Pumping / Collection / Handling Breast Milk

St. Luke's Emergency Department

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Pumping/Collection/Handling Breast Milk

  1. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before handling milk collection equipment.
  2.  Assemble milk collection equipment and attach to breast pump. Plan to double pump (both breasts at once).      
  3. Place the breast shield over the breast so that the nipple is centered in the shield cup.  Hold the breast shield with your hands to secure the seal to your breast. If you have questions about a proper breast shield fit, call the Lactation Consultants at (319) 369-8944.        
  4. With suction set on low and cycling setting on high, start the pump.  Gradually increase the suction as comfort allows and decrease cycling setting to or down halfway as your milk begins to flow.     
  5. Express milk for 15 minutes or until milk droplets have ceased flowing for two minutes.        
  6. Once breast milk is obtained, pour milk into sterile specimen container.   Be careful not to touch the inside of the container.
  7.  Use a separate container for each pumping time.  Do not add warm milk to refrigerated or frozen milk.  
  8. Label your breast milk containers with your name, date and the time you pumped.
  9. Wash milk collection equipment thoroughly with soap and hot water.  Rinse and shake off excess water droplets.  Place on a clean paper towel to dry.
  10. Place breast milk in a refrigerator as soon as possible.  Bring your breast milk to the NICU each time you visit baby.

Storing breast milk

It is normal for pumped milk to vary in color and consistency depending on your diet. Stored milk will separate into layers and the cream will rise to the top. Gently swirl (don't shake) the bottle to mix the milk layers.

Avoid adding freshly pumped milk to already cooled milk. You can add small amounts of cooled breast milk to the same refrigerated container throughout the day.

Pumped milk may be added to frozen milk provided it is first chilled and the quantity is less than what is frozen.

Store your milk in breast milk collection bottles or in storage bags specifically designed for breast milk.

Freeze milk in two to four ounce portions. Small amounts thaw more quickly. You will waste less milk this way. Be sure to leave some extra room at the top of the container so the bottle or bag will not overflow when freezing or thawing.

Seal containers tightly. Write the date on a piece of tape and place on the bag or bottle. Use the oldest milk first. 

Rarely, some mothers notice their defrosted breast milk has a soapy taste or odor. This is due to lipase, an enzyme, which helps to digest the fat content of the breast milk. If this occurs, scale the breast milk (do not bring to a boil) on a stove until tiny bubbles appear along the sides of the pan; do this before freezing. The scalding process will neutralize the enzyme, preventing the soapy taste or smell.

If you do no plan to use the milk within a few days, freeze it right away in the coldest section of your freezer.

Freshly expressed breast milk storage guidelines

 Room Temperature Cooler with three frozen ice packs
Refrigerator Freezer

Thawed Breast Milk

 4-6 hours at 66-78 ºF
(19-26 ºC)
24 hours at 59 ºF
(15 ºC)
3-8 days at 39  ºF or lower
(4 ºC)
6-12 months 0-4  ºF
(-18 - -20 ºC)
use within 24 hours



Thaw milk overnight in the refrigerator, or hold the bottle under warm running water until thawed. You can also place the sealed container in a bowl of warm water for 20 minutes to bring it to body temperature. Do not let the water reach the level of the container cap.

Thawed milk is safe in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.


Never microwave breast milk. Microwaving can cause sever burns to baby's mouth from hot spots that develop in the milk during microwaving.  Microwaving can also  change the composition of breast milk.