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Health Information and Tools > Health A-Z >  Breastfeeding: Using Expressed Breastmilk (EBM) While Your Baby is in the Hospital
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Breastmilk Safe Management

Using expressed breastmilk while your child is in the hospital

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Why is breastmilk important for my baby when they’re in the hospital?

Breastmilk is the best nutrition for your child. It’s recommended that you keep breastfeeding or start pumping your milk while your child is in the hospital. Studies show that children who are fed breastmilk may have:
  • fewer gastrointestinal (in the belly), respiratory (lung), and ear infections
  • a lower risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)
  • ​fewer allergies and a lower risk of
  • a lower risk of obesity (having a lot of extra weight) later in life

How do I start and maintain my milk supply?

A child may not be able to start breastfeeding right after birth, or they may need to stop breastfeeding for a time if they get sick. If your child is not able to breastfeed, pump your breasts to start and maintain your milk supply.

If you don’t breastfeed or pump regularly, your milk supply will go down—sometimes quite quickly.

Hospital-grade pumps are available to use in the hospital. You will get a pumping kit, collection containers, and supplies. Your nurse will show you how to use the pump and kit and how clean the parts.

Where do I pump my breastmilk?

Pump near your child whenever you can, as it can help your milk to “let down” or flow. Ask your nurse about other places to pump.

Why is it important to always manage breastmilk safely?

When your child is in the hospital, the healthcare team follows very strict rules to make sure breastmilk is managed safely.

It’s important that the right child gets the right breastmilk. This is because breastmilk can carry viruses—such as HIV or hepatitis B and C—that can pass on to a child.

How can my partner and I work with the nurses to make sure our child gets the right breastmilk?

You and the nurses will work together. It’s both the healthcare team and the parents’ responsibility to make sure the right child gets the right breastmilk.

Before any breastmilk is used, 2 nurses or the breastmilk tracking system check the milk to make sure it’s going to the right child.

How do my partner and I safely handle and label breastmilk?

  • Wash your hands before you pump or handle the breastmilk containers.
  • Pump milk directly into new containers each time. Ask the nurse for your child’s pre-printed patient labels. (These labels show that your breastmilk is for your child.)
  • After you pump, write the time and date on your child’s pre-printed patient labels and place the labels on the breastmilk containers.
  • The nurse will store your labelled breastmilk containers in a secure fridge or freezer, which will have a separate bin labelled with your child’s name.
  • If you pump at home while your child is in hospital, put breastmilk in your fridge right away.
  • Use ice or freezer packs to keep breastmilk cold when you bring it from your home to the hospital.

How do I or my partner get my breastmilk to feed our child?

Ask your nurse to get your breastmilk from the secure fridge or freezer. Your nurse will check the patient label on your breastmilk container to make sure it’s the right breastmilk for your child.

How do I or my partner get my breastmilk ready to feed our child?

  • Check the date and time on the container for freshness.
  • If your breastmilk needs to be warmed, you will use a milk warmer or warm water bath.
  • Do not​ warm or thaw breastmilk in a microwave oven.
  • Throw away the container and any leftover breastmilk when your child is done feeding.

How long can breastmilk be stored?

Here are the ways to store breastmilk safely:

  • room temperature for 4 hours
  • fresh in a fridge on the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for 72 hours or on other units for 96 hours
  • thawed in a fridge for 24 hours
  • frozen:​
    • in a freezer with a door inside the fridge door up to 2 weeks
    • in a freezer attached to a fridge with a separate door up to 3 months
    • in a deep freezer in the NICU up to 6 months and in other units for up to 12 months
  • What happens to my breastmilk when my child goes home or is transferred?

    Ask your nurse to pack all of your breastmilk from the fridge and freezer to send with your child.

    Where can I learn more?

    Speak to a member of your child’s healthcare team or call Health Link at 811.​

Current as of: March 29, 2022

Author: Interprofessional Regulation, Health Professions Strategy and Practice, Alberta Health Services