Pumping and storing breast milk

A few weeks after delivery, when the mother finally decides to get back to work or leave the baby at home for a few hours to run a few chores,she is faced with the dilemma of how to feed the baby her own milk.

It is easy for mothers to pump and store their breast milk so that their partners or the baby’s caretakers can feed him/her breast milk even in her absence.

Pumping breast milk: know-how

Pumping helps you to completely empty the breast which in turn helps to increase milk supply.  Before you proceed to pump, make sure your hands are clean by washing it with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Ensure your breasts are clean, the area you are pumping at is clean, and all apparatus you use for pumping, bottles used to store the milk, etc. have been cleaned and sanitized.  If you face difficulties in pumping, you may try the following steps to enable a smooth milk flow:

  • Think about your baby and how much you love him/her
  • Carry an item of clothing or a blanket belonging to the baby with his/her scent in it
  • Try applying a moist warm cloth to your breasts.
  • Massage your breasts gently to enable milk flow
  • Rub your nipples gently.
  • Think of a relaxing scenario and visualize the milk flowing down

How to pump breast milk?

You may use your hand or a device to extract milk from your breasts and store it. Some of the ways used to pump breast milk are:

  • Using the hand – This involves squeezing and pressing on your breasts in a coordinated manner with thumb and fingers to remove milk into a bottle or jar. This method needs skill and coordination. It gets easier with practice. 
  • A manual pump: This involves the use of a handheld device attached to the nipple and helps you pump breast milk with your hand.
  • An electric pump: This device is more similar to a manual pump in terms of functioning but only runs on batteries or by plugging it to a power outlet instead of using the hands to pump.

How to store breast milk after pumping?

After you have pumped the milk, you can store it in several ways, depending on when you intend to use it.

  • At room temperature – Breast milk can be used up to 4 hours after being pumped and stored at room temperature.
  • Refrigeration – when refrigerated at 4 degrees celsius, breast milk can be safely used over the next four days.
  • Freezing breast milk – if you do not intend to use the pumped breast milk within the next four days freeze it right after you have pumped it. 
  • If you are outdoors, you can store the pumped breast milk in a cooler with frozen ice packs for up to 24 hours. After 24 hours, if not used, the milk ought or be refrigerated or frozen depending on the requirement.

Storing breast milk: know-how

  • There are breast milk storage bags available specifically to store breast milk. You may also use glass bottles with tight lids. Do not use disposable plastic bags to store breast milk. Use BPA free containers. Do not store milk in the door of the refrigerator to avoid temperature fluctuations due to the frequency opening and closing of the door of the refrigerator.
  • You also need to clearly label each packet with the date and time you have pumped the milk.
  • Store small amounts of milk in each bag to enable frequent feeding and avoid wastage.
  • Do not fill the container/bag to its full capacity as the milk will expand when frozen and needs extra space. Collect and freeze breast milk in small amounts of 2 to 4 ounces in each bag to avoid wastage.
  • Start by using the oldest stash of stored breast milk first. Milk expressed first should be used first. The First In – First Out rule should be followed.
  • Breast milk does not require warming up before feeding. However, some prefer feeding it to the babies at room temperature while some serve it cold.
  • Do not microwave breast milk ever. Hold it under a tap of warm water or place it in a container of warm water.
  • Swirl the milk before feeding to mix any fat that might have separated during refrigeration.
  • Once the breast milk is de-frozen/de-refrigerated and brought to room temperature, it should be used within two hours. Do not refreeze it again and use it.

Pumping and storing breast milk makes it possible for the baby to be fed with the mother’s milk even when she is not physically available to nurse him/her. This ensures that the baby is not deprived of this essential aspect of growing up.

Special thanks to Dr. Pradnya Changede ((M.S., F.I.C.O.G, F.C.P.S, D.G.O, I.B.C.L.C) for the expert advice.

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