Expressing Methods for Breast Milk
There are many different ways to express your breast milk, from using your hands to a manual or electric breast pump. Expressing your milk will be necessary during your breastfeeding journey and is a very normal part of the process. The method you decide to use will likely depend on how often you need to express your milk and what your daily routine looks like.
Expressing Breast Milk
Whether you are hand expressing or using a pump, it may take a few minutes for your milk to flow. At times, your milk will come faster, then slower, then faster again. This is normal. With practice, you will find out what works best for you.
Colostrum is the first milk your body makes and is a rich, yellowish fluid. Colostrum is sometimes described as “liquid gold” because it is perfectly suited for your newborn baby. It is very nourishing, contains important immune-boosting substances, and is easy for your baby to digest.
Reasons for Expressing Breast Milk
Expressing breast milk helps you to:
- Get your baby interested in latching when you express a few drops before breastfeeding as your baby will smell and taste your milk.
- Soften your breasts near your nipples before latching your baby, if your breasts are very full.
- Collect and store your milk to feed your baby if you need to be separated from them.
- Increase your milk supply.
When you are ready to express your milk, try to relax so that your milk will flow easily. Always wash your hands before expressing milk. You can try some or all of these things to see what works best for you:
- Find a place where you are comfortable and relaxed.
- Hold your baby skin-to-skin before expressing breast milk. If your baby is not with you or you are not able to hold your baby, think about your baby, look at a photo or hold an item that has been close to your baby.
- Gently stroke and massage your breasts moving from the chest wall toward the nipple.
- Massage can help milk to flow.
- Place a warm towel on your breast for a few minutes, or have a warm shower to help your milk flow.
- Think about things that relax you, listen to music or visualize your milk flowing from your breasts.
Expressing by Hand
Try the following tips:
- Hold your breast with one hand. The thumb and fingers of your hand should be opposite each other (form a “C” with your fingers) and about 2 ½ – 4 cm (1 to 1½ inches) back from the nipple. Lift your breast slightly, and gently press the breast back towards your chest.
- Lightly compress your thumb and fingers together moving them towards each other, without rubbing the skin.
- Relax your fingers then repeat the same motion. Do not squeeze the base of your nipple, as this will stop the flow of milk and it could make you sore.
- Move around your breast to express milk from all parts of the breast. Express in one area for about a minute or until milk stops flowing before moving your fingers around to another area of your breast.
- Switch back and forth between breasts as often as you like.
- Collect the milk on a spoon if small amounts or a container with a wide mouth if larger amounts. You can feed your baby the colostrum or breast milk. You can also save your breast milk if your baby doesn’t need it right away.
Expressing with a Breast Pump
If you decide to use a breast pump, you can choose a manual or an electric pump. Combining hand expression, breast massage, and pumping has been found by many parents to be helpful in obtaining more milk.
Whether you decide on a manual or an electric pump:
- Check consumer reports and talk with other parents who have pumped.
- Check that the pump will allow you to adjust the amount of suction.
- Check that the pump has the option to use a different size of pump kit if the kit that comes with it doesn’t fit you properly.
It should not hurt to pump. If it hurts and you cannot fix the problem yourself be sure to get help.
How long and how often you need to pump depends on:
- How often your baby is breastfeeding.
- How well your baby is sucking and swallowing.
- Your milk supply.
There are a variety of manual breastfeeding pumps available in the marketplace. Most manual breast pumps use either arm or hand action to create suction. It you have arm or hand problems, you may find it easier to use an electric breast pump.
Electric Breast Pump
If you only need to pump for a few days or weeks, you may decide to rent a hospital-grade electric breast pump. Hospital-grade electric breast pumps are also recommended if you are pumping for a baby with special needs such as a premature infant or a baby who is unable to breastfeed.
You will need a kit to use with the hospital-grade electric breast pump. Most facilities that rent or loan hospital-grade electric breast pumps have kits available to use with the pump. Hospital-grade electric breast pumps allow you to pump one breast or both breasts at a time. Pumping both breasts at once saves time and can also help you obtain more milk. This is sometimes called double pumping.
Purchased electric breast pumps are not the same as hospital-grade electric breast pumps. Purchasing an electric breast pump may be a good choice if you have a plentiful milk supply and have had lots of milk for several days or weeks. Store bought breast pumps, including electric breast pumps, are intended to be used by one person. It can be unsafe for you and your baby to pump and feed milk from a store bought pump that has been used by another person.
If you are wanting to pump milk when you return to work, you might find that double pumping will save time. You can do this by using 2 manual (hand) pumps or a double electric breast pump.
When you are using a pump, make sure your whole nipple area is centred inside the flange. Some breast pumps have flanges available in various sizes so that you can use the size best suited for you. When you are using the proper flange size, you will be able to see space around your nipple as you pump. Adjust the pump to its lowest setting, and increase the
pressure as your milk starts to flow. Use as much pressure as is needed to keep your milk flowing. If you feel any pain of the breast or nipple, reduce the pressure. If the pain continues, contact your health care provider or someone skilled with helping to resolve problems with pumping.
It is often best to pump both breasts at the same time. Double pumping is faster than pumping one breast at a time. You can pump each breast for 10-15 minutes. It is helpful to combine pumping with hand expression to increase your milk supply.
Expressing Milk When Your Baby Is Not Able to Breastfeed
Begin with early and frequent hand expression and pumping. Try to start in the first hour after birth. You should express your milk at least 8 or more times in 24 hours (day and night), until your baby is breastfeeding effectively from your breasts.
To ensure that you have a steady supply of milk, express regularly during the day and at least once during the night. Your milk production is greatest during the night. Expressing during the night helps you to make more milk.
Expressing Milk When Your Breasts Are Too Full
Hand expression is an important skill for parents to learn. Sometimes, when your breasts are too full, babies find it difficult to latch. If your areola is so firm that your baby cannot latch, express enough to soften the area around your nipple. Breast fullness is common and may last a few days to two weeks after giving birth. After this stage passes your breasts will feel softer and less full. It does not mean you are losing your milk supply. If your breasts are uncomfortable, express enough to make them comfortable. As your baby learns to latch and breastfeed, you will notice that your breasts become softer as baby drinks your milk.
Expressing Milk If Your Baby Needs Extra Breast Milk
Sometimes there is a reason your baby needs extra breast milk. They may be having trouble latching, tire easily during feeds, or not be gaining enough weight due to being born early or other health issues. You can offer your baby expressed breast milk after they have breastfed. Expressing milk after each feed will also increase your supply.
Expressing Milk When You Have To Be Away From Your Baby
While you are away from your baby, be sure to express milk each time your baby would have fed. Expressing regularly will make you feel comfortable, keep up your milk supply, and prevent problems such as blocked ducts or mastitis. See our other blogs for more information on mastitis and blocked ducts.
Some parents like to store some breast milk as a backup supply. If you want to store some extra breast milk, it may be easiest to express milk when your breasts are fullest, usually in the morning. Your milk supply will adjust and produce the extra milk for you to store.
If you have trouble getting your milk to flow, try pumping one breast while your baby breastfeeds from the other. Massaging the breast and combining hand expression with pumping can also be helpful. You may find that the amount you get depends on the time of day and whether you are tired or stressed. If you want to express more milk, think of ways to help you relax, take a break, and try again.
How To Feed Expressed Breast Milk To Your Baby
First, try to offer your baby your own fresh breast milk, or if not possible, your own breast milk that has been frozen and thawed. It is important to think about how you will feed the expressed breast milk to your baby. Here are some methods used by parents:
- Open cup or spoon.
- Lactation aid using a small tube at the breast.
- Finger feeder with a small tube attached to your clean finger.
Adapted from BestStart.org by Health Nexus.
Looking for a great breast pump to help ease your breastfeeding woes? The Ameda Purely Yours Ultra comes highly recommended!
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