific policies on breast pumps.

Storage of breastmilk

Store your breastmilk in clean glass or hard BPA-free plastic bottles with tight-fitting lids. You can also use milk storage bags, which are made for freezing human milk. Do not use disposable bottle liners or other plastic bags to store breastmilk.

Storage bottles or bags to refrigerate or freeze your breastmilk also qualify as tax-deductible breastfeeding gear. Most insurance plans must cover breastfeeding supplies like storage bags, in addition to breast pumps. Call your insurance company to learn more.

After each pumping:

  • Write the date on the storage container. Include your child's name if you are giving the milk to a child care provider.

  • Gently swirl the container to mix the cream part of the breastmilk that may rise to the top back into the rest of the milk. Do not shake the milk. This can make some of the milk's valuable parts break down.

  • Refrigerate or chill milk right after it is pumped, if possible. You can put it in the refrigerator, place it in a cooler or insulated cooler pack, or freeze it in small (2- to 4-ounce) batches for later feedings. Pumped milk is OK without being refrigerated for up to 4 hours after pumping.

Storage: Tips for freezing milk

  • Wait to tighten bottle caps or lids until the milk is completely frozen.

  • Try to leave an inch or so from the milk to the top of the container, because it will expand when freezing.

  • Store milk in the back of the freezer, not on the shelf of the freezer door, so that it doesn't accidentally start to thaw out.

Storage: Tips for thawing and warming up milk

  • Use thawed breastmilk within 24 hours. Do not refreeze thawed breastmilk.

  • Clearly label milk containers with the date the milk was expressed. Use the oldest stored milk first.

  • Breastmilk does not need to be warmed. Some moms prefer to take the chill off and serve it at room temperature. Some moms serve it cold.

  • Thaw the bottle or bag of frozen milk (1) by putting it in the refrigerator overnight, (2) by holding it under warm running water, or (3) by setting it in a container of warm water.

  • Never put a bottle or bag of breastmilk in the microwave. Microwaving creates hot spots that could burn your baby and damage the milk.

  • Swirl the milk, and test the temperature by dropping some on your wrist. The milk should be comfortably warm, not hot.

Guide to storing fresh breastmilk for use with healthy full-term infants

Guide to Storing Fresh Breastmilk for Use With Healthy Full-Term Infants

PlaceTemperatureHow longThings to know

Countertop, table

Room temp (up to 77°F)

Up to 4 hours is best.

Up to 6 to 8 hours is okay for very clean expressed milk.

Containers should be covered and kept as cool as possible. Covering the container with a clean cool towel may keep milk cooler. Throw out any leftover milk within 1 to 2 hours after the baby is finished feeding.


39°F or colder

Up to 3 days is best.

Up to 5 days is okay for very clean expressed milk.

Store milk in the back of the refrigerator. When at work, it's OK to put breastmilk in a shared refrigerator.


0°F or colder

Up to 3 to 6 months is best.

Up to 9 months is okay for very clean expressed milk.

Store milk toward the back of the freezer where the temperature is most constant. Milk stored at 0°F or colder is safe for longer durations, but the quality of the milk might not be as high.

Deep freezer

-4°F or colder

Up to 6 months

Up to 12 months is okay for very clean expressed milk

Store milk toward the back or bottom of the freezer where the temperature is most constant. Milk stored at 0°F or colder is safe for longer durations, but the quality of the milk might not be as high.

Source: Adapted from 7th Edition American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Pediatric Nutrition Handbook (2014); 2nd Edition AAP/American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Breastfeeding Handbook for Physicians (2014); Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) Clinical Protocol #8 Human Milk Storage Guidelines (2010); CDC Human Milk Storage Guidelines (2015).

Guide to storing thawed breastmilk

 Room temperature
(60°F to 85°F)Refrigerator
(39°F or colder)Any freezer

Thawed breastmilk

Up to 1 to 2 hours is best.
Up to 3 to 4 hours is okay.

24 hours

Do not refreeze

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Did we answer your question about pumping and storing breastmilk?

For more information about pumping and storing breastmilk, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

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