Expressing Breast Milk – A Comprehensive Guide
Expressing breast milk is simply extracting milk from your breast without the baby latching on. There are a number of very good reasons to express. These include:
- Allowing Dad time to bond with Baby by bottle feeding (while still offering all the benefits of breast milk).
- Keeping your supply of milk regular when you’re away from Baby (back at work or off for the evening).
- Allowing you to have time away from your baby.
- Still giving Baby the benefits of breast milk if he or she is having difficulty latching on to the nipple.
- Releasing pressure when your breasts are too full and become uncomfortable.
How to Start Expressing Breast Milk
When you first start expressing it can be difficult or uncomfortable but it’s worth persevering. There are three ways you can express breast milk:
- Hand expressing breast milk.
- Expressing with an electric breast pump.
- Expressing with a manual breast pump.
If you’re using a pump (manual or electric), the instructions should be fairly self-explanatory. Make sure you’re comfortable, sit upright, and be patient with the process – it’s all new to you.
Here are a few tips for expressing breast milk by hand:
- Get ready: you’ll need a bottle or jar to express into, and you might want a pillow to prop behind your back and a towel to put across your lap (just until you get your aim right!)
- Find a comfortable place to express and make sure you’ve got some time up your sleeve – it’s not a quick process!
- When manually expressing breast milk, the key is to stimulate the gland behind your nipple, rather than to try and squeeze the milk right out of the nipple. A good technique is to place your pointing finger on the underside of the nipple and your thumb just above it. Then stroke firmly down towards the nipple with your thumb and the milk should start to flow.
- If you’re finding it difficult or excessively painful to express (or to breastfeed), consider making an appointment with a lactation consultant. They’ll be able to give you advice on effective technique and to diagnose whether there’s a complication with your lactation.
When to Start Expressing Breast Milk
There’s no perfect time to start expressing breast milk. Many mothers prefer to wait until Baby has been feeding for around four weeks. This way, your milk supply will have adjusted to the amount your baby is feeding. To avoid creating an oversupply, you should express only as much as you need and no more than once a day. Otherwise, your body will think you need more milk than you do and start making it, leading to overfull and uncomfortable breasts, or a flow that’s too strong for your baby. Talk to your midwife or lactation consultant about the best time to start expressing for you.
How to Store Breast Milk After Expressing
Expressing and storing breast milk can be a real life saver when you’re back at work or you just need a good night’s sleep (Daddy’s turn!). Here are a few tips to make sure you store your expressed milk safely:
- All bottles and jars should be sealed securely and airtight.
- Fresh breastmilk will last in the fridge for up to five days.
- It can also be frozen and will last for up to six months in the freezer.
- To thaw breast milk safely, you can either run it under warm (not hot) water or defrost overnight in the fridge.
- Thawed milk should be used immediately.
- If you’re expressing at work and bringing milk home, invest in a cool box to transport it.
Be Patient: The First Time Expressing Breast Milk is Not Easy
It often takes some time to get your milk to flow and it can seem like a lot of hard work for just a few drops of milk. Be patient and don’t be too hard on yourself (expressing should never leave you with bruises around your nipples!). You and your body will slowly adjust to the level of milk production you need and you’ll find the best way to stimulate your milk flow.
Take it slowly and ask for support and advice if you need it. If you have a question about expressing breast milk which we haven’t answered, please feel free to send us a private message through our contact us page.
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