Reviewed & Updated by Lynley Nichols
March 2009
Clinical Guidelines Back Newborn Services Home Page
Introduction Initiating General Guidelines Maintaining Lactation
Expression and the Transition to Breastfeeding Associated Pamphlets Hand Expressing Medela Lactasets for use in NICU/Home
Simultaneous (Double) Expressing Increasing Lactation/Milk Supply Disinfection/Sterilising of Feeding Equipment Storage, Use and Transport of Breast Milk

Administration of Breast Milk

Wrong Breast Milk Inadvertently Given to Wrong Baby

Other Related Documents


All mothers of unwell, preterm and full term babies in a neonatal intensive care environment should be supported to provide breastmilk for their babies. It is vital that an adequate supply be established early. The aim of expressing is for the mother to establish a good milk supply in the beginning for the long-term needs of her infant This will mean that some mothers will be expressing volumes of milk that far exceeds the infant’s current needs. Having an abundant milk supply allows for this to occur, is an ‘insurance policy’ against a dwindling supply (that can occur with prolonged expressing) and allows milk to flow freely when the infant begins suckling. The longer it takes for a mother to establish a milk supply, the less likely she is to be successful.

If the woman is an inpatient of NWH the responsibility for teaching expressing is that of the midwife on the ward or her LMC. It is expected however, that all newborn service staff will be able to give instructions and advice on all methods of expressing.

The respect of, and sensitivity to each woman’s personal and psychosexual dignity is to be upheld when assisting her to breastfeed or express. This includes seeking each woman’s permission before touching her breasts and gentle handling of her breasts. It is expected that there will be minimal handling of the mother’s breasts by the health professional. A mother can be shown by placing the health professionals hands on top of the mothers hands and or by using a breast model. This can easily fashioned by using a balloon or inflated rubber glove.

Initiating Lactation

Follow the steps below to assist the woman to learn the skill of expressing her own milk if her baby is unable to breastfeed.

  1. Start as soon as possible after delivery, (preferably within an hour or two of delivery) or at least within 6 hours.
  2. Ensure privacy as directed by the mother. 
  3. Wash hands (mother & staff) and provide a sterile container for collecting milk
  4. Show the woman how to stimulate her breasts and assist the let down reflex by:
  5. Provide and discuss the pamphlet 

It is generally recommended that the mother hand express until her milk ‘comes in’, then manual or electric pump may be used. Some women prefer to use an electric pump before her milk comes in, discuss options and recommendations based on the individual indications and expected outcome.

General Guidelines

Follow the steps below as a general guide to expressing.

  1. Frequency of expressing - aim for 8 – 12 times in 24 hours during the initiation of milk supply. One or two night-time expressions, especially in first 2 weeks, is strongly recommended. Intervals don’t have to be regular; flexibility makes it easier. Frequency may depend on parity, multiple births, caesarean section and previous lactation history therefore individual advice is advisable. Individualised, up to date research information should be given.
  2. Length of expressing episodes - aim for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes, or until the milk flow stops or slows down. Swap breasts frequently, approx. 2-3 times each expressing episode is recommended.
  3. Volume – initially a small amount, increasing dramatically within 72 hours post delivery with regular expressing. An estimated guide of volume for one infant is:

Note: The total volume obtained in 24hours is important, not volume obtained at each session. It is more efficacious to express 8 times in 24 hours for 20 minutes than to express 5 times per day for 45 minutes.

Maintaining Lactation

Follow the steps below as a guide to maintaining lactation:

  1. Once lactation is established increased flexibility with expressing can occur (this can take 3-4 weeks).
  2. Any change in expressing schedule should be gradual as sudden changes increases risk of mastitis &/or sudden drop in lactation.
  3. Once a milk supply is established it is easier to manipulate supply up or down depending on the infants needs. It may be difficult to establish lactation if it does not occur early.
  4. Night expressions can be gradually lengthened although most mothers with an established milks supply find it difficult to go longer than 6 hours.
  5. Dropping to less than 5 expressions per day can lead to dramatic decrease in milk supply for some mothers and is not recommended.
  6. Consider increasing expressing to 12 times per 24-48 hours every 10-14 days to boost milk production. This is commonly referred to as a “marathon expressing day”.

Expressing and the Transition to Breastfeeding

Follow the steps below to assist in the transition from expressing to breastfeeding.

  1. As baby is learning to breastfeed, expressing should occur after breastfeeds have been attempted.
  2. If milk is flowing too fast for the infant to cope with, consider expressing 20 –40ml pre feed. Then express after the infant has breastfed if necessary.
  3. Most mothers will need to continue to express after discharge. Avoid any sudden decrease in frequency of expressing. It will take most infants several weeks at home to develop mature suckling skills. 
  4. When this happens expressing can be gradually reduced. Slowly wean (reduce) expressing over 1- 3 weeks as infant’s breastfeeding skills improve.
  5. The mother may need to continue with some expressing longer if the infant is sleepy or is a slow feeder. This will assist in the maintenance of milk supply. This may also apply for infants with special needs e.g.. CHD, Down’s syndrome, cleft lip or palate etc.

Associated Pamphlets


  • Hill, P., Aldag, J., Chatterton, R. (2001). Initiation and frequency of pumping and milk production in mothers of non-nursing preterm infants. Journal of Human Lactation, 17(1), 9-13.
  • Kent, J.C., Mitoulas, L.R., Cregan, M.D., Geddes, D.T., Larsson, M., Doherty, D.A., Hartmann, P.E., (2008) Importance of vacuum for breastmilk expression. Breastfeeding Medicine, 3(1), 11-19.
  • Meier, P. (2001). Breastfeeding in the special care nursery. Premature and infants with medical problems. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 48(2), 425-442.
  • Mitoulas, L., Lai, C., Gurrin, L., Larsson, M., Hartmann, P. (2002). Efficacy of breast milk expression using an electric pump. Journal of Human Lactation, 18(4), 344-351.
  • Spicer, K. (2001). What every nurse needs to know about breast pumping: Instructing and supporting mothers of premature infants in the NICU. Neonatal Network, 20(4), 35-41.

Hand Expressing

Follow the steps below to assist women in hand expressing.

  1. Ensure privacy. 
  2. Wash hands and provide a sterile container for collecting milk.
  3. Show the woman how to stimulate her breasts and assist the let down reflex by doing the following for 1-3 minutes immediately prior to expressing:
  4. The mother should cup the breast using the C hold and position thumb and finger behind the areola in opposition. 
  5. Press in towards the rib cage then compress thumb and finger toward each other, gently massaging the underlying lactiferous sinuses. There should be no pain or discomfort. Do not slide the fingers over the skin.
  6. Repeat expressing movement rhythmically, moving around the breast and alternating breasts. 
  7. Collect colostrum/breastmilk:
  8. Frequency and time as for RBP: Expressing – Basic Principles and Initiation. 


  • Breasts need to be handled very gently and expressing should never hurt or cause bruising. 
  • Women may wish to hand express under a warm shower to start milk flow or soften a firm breast however this milk can not be collected.

Associated RBP

  • Expressing – Basic Principles and Initiation
  • Expressing - By Hand
  • Breast Pumps Expressing – Manual or Electric
  • Disinfection of Feeding Equipment
  • Storage, Use and Transport of Breastmilk
  • Increasing Milk Supply
  • Administration of Human Milk

Medela Lactasets for use in NICU/home

Follow the steps below for the mothers responsibilities regarding the Medela lactaset.

  1. Newborn Services provides each mother with a Lactaset for her personal use on admission for infants born at less than 35/40. Including the information sheet titled ‘Mother’s responsibilities for Lactaset’. 
  2. Ensure this has been documented in infants care map.
  3. The Lactaset can be used as a hand pump or can be used on the Medela Lactina/Lactina Select electric breastpumps. 
  4. There are several Medela Electric Breast Pump on mobile stands throughout the NICU. We encourage mothers to express at the infants cot/incubator side.
  5. Privacy can be given by screens at the mother’s request or by simply turning her chair toward the wall/incubator.
  6. It is the mother’s responsibility to clean and sterilise equipment between use.
  7. It will be the mother’s responsibility to bring the Lactoset to and from the hospital so that she can express both at home and in hospital.
  8. Any lost or broken pieces are the responsibility of the mother to replace at her cost.
  9. The Lactaset does not need to be returned once the mother has finished expressing.

Using the Medela Lactina/Lactina Select

Follow the steps below to show a mother how to use a manual or electric breast pump.

  1. Show the woman how to stimulate a let down reflex by gentle breast massage and stroking, applying warmth, thinking about her baby, sitting beside baby or looking at a photo of her baby.
  2. Manual Pump (Medela)
  3. Electric Pump

Simultaneous (Double) Expressing

Double pumping allows simultaneous breast expression. It saves time, may raise prolactin levels and may increase milk supply for some mothers.

Follow the steps below to assist the woman to use a double breast pump effectively.

  1. If a mother chooses to double pump it will be her responsibility to purchase a second pump kit.
  2. Newborn service will provide an extra pump kit to allow mothers to double express for mothers of triplets.
  3. Follow Newborn services RBP: Expressing – Using the Medela Lactina/Symphony breast pumps.
  4. Expressing times can be reduced to 10 – 15 minutes however frequency should be maintained at 8 – 12 times/24 hours along with night expressing.
  5. The mother should stop once or twice during expressing to massage her breasts prior to commencing double expressing again.

Associated RBP

  • Expressing - Introduction
    - Initiating Lactation
    - Maintaining Lactation 
    - Hand Expressing
    - Increasing Milk Supply
  • Disinfection of Feeding Equipment
  • Storage, Use and Transport of Breastmilk
  • Administration of Human Milk


  • Jones, E., Dimmock, P., & Spencer, S. (2001). A randomised controlled trial to compare methods of milk expression after preterm delivery. Archives of Disease in Childhood, Fetal & Neonatal Edition, 85, F91 – F95.

Increasing Lactation / Milk Supply

The breasts provide glandular tissue for milk production. The brain releases hormones to stimulate milk release. The baby or breast pump provides stimulation to trigger and maintain milk production. All three are necessary to establish lactation, and milk may appear on day one or take several days and will take weeks to become fully established.

Follow the steps below to increase milk supply.

  1. Assess for possible cause of delayed or decreasing milk supply.
  2. Document any risk factors:
  3. Follow steps of Newborn Services RBP: Expressing.
  4. Increase milk production
  5. Increase milk release
  6. 6. Review and document management plan, and follow-up.

Disinfection/sterilising of Feeding Equipment

Follow the steps below for safe use of disinfection/sterilising feeding equipment and expressing equipment in NICU.

  1. Do not share feeding equipment between infants or expressing equipment between mothers .
  2. Each infant will have his/her own sterilising container at the bedside.
  3. After use all equipment is to be washed in hot, soapy water and rinsed well (use bottle brush for bottles). 
  4. Soak in sterilizing solution as per manufacturers instructions, completely immersing equipment, with no air bubbles visible. 
  5. All teats, standard teats, Haberman teats, cross cut teats and nipple shields will be washed (as above) and can be soaked in sterilising solution as per manufacturers instructions. They are then stored dry, between feeds, in a sterile container in the fridge (ensure infants sticky label on container). The life of these will be prolonged by not soaking continuously. 
  6. Do not rinse equipment prior to use by the infant or mother.
  7. Bottle brushes should be rinsed under water after use and stored dry. The bottle brush and its container will be replaced weekly by the Newborn Services Hospital Aide.
  8. Infant feeding bottles are to be replaced with new ones on a 24 hour basis or sooner if soiled.
  9. Containers for warming feeds will be labelled with infants ‘sticky label’, dated and changed weekly. They are discarded at discharge.
  10. Electric breast pumps should be wiped with mediwipes before and after each use.
  11. Daily cleaning of the breast pumps and stands by hospital aides with a detergent and water solution (e.g. Taski).

Storage, Use and Transport of Breast milk

Follow the steps below to safely store, use and transport breast milk.

  1. Containers:
  2. Storage:
  3. Safe use of stored breast milk:
  4. Safe Transportation of Breast milk.
  5. See also ADHB policy

Administration of Expressed Breast Milk

Follow the steps below to safely administer expressed breast milk to a baby.

  1. Prior to administrating stored breast milk (via bottle or naso-gastric tube) it must be checked by two people.
  2. Check the date of collection.
  3. Check the expiry date documented on the container of breast milk.
  4. Check that the ID number and name documented on the container of breast milk matches the details on the ID bracelet of the baby who is to receive the milk.
  5. No milk is to be given to the infant unless it is appropriately labelled and dated.
  6. Check only one feed at a time.
  7. Use the freshest milk first.
  8. If there is colostrum in the freezer, this can be defrosted and given half in half with the fresh milk.

Administration of incorrect breast milk

If a baby inadvertently receives breast milk other than his/her own mother’s follow the steps below.

  1. Immediately notify senior nurse in charge of unit and other appropriate personnel.
  2. When a nasogastric tube is in situ milk can be withdrawn if error recognised within 30 mins of administration
  3. Complete documentation of event on Datix - classify as below

  1. Arrange for notification and counselling by senior medical/nursing staff for parents of affected infant as soon as possible. The senior nurse /doctor explains the event to the baby’s mother and to the mother whose milk was inadvertently administered. Identity of donor mother must not be disclosed.
  2. The senior nurse /doctor ensures that the parents of both babies are counselled/informed about the risks and need for screening.
  3. Donor mother: The senior nurse /doctor ensures donor mother’s consent is obtained for giving blood samples for:
  4. Recipient mother: The senior nurse/doctor ensures consent is obtained to review antenatal blood test results and repeat if risk factors suggest any change in status as well as test for CMV antibody if infant < 32 weeks at birth or < 1500gm.
  5. If donor mother should refuse consent for blood test, then risk assessment should take place and baby screened and/or treated appropriate to the level of risk.


Consideration of risk should be discussed in terms of:

Associated RBP

  • Infection Control Manual