Expressing your milk: The basics

I am in my second trimester of pregnancy and plan to breastfeed. I am going back to work about 10 weeks following my baby's birth. Please give me some guidelines for expressing my milk.


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

While away from your baby, it is best to express your milk as often as your baby normally nurses. If you find, occasionally, that it is impossible to fit in a full pumping session, it is better to express for five or 10 minutes than not at all.

When expressing your milk at work to replace a feed, I would recommend double pumping (both breasts at the same time) for 15 to 20 minutes. If expressing from one side at a time, increase to 20 to 30 minutes. Regular stimulation and "emptying" of the breasts is very important in helping you to maintain a good milk supply.

About two weeks before you plan to return to work, you might want to begin pumping to build your supply of frozen expressed milk. It's important to use a good quality breastpump, such as the Medela Lactina Select or the Pump in Style if you will be regularly separated from your baby. While still at home, you can express your milk in the morning, in between feeds, following one or two feeds, or as your baby feeds at the other breast.

Your expressed milk can be frozen in glass or plastic bottles, allowing about one inch at the top for expansion. When adding newly expressed milk to previously frozen milk, it is important to chill first, so it doesn't melt the top layer when it is added.

Once you have built up your "emergency" supply of frozen milk, I would recommend that your baby's caregiver feed your little one freshly expressed, refrigerated breastmilk while you are at work. This way your baby will best benefit from all the protective properties of your milk. Freshly expressed breastmilk can be safely refrigerated for up to eight days.

Nurse your baby before you leave for work in the morning, when you get home, and in the evening/nighttime when you are together. Many working moms find that sleeping with their babies -- and encouraging nighttime feeds -- helps them feel especially close to their babies while maintaining a good milk supply. On your days off, allow your baby to nurse as desired. It is not necessary to follow your workday supplementation schedule on weekends. Frequent weekend nursing can help to give your supply a boost as you start the work week.

Newborns need to be nursed at least 10 to 12 times a day. You will know when to feed your new little one by watching her. Be alert for her signs of hunger -- sucking on fingers or fist, mouthing and/or increased alertness and activity. It is important that you be aware that crying is a late sign of hunger. My very best wishes to you and your family!

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