Any amount of breastmilk you can give your baby is better than none

Expressing Breastmilk

This section provides you with information on collecting, storing and using expressed breastmilk. However, your midwife, a La Leche League leader, or a Lactation Consultant are the best people to show you the correct way to express breastmilk and how to store and reheat it.


The biggest problems working mothers face, regardless of how the baby is fed, is emotional and physical fatigue. All new parents get tired! Ensure you get enough rest, establish priorities and get as much help as possible from your partner, older children, family and friends.


Here are some basic tips to remember before you get started:

  • Ensure breastfeeding is well established before beginning to express breastmilk. For most people this is around 8-12 weeks after your baby is born.
  • Begin expressing 2-3 weeks before your planned return to work. This will allow you to build up a back-up supply to provide some peace of mind on those days when you aren’t able to express as much as usual.
  • Expressing by hand is usually the most comfortable way to collect breastmilk, but it can take more time. Electric breast pumps are quicker and more efficient than manual ones but also more expensive. They can be bought or hired from a chemist, lactation consultant, hospital, on-line or at some maternity stores. Try borrowing or hiring different breast pumps before you buy one.
  • Frequent breastfeeding at home, before and after work and on days when you are not working will help to maintain your supply. Your baby will always get more milk than a breast pump can.
  • Sterilise pumps and containers by boiling in water for 5 minutes or soaking in a sterilising solution for one hour. Some can be sterilised in a microwave.



  • If possible, make the first week back to work a short one by returning late in the week. Use the weekend to rest and prepare for any challenges you didn’t anticipate.
  • If possible, shorter, more frequent expressing breaks may be better for your supply than longer breaks further apart. Eg, express three times for 10-15 minutes versus two times for 30 minutes if you're away 8 hours. This way you're expressing about the same number of total minutes, but you're stimulating the breast more frequently, which triggers more milk production.
  • If your baby is very young or you have been breastfeeding frequently, you may find you need to express more frequently at first so you don’t feel uncomfortably full or start to leak.
  • Remember to wear clothes that will allow you to express easily.
  • Ensure you have some breast-pads readily available to deal with any leaks.
  • Drink LOTS of water and remember to eat throughout the day.
  • Having a place where you feel comfortable expressing is essential.
  • Find ways to relax to ensure a let-down reflex; close your eyes, listen to soothing music, visualise your baby, call the baby’s carer and talk to them about the baby, etc.
  • Using a double or twin breast pump to express from both breasts at the same time can help cut down the time needed to express.
  • Using a breast pump shouldn’t hurt so if it does try different positions or if it has different suction settings, set it to the lowest setting first and gradually increase.
  • If you start to leak milk at an inappropriate time, apply firm pressure (e.g. use the inside of your wrist) directly on the nipple for a minute or two. This can be done discreetly by folding your arms across your breasts. Try and express as soon as possible.
  • You may also want to consider expressing at home after each feed when you are not working.
  • Your body will gradually adjust to the new schedule over a short period of time.


  • Always wash your hands before expressing.
  • Express your breastmilk into a clean container, use a sterilised container if your baby is under 6 months.
  • Date and time all stored milk, and label with your name if storing in a communal fridge.
  • Refrigerate in the back of a fridge or store in a chilly bin with ice packs until you get home.
  • Wash and rinse pumps and containers in very hot water. Sterilise if possible/necessary.
  • When you get home the milk can be kept at the back of the fridge (where it's coldest) for up to 48 hours or frozen for 4-6 months (4 months for self contained freezer compartment with separate door, 6 months for a deep freeze, only 2 weeks for a freezer compartment inside a fridge).
  • Thaw frozen milk gradually, preferably by letting it de-frost in the fridge overnigh. Never microwave breastmilk as this can destroy the nutrients in it. Thawed milk should be kept refrigerated and used within 24 hours.
  • Do not refreeze after thawing.

You can find further information on storing breastmilk via this link (


Further Assistance

  • La Leche League - breastfeeding support organisation (
  • Maori or Pacific or other Well Child Service, Tamariki Ora (
  • Ministry of Health (
  • Plunket Family Centres or Plunketline - 0800 933 922
  • Private lactation consultant (
  • Your midwife or other lead maternity carer