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In the NICU - Feeding

Expressing milk

If your baby is very preterm or unwell, they may not be able to breastfeed at the start. If so, you can express (pump) your milk to provide it to your baby in another way, e.g. through a feeding tube.

The booklet ‘Breastfeeding and expressing for your premature or sick infant’ is an excellent resource and provides a lot of information to help you get started. We encourage you to refer to this as a guide throughout


Ask for guidance and support
It might seem daunting to express milk with all that is going on, so do not forget to ask for support and guidance. People are available to help – just ask!

Let us take you through days 1, 2 and 3+ of expressing milk and how to optimise your milk supply.

Clean Hands

Ensure your hands are clean before expressing or handling your milk

Expressing at night

The milk-making hormone, prolactin, is higher at night, so expressing at this time is important to help boost your supply.

You need to express frequently and effectively to optimise your supply. 

Tips to help optimise your milk supply when expressing


All equipment that comes in contact with your milk including the expressing kits (funnels and valves) and containers must be sterile before use.
When using re-usable equipment, wash in hot soapy water and sterilise before each use

Expressing room is available if it does not suit to express at your baby's bedside

Power pumping

Power pumping involves regular cycles of expressing and rest while massaging your breasts.

For example, express for about 20 minutes, then ‘rest’ for about 10 minutes, then express again for 10 minutes and continue to swap between expressing and resting every 10 minutes or so for about an hour. During the ‘rest’, pause the pump and continue to massage and apply warmth to your breasts.

Try adding 1-3  x 1 hour power pumping sessions per day for 2-3 days to help boost a low supply. You can discontinue power pumping when your supply has increased.


Expressing should not be painful
If you experience pain, let your midwife or nurse know.

Breast Milk

PReterm Infants need Milk Early (PRIME)

PRIME is a multidisciplinary initiative first introduced at the National Maternity Hospital, Dublin to help get breast milk from mothers to their babies in the neonatal unit without delay. It highlights 7 steps for the first 7 days …

Further guidance on expressing milk, including a video showing how to hand express, is available at [LINK to sections on expressing milk /