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Breast milk - pumping and storing

Breast milk is the best nutrition for your baby. Learn to pump, collect, and store breast milk. You can continue to give your baby breast milk when you return to work. Find a lactation consultant, also called a breastfeeding expert, for help if you need it.

Be Prepared

Take time for you and your baby to learn and get good at breastfeeding. Before you go back to work, establish your milk supply. Take care of yourself so you make plenty of breast milk. Try to:

  • Breastfeed or pump on a regular schedule
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Eat healthy
  • Get plenty of rest

Giving Your Baby a Bottle

Wait until your baby is 3 to 4 weeks old to try a bottle. This gives you and your baby time to get good at breastfeeding first.

Your baby has to learn to suck from a bottle. Here are ways to help your baby learn to take a bottle.

  • Give your baby a bottle while your baby is still calm, before hunger starts.
  • Have someone else give your baby the bottle. This way, your baby is not confused as to why you are not breastfeeding.
  • Leave the room when someone is giving your baby a bottle. Your baby can smell you and will wonder why you are not breastfeeding.

Start bottle feeding about 2 weeks before you go back to work so your baby has time to get used to it.

Plan How You Will Pump Milk at Work

Buy or rent a breast pump. If you start to pump before you go back to work, you can build up a supply of frozen milk.

  • There are many breast pumps on the market. Pumps may be hand-operated (manual), battery-operated, or electric. You can rent hospital-quality pumps at a medical supply store.
  • Most mothers find electric pumps the best. They create and release suction on their own, and you can easily learn to use one.
  • Either a lactation consultant or the nurses at the hospital can help you buy or rent a pump. They can also teach you how to use it.

Figure out where you can pump at work. Ideally, there is a quiet, private room you can use.

  • Find out if your workplace has pump rooms for working moms. They often have a comfortable chair, sink, and electric pump.
  • If pumping at work is going to be hard, build up a store of breast milk before you go back. You can freeze breast milk to give to your baby later.

Pump, collect, and store breast milk.

  • Pump 2 to 3 times a day when you are at work. As your baby gets older, you probably will not have to pump as often to keep up your milk supply.
  • Wash your hands before pumping.

Collect breast milk when pumping. You can use:

  • 2- to 3-ounce (60 to 90 milliliters) bottles or hard plastic cups with screw-on caps. Make sure they have been washed in hot, soapy water and rinsed well.
  • Heavy duty bags that fit into a bottle. Do not use everyday plastic bags or formula bottle bags. They leak.

Store your breast milk.

  • Date the milk before storing it.
  • Fresh breast milk can be kept at room temperature for up to 4 hours, and refrigerated for 4 days.

You can keep frozen milk:

  • In a freezer compartment inside the refrigerator for 2 weeks
  • In a separate door refrigerator/freezer for up to 3 to 4 months
  • In a deep freezer at constant 0 degrees for 6 months

Do not add fresh breast milk to frozen milk.

Thawing and Using Breast Milk

To thaw frozen milk:

  • Put it in the refrigerator
  • Soak it in a bowl of warm water

Thawed milk can be refrigerated and used for up to 24 hours. Do not refreeze.

Do not microwave breast milk. Overheating destroys nutrients, and "hot spots" can burn your baby. Bottles may explode when you microwave them for too long.

When leaving breast milk with a child care provider, label the container with your child's name and the date.

Nursing and Bottle Feeding

If you are nursing as well as bottle feeding:

  • Nurse your baby before leaving for work in the morning and right when you get home.
  • Expect your baby to nurse more often in the evenings and weekends when you are home. Feed on-demand when you are with your baby.
  • Have your child care provider give your baby bottles of breast milk when you are at work.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you exclusively give breast milk to your baby for the first 6 months. This means not giving any other food, drinks, or formula.
  • If you use formula, still breastfeed and give as much breast milk as you can. The more breast milk your baby gets, the better. Supplementing with too much formula will decrease your milk supply.
  • You can ask your health care provider about medicines and remedies to help increase your milk supply.

Alternative Names

Milk - human; Human milk; Milk - breast; Breast pump information; Breastfeeding - pump


Furman L, Schanler RJ. Breastfeeding. In: Gleason CA, Juul SE, eds. Avery's Diseases of the Newborn. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 67.

Louis-Jacques A, Lawrence RM, Lawrence RA. The breast and the physiology of lactation. In: Lockwood CJ, Copel JA, Dugoff L, et al, eds. Creasy and Resnik's Maternal-Fetal Medicine: Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 11.

Newton ER. Lactation and breastfeeding. In: Landon MB, Galan HL, Jauniaux ERM, et al, eds. Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 25.

US Department of Health and Human Services website. Office on Women's Health. Breastfeeding: pumping and breastmilk storage. Updated February 22, 2021. Accessed December 14, 2022.

Review Date 11/21/2022

Updated by: LaQuita Martinez, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Alpharetta, GA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.