From the moment of birth, a mother’s milk is the best possible food for babies. Breastfeeding is a vital way to ensure babies’ survival, health, and optimal development, providing them with the nutrients they need to grow. It’s not just food that is shared—breastfeeding also fosters a unique bond between mother and child that transcends the physical and strengthens the emotional well-being of both.
The theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week is “Enabling breastfeeding: making a difference for working parents.” Enabling breastfeeding, or guaranteeing the right to breastfeed, requires welcoming and supportive environments both within families and in society as a whole. In this blog post, we provide recommendations on how to express and store breastmilk, especially for mothers returning to work.
Breastfeeding-friendly spaces in the workplace
Many women find it challenging to continue breastfeeding once they return to work or school. Breastmilk production is regulated by hormones, primarily prolactin, that are stimulated by an infant suckling the nipple and by manually or mechanically expressing milk. This production has to remain active, so breastfeeding-friendly spaces for expressing milk are essential.
These spaces are areas with the conditions mothers need to breastfeed or safely express and store breastmilk. They give mothers the possibility to take this milk home and feed it to their children, despite being temporarily separated from them while working or studying.
Characteristics of breastfeeding-friendly spaces include:
- comfortable armchairs
- water, soap, and paper towels
- a power outlet and good lighting and ventilation
- a waste bin
- no advertising from manufacturers of infant formula, baby food, baby bottles, or baby bottle nipples
- access control
- Before you begin, be sure to find a breastfeeding-friendly space.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 40 to 60 seconds.
- Certain techniques can help get your milk flowing, like thinking about your baby, holding one of your baby’s possessions close to you, looking at a picture of your baby, or listening to an audio recording or watching a video of them.
- You can express milk by hand or by using a manual or mechanical breast pump. See the picture below to learn more.
ABCs of storing breastmilk
- Breastmilk can be stored in clean glass bottles or BPA-free plastic bottles to prevent chemical contamination and bacterial growth.
- Make sure you label the bottles with the date and time of expression so you use the oldest milk first.
- The milk may change color and the fat may separate and rise to the top—this is normal.
- Milk can be kept at room temperature or stored in a refrigerator or freezer.
- Once thawed, milk can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours but should never be refrozen.
|Human milk storage|
|At room temperature (no higher than 26°C and in a covered container)||4 hours in hot climates 6 hours in cooler climates|
|In a cooler (-15° to -4°C)||24 hours|
|In the refrigerator (< 4°C)||72 hours|
|In the freezer compartment of a refrigerator (-18°C)||3-6 months|
|In a deep freezer (-20°C)||6-12 months|
Time for your baby to eat
To feed your baby expressed milk, it must be in a liquid state and at a safe temperature. To thaw frozen milk, put the bottle or bag in the refrigerator and then place it in a pot of warm water. The stove should be turned off while you do this—never boil breastmilk, as this will cause it to lose its nutrients and protective immune-boosting properties. Do not heat the milk in the microwave, as this can lead to uneven heating and burn your baby’s mouth. Give your baby expressed milk in a small cup or with a small spoon.
Breastfeeding-friendly spaces should provide information and guidance to the community, employers, students, and others. They are also intended to raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding and parental leave legislation, as well as to promote inclusive and supportive environments for breastfeeding women. These spaces reflect society’s commitment to the well-being of children and their mothers, which in turn boosts the overall health of families and the community in general.
Do you have breastfeeding-friendly spaces at your work? What about someone close to you? Share your story!