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

Expressing Breastmilk at Work


Your midwife, a La Leche League leader, or Lactation Consultant is the best person to show you the correct way to express breastmilk and how to store and reheat it.

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

  • Ensure breastfeeding is well established before beginning to express breastmilk.
  • Begin expressing 2-3 weeks before you 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.
  • Expressing by hand is usually the most comfortable but can be slow. 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 a breast pump 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.

Expressing at Work

  • 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 ensure more 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 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 washable or disposable breast-pads 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 each time.
  • 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.
  • You may also want to consider expressing at home after each feed.
  • Your body will gradually adjust to the new schedule.

Preparation, Cleaning and Storing

  • Wash hands before expressing.
  • Express your breastmilk into a clean container.
  • Date all stored milk and label with your name if storing in a communal fridge.
  • Refrigerate or store in a chilly bin with ice packs until you get home.
  • Wash and rinse pumps and containers in very hot water.
  • If your baby is under three months old, 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.
  • When you get home the milk can be kept at the back of the fridge (where it's coldest) for up to 3 days or frozen for 3-6 months (3 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).
  • Fresh milk batches can be combined once cooled, and refrigerated milk can be added to frozen milk so long as the amount added is less than the amount already frozen.
  • Thaw frozen milk gradually, preferably by letting it de-frost in the fridge overnight and not in a microwave which can destroy the nutrients. Thawed milk should be kept refrigerated and used within 24 hours.
  • Do not refreeze after thawing.
  • 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.

Further Assistance

  • La Leche League; breastfeeding support, publications and to find a group near you
  • Maori or Pacific Well Child Service
  • Ministry of Health for information and publications
  • Plunket Family Centres or Plunketline 24 hours, 7 days - 0800 933 922
  • Private lactation consultant; contact through your nearest maternity centre
  • Your midwife or other lead maternity carer