Expressing milk means squeezing milk out of your breasts so you can store it and feed it to your baby at a later time.
- You might want to express milk if you have to be away from your baby. This could be because your baby is ill or premature, or because you’re going back to work;
- You may want to express milk if your breasts feel uncomfortably full or if your baby isn’t sucking well but you still want to give them breast milk;
- You may also want to express some breast milk to use with your baby’s first solid foods; and
- You can express by hand or use a breast pump.
- You may want to express milk to make more breast milk
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Self Expressing Breast Milk
You may find it easier to express milk by hand than to use a pump, especially in the first few days. It also means you won’t have to buy or borrow a pump.
The following suggestions may help:
- Before you start, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, and gently massage your breast;
- Cup your breast just behind your areola (the darker part of your breast);
- Squeeze gently, using your thumb and the rest of your fingers in a C shape. This shouldn’t hurt (don’t squeeze the nipple directly as you’ll make it sore and unable to express);
- Release the pressure then repeat, building up a rhythm. Try not to slide your fingers over the skin. At first, only drops will appear, but keep going as this will help to build up your milk supply. With practice and a little time, milk may flow freely;
- When no more drops come out, move your fingers round and try a different section of your breast, and repeat;
- When the flow slows down, swap to the other breast;
- Keep changing breasts until the milk drips very slowly or stops altogether;
- If the milk doesn’t flow, try moving your fingers slightly towards the nipple or further away, or give the breast a gentle massage; and
- Hold a sterilized feeding bottle or container below your breast to catch the milk as it flows.
Expressing with a pump
Different pumps suit different women, so ask for advice or see if you can try one before you buy it. Always make sure that the container or pump is clean and has been sterilized before you use it.
Tips for effective expressing
- Start by massaging breasts before you express – it helps to stimulate let down;
- Some moms keep photos or videos of baby on their phones to look at while they pump to help a let down. It also helps to smell something that your baby has worn. A warm wet compress on breast may also help;
- Make sure pump is warm. An ice cold pump will not help;
- Lubricate the pump with some breast milk;
- Pump slowly at first till let down comes, then pump stronger faster;
- Massage breasts while u pump as it helps stimulate the different milk ducts;
- Move pump around so it also stimulates different ducts to release milk;
- Take a break midway and massage your breasts to help increase milk yield; and
- Another good tip is to pump while you feed baby on the other side.
The number of times you pump is up to you depending on your supply and need. If your supply seems to drop add in another session for a day or 2. After each session do hand expressions too. It’s great for increased stimulation. It is more effective to pump 5 min every hour than 40 min twice a day (if you are looking to increase your supply).
If let down is not triggered during pumping, mom will only be able to express the little milk behind the nipples. This is not an indication of low milk supply, but rather inability to stimulate the let down reflex. The letdown usually occurs many times during a feeding or while pumping.
Some suggestions for stimulating the let down
- Let down can be psychologically conditioned as well as physically stimulated. For example, some mothers let down when they hear baby cry or even just thinking of baby;
- The sensations of pumping and hand expressing are not the same as baby sucking and so especially at first the mother may need to encourage her let down, using some of the following methods of physical and psychological stimulation;
- Express in a familiar and comfortable setting. A place that allows mom to relax her whole body;
- Pumping arm to rest on a pillow;
- Familiar routines and settings help mom relax and act as psychological triggers to aid let down;
- Minimize distractions: Phone off, relaxing music on, glass of water juice ready, snack, something to read. This will allow mom to relax and concentrate on expressing;
- If you are not at home try find a private setting, where you will not worry about interruptions;
- Follow a pre expression ritual;
- Apply heat to breasts (moist or dry);
- Warmth is comforting so a blanket around your shoulders or sit near source of heat;
- Gently massage the breasts, this especially helps if mom is feeling tense;
- Stimulate nipples by gently rolling or rubbing them;
- Relax for 5 minutes, doing childbirth breathing exercises or imagining a beach with lapping waves, or mountain stream etc;
- If mom is away from baby a phone call to see how baby is doing may help put her in a good frame of mind;
- Use a rhythmic motion while expressing to mimic baby’s sucking;
- Try to mimic how your baby feeds – watch him closely when he feeds to see how he stimulates the let down;
- Focus all your senses on the baby; imagine baby is close to you and sucking and cuddling with you;
- Physical reminders may help: a photo to look at, tape recording of baby’s voice, feel and smell a clothing item of baby or a blanket;
- If baby is close by, express while baby feeds on other side; and
- Interrupt milk expression several times to massage breast – this will help stimulate several let downs during one session.
Rather than spending 10 minutes on each breast, the let down is stimulated more effectively by expressing on each breast until the milk flow decreases and then switching to the other breast repeating this several times until 20 or 30 minutes has passed.
A great place to get support, advice and suggestions regarding breastfeeding and expressing is the La Leche League.