The end of your maternity leave and even a longer leave don’t necessarily mean you need to interrupt breastfeeding. Maternal milk continues to be an important source of nutrients and antibodies for your baby and, if possible, it’ll be great for their health. While it’s not necessarily the easiest task to pump out milk with the help of a pump or even your hands, with a little bit of practice you can stock up on it for whenever you’re not with your child. And, this way, your body understands that it needs to keep producing the milk – besides avoiding problems such as mastitis.

Evidently, we know that you won’t always be able to find the perfect environment to pump, like a comfy and inviting space – and the company bathroom definitely isn’t the most adequate place. So, let’s get down to what matters.

What is the best method to pump breast milk?

You will need a breast pump, either a manual or an electric one, and storage bags or sterilized glass jars. It’s possible to remove the milk only using your hands, but not all women are able to milk this way – yes, that’s the word! Ideally, you should test the different types of pumps before buying or renting one – in this case, if you don’t adapt, you can just pick a different one.

Be patient and persistent: some times, it could take up to two weeks of consistently stimulating the breasts with the suction of the pump for the milk to come out in the necessary quantities. During the first few days, you might not be able to pump even one single drop. Keep insisting! Usually it works after a while and the benefits to the mother and child are worth the try. The more you pump, the more milk you’ll have. Spend at least 15 minutes stimulating each breast – to save on time, some automatic pumps have a double nozzle, allowing both breasts to be milked at the same time.

If the amount you yield is still not enough, you can mix it with milk you already have, but be aware that the expiration date will be of the milk that’s already been in the container.

How to extract the milk?

Look for a clean and sanitary place, to avoid contamination. Wash your hands and arms up to your elbows thoroughly with soap and, if possible, apply hand sanitizer to your hands afterwards. At milk banks, for example, mothers are required to use a hospital gown, hair net, face mask and sanitize their hands by washing with soap and using hand sanitizer after. Obviously, you won’t be able to replicate those conditions at work, but it’s worth knowing how important hygiene is when pumping milk. If possible, apply one of these recommendations or, at the very least, put your hair up.

How to store maternal milk?

It needs to go straight to the fridge. If you’re using glass jars (with plastic lids), it’s necessary to sterilize everything beforehand. Boil them for about 15 minutes or use sterilizers that can go in the microwave and allow the jars to dry on a clean cloth, facing down.

Maternal milk can be stored in the fridge for up to 12 hours without losing any of its nutritional properties (avoid putting it on the fridge door). Any longer than that and you’ll have to toss it. In the freezer, it can be stored for up to 15 days, in temperatures lower than negative 10 celsius, preferably. Don’t forget to label each jar with the date and time.

In some countries, the recommended time in the fridge and freezer tends to be longer: 48 hours in the fridge and up to 3 months in the freezer but, to avoid any issues with quality, it’s best to follow the orientations of a smaller window of time.

How to thaw the milk?

In order for it to not lose its nutrients, it should be thawed naturally. You can also double boil it, but listen up: only until the milk reaches room temperature, therefore, the water should only be lukewarm. Maternal milk cannot be boiled, nor heated up directly on the stove or microwave. It’ll have an expiration time of 12 hours, so when it comes to freezing it, you should always bottle it up in small quantities – 100 ml for example. And never refreeze it.

Try to use small cups or even spoons to offer the milk to your baby and avoid baby bottles – the baby could confuse it with a nipple and it could negatively impact breastfeeding.