Breastfeeding if you are away from your baby

Breastfeeding when you are working or away from your baby is a concern for many parents and carers. This fact sheet has tips to help you to keep breastfeeding when you are away from your baby.

Returning to work

Many mothers go back to work when they are still breastfeeding. These are some options you might try if you want to go back to work and keep breastfeeding:

  • Talk to your employer as soon as possible. A good time to do this is before you finish work, when you are still pregnant.
  • Try to take as much time off work as you can.
  • Working from home or working part-time may be a suitable option for you.
  • You may be able to arrange for someone to bring your baby to you when she or he needs a feed. It might also be possible to find a child carer close to your work so you can go to your baby to feed.
  • Many mothers express breastmilk to give their baby when they are away. Keep breastfeeding when you are with your baby.
  • Giving your baby night feeds can meet his or her need for comfort and closeness.

Expressing breastmilk

Most mothers will express breastmilk at some stage when they are breastfeeding. This is an option that can help parents to keep breastfeeding when they are away from their baby. A child health clinic, lactation consultant or the Australian Breastfeeding Association can show you how to express breastmilk. Here are some tips to help you start:

  • Wash your hands well with soap and water.
  • Find a private place where you can sit and relax. Massage the breast to help the milk flow or ‘let down’. This will make expressing easier.
  • Have all expressing equipment ready before you start. It is also helpful to have a glass of water close by.
  • Collect breastmilk in a sterilised plastic dish. Sterilise equipment by boiling or steaming.
  • You might change from one breast to the other or try again later if you need more milk.
  • Pour collected milk into a container for storage and put it in the fridge.

There are different ways of expressing breastmilk. Milk can be expressed by hand or with an electric or hand pump. If you are going to be doing it often, consider buying a pump to speed up the process. Pumps can be hired or bought from some pharmacies and the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

Expressing breastmilk by hand

  • Place your thumb and fingers on opposite sides of your breast just behind the areola (this is the darker skin around your nipple).
  • Hold a clean, sterilised plastic dish or bowl under the breast.
  • Gently squeeze your breast with a rolling movement between your thumb and fingers.
  • Drops of milk form on the nipple. Milk flow may soon start.
  • When the flow stops, move your thumb and fingers around the areola and press. This helps to empty the breast.
  • Change hands or breasts when you get tired.

Using a pump

  • You can buy or hire hand and electric breast pumps from the Australian Breastfeeding Association or many pharmacies.
  • Follow the directions that come with the pump.
  • When you get a pump, you may be able to ask for a demonstration of how it works.
  • Using a pump is often faster than hand expressing, but you may not get more milk.
  • Massage the breast towards the nipple when you are using the pump. This helps the milk flow.

Storing expressed breastmilk

Breastmilk can be stored in a glass or plastic container or sealable plastic bags. It can be stored in the fridge or freezer. Make sure you label the container with the date and time of expressing. Use this table to find out how to store your expressed milk and for how long:

My breastmilk has been:

How long can I store it at room temperature (26°C or lower)?

How long can I store it in fridge?

How long can I store it in the freezer?

Freshly expressed into a sterilised container

6–8 hours;
store milk in fridge if possible

No more than 3 days;
store at back of fridge where it is coldest

2 weeks if your freezer is a compartment inside a fridge;
3 months in freezer section of fridge that has a separate door;
6–12 months in deep-freeze

Previously frozen (thawed in fridge)

4 hours or less (until the next feed)

24 hours

Do not refreeze

Previously frozen (thawed in warm water outside of fridge)

Only keep until the end of the feed

4 hours or until next feeding

Do not refreeze

Baby has started feeding

Only keep until the end of the feed (throw away after feed)

Throw away

Throw away

The best place to store breastmilk in the fridge is at the back. This is the coldest part of the fridge.

Store freshly expressed milk in a new container instead of adding to previously chilled or frozen milk.

Transporting breastmilk

  • Use an insulated container. You could use an esky with a freezer brick.
  • If the milk has never been frozen you can store it in the fridge or freezer.
  • If milk was frozen, put it directly in the freezer if it is still frozen on arrival.
  • Milk should go in the fridge if some has thawed. Use it within 24 hours.

Using stored breastmilk

  • Use the oldest stored milk first.
  • Stand the bottle of breastmilk in a container of hot water for a few minutes (no more than 10 minutes). Never microwave breastmilk as it does not heat evenly and can burn your baby’s mouth.
  • Check the temperature of the milk by putting a drop on the inside of your wrist. It should feel a little warm.
  • Throw away any rewarmed milk that your baby has not used.
  • Frozen breastmilk can be thawed in the fridge and used within 24 hours. It can also be thawed by standing in a container of warm water. This should be used straight away. Thawed breastmilk should not be frozen again.

Resources for parents, families and carers

Booklet: Child health information (PDF, 1.34MB), Queensland Government (given to parents of every baby born in Queensland with the Personal Health record)

Breastfeeding and your baby, Queensland Government

Growing Strong—Expressing breastmilk (PDF, 703kB), Queensland Government

Growing Strong—Sterilising bottles, teats and dummies (PDF, 633kB), Queensland Government

Raising Children Network—Newborns nutrition, Australian Government

Raising Children Network—Breastfeeding videos, Australian Government

Booklet: Breastfeeding and postnatal care, New South Wales Government—available in various languages

Raising Children Network—Breastfeeding videos, Australian Government

Raising Children Network—Newborns nutrition, Australian Government

Booklet: Breastfeeding your baby, New South Wales Government

Better Health Channel: Breastfeeding, Victoria Government

Breastfeeding, South Australia Government

Related content

Breastfeeding: How do I start breastfeeding?

The importance of breastfeeding

Managing common breast concerns

Infant formula feeding


This fact sheet is consistent with the National breastfeeding strategy 2010–2015.

Information is drawn from:

  • Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service 2015, Child health information: Your guide to the first 12 months.
  • National Health and Medical Research Council 2012, Infant feeding guidelines.
  • Preventative Health 2008, Growing Strong: Feeding you and your baby,Queensland Health.
  • Preventative Health 2010, Breastfeeding and your baby, Queensland Health.
  • Queensland Maternity and Neonatal Clinical Guidelines Program 2010, Breastfeeding initiation.

This fact sheet is also the result of input and effort from many health professionals in Queensland. Their assistance with the content is greatly appreciated.

This information is provided as general information only and should not be relied upon as professional or medical advice. Professional and medical advice should be sought for particular health concerns or events. Best efforts have been used to develop this information, which is considered correct and current in accordance with accepted best practice in Queensland as at the date of production. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not accept liability to any person for the information provided in this fact sheet nor does it warrant that the information will remain correct and current. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not promote, endorse or create any association with any third party by publication or use of any references or terminology in this fact sheet.