Collecting and Storing Your Breast Milk

Mother's milk is the best food for your baby. Breast milk changes to meet the needs of your baby as she grows. No matter what your baby's age, the special contents of your milk are not found in formula.

You can feed your baby breast milk even when you and your baby are apart. By learning to pump, collect, and store your milk, you can provide your baby nutrients when you're not available to breastfeed.

Reasons to Pump and Collect Breast Milk

There are several reasons you might want to pump and collect breast milk.

To increase your milk supply. Pump after each nursing session.

To collect milk if you plan to miss a feeding.

To build a supply of breast milk so you can return to work or school.

Getting Started

Practice expressing milk by hand or by pump to help your body learn to have a 'let-down response.' It might take some time for you to feel comfortable and sure of yourself. Read your breast pump manufacturer's directions before using your pump and collection kit.

Always start by washing your hands well. Sit where you can relax. Then follow these steps:

Collect your milk in small amounts of 2 to 4 ounces. If you plan to freeze the milk, leave about half an inch of space at the top of the container for it to expand. Use BPA-free bottles and a solid cap on the container, or special breast-milk freezer bags..

Pumping Your Breasts for Milk

The more you pump, the more milk you will make.

It will take about 20 to 30 minutes to pump one breast at a time. Pumping both breasts at the same time will take about 10 to 15 minutes. For twins, use both breasts and double the time.

Feeding Breast Milk From a Bottle

Use the oldest milk first. To thaw the milk:

To feed your baby from the bottle:

If your baby breastfeeds and bottle feeds, use a slow-flow bottle nipple. Sit your baby upright for feeding and hold the bottle parallel to the floor, tilting it just enough to keep milk in the nipple. Slower bottle feeding will help your baby switch back and forth between breast and bottle more easily.

Storing Breast Milk

Guidelines for Storing Milk


Storage Conditions Use Within
Fresh milk at 79F 4 hours
Fresh milk at 70F 10 hours
Fresh milk at 59F 24 hours
Refrigerated milk (back of fridge at 32-39F) 7 days
Freezer section of a refrigerator 2 weeks
Thawed in the refrigerator 24 hours
Self-contained freezer unit of a refrigerator (store milk away from door and fan in self-defrosting units) 3 to 6 months
Stand-alone freezer at 0 F 6 to 12 months

Never refreeze milk.

In the Hospital

If you or your baby are in the hospital:

The guidelines for storing breast milk are stricter in the hospital. Follow these rules:

Call your provider or lactation consultant if you have any of these problems:


Clinical review by Ruth Reed, BSN
Group Health
Reviewed 03/01/2014