Breast Pumps: The Working Mom's Friend

Last Editorial Review: 7/13/2005

10 tips for expressing and storing breast milk quickly and easily

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

Nursing your baby once meant having your bundle of joy at your side almost round the clock, particularly during the first six to 12 months of life.


Not anymore. Among today's working moms, breast pumps allow many women to give their baby the benefits of mother's milk even when they can't be together all the time.


Breast pumps are devices designed to help you package Mother Nature by expressing your milk, then storing it in the refrigerator to use for bottle feedings later.


"The benefits of the modern breast pumps are amazing. They work remarkably well and in the case of the double pumps -- which express milk from both breasts simultaneously -- the whole process is very quick and easy. Most important, it is making breastfeeding possible for almost every mother and baby," says Linda Hanna, program coordinator for Lactation and Prenatal Education Services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.


For many women, the entire pumping process can be completed within 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the type of breast pump used.


Finding the Right Breast Pump


You can choose from inexpensive hand-operated models that cost as little as $15 to sophisticated electric or battery-powered models that cost $150 or more. Personal taste or finances are the main criteria.


"What works for one woman may not necessarily work for another -- a lot depends on how much milk you need to express and the length of time you plan to keep using the breast pump," says Carol Huotari, manager of the Breastfeeding Information Center at La Leche League International in Schaumberg, Ill.


If you plan to pump for several months and the time you have each day to pump is limited, Huotari suggests checking out full-size professional automatic breast pumps. Although they are large and most are not portable, they get the job done quickly.


Often these can be rented from a local hospital or breastfeeding organization. Since these breast pumps provide stimulation that helps get your milk production going, they're particularly useful if your baby is premature and not able to suckle your breast right away.


The newest electric breast pumps often express both breasts at the same time, and are reportedly quick, quiet, and easy to use. Although they can cost up to $200 or more, they are portable -- a real bonus for moms who must express milk at work.

If you only need to pump once in a while -- for example, if you are going to be away for a day or two -- you can also hand express your milk directly into a container, without using a breast pump at all.

Next: Storing Your Breast Milk.

Storing Your Breast Milk


Although pumping milk is the first step toward providing for your baby, it's only half the task. For many women, the larger challenge is to keep their milk from spoiling before feeding time.

You should try to refrigerate your milk soon after pumping, according to experts at the National Women's Health Information Center. If you can't, follow these general safety guidelines:

  • In a cool environment -- below 60 degrees Fahrenheit -- your milk will keep for up to 24 hours without refrigeration.
  • When the temperatures rise, between 66 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, your milk will remain fresh for up to 10 hours.
  • Once temperatures go higher than 79 degrees, breast milk doesn't last more than four to six hours.
  • At high temperatures, you'll need ice packs to keep breast milk fresh.

Once refrigerated, breast milk can keep for several days, though it's best to use soon after pumping, says Huotari.


"The sooner your baby gets it, the more you can be assured of the nutrient value," she says.

Experts say working moms should pump and freeze their milk only as a back-up option. Fresh is best.


"When breast milk is frozen you lose about 40% of the protective immune factors," Huotari tells WebMD. "We advise women to pump a day's supply of milk and store it in the refrigerator, to be used the next day for feeding."


Some women, however, cannot pump milk at work. Then, giving your baby frozen breast milk is still better than switching to formula, Huotari says.


"You're providing your baby with 60% more immune protection with frozen breast milk than you are with formula. So if you know you won't be able to pump daily, you can start freezing milk three months before going back to work," she says.


Frozen breast milk will last about two weeks if stored in the freezer door, where it's subject to frequent blasts of warm air. Frozen milk will last up to four months if stored in a separate compartment inside your freezer. If stored in a deep freeze at 0 degrees or less, your milk will keep for up to six months.


10 Tips for Pumping and Storing Breast Milk


Here are 10 tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics about safe storage of breast milk:

  1. Always wash your hands before expressing or handling breast milk.
  2. Store breast milk in jars with tight-fitting lids, or nursery plastic bags. Do not store milk in ordinary plastic bags or formula bags.
  3. Discard all milk that has been refrigerated more than 72 hours.
  4. If you freeze milk, keep it at 0 degrees for three to six months of storage.
  5. Try to freeze your milk in single servings -- roughly 2 to 4 ounces -- the average amount needed for one feeding.
  6. Do not add fresh milk to milk that has been frozen.
  7. To thaw frozen milk, let it stand in the refrigerator, or place the container in a bowl of warm water.
  8. Never use a microwave oven to defrost milk, or heat it to feed your baby. The heating is frequently uneven and can scald your baby's mouth and tongue. Plus, high heat can destroy some of the nutrients in the milk.
  9. Never refreeze breast milk. Discard what your baby doesn't finish in a feeding; milk that is thawed in a refrigerator should be used in 24 hours.
  10. Do not save milk from a used bottle or refrigerate what your baby didn't finish for a later feeding.

Published Sept. 29, 2003.

Medically updated May 2005.


SOURCES: Linda M. Hanna, IBCLC, program coordinator, Lactation and Prenatal Education Services, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles. Carol Huotari, IBCLC, certified lactation counselor, manager of the Breastfeeding Information Center, La Leche League International, Schaumberg, Ill. National Women's Health Information Center Breastfeeding Resource. American Academy of Pediatrics.

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