Expressing Breast Milk
Expressing breast milk refers to getting milk from your breast in any other way than by your baby suckling. There are various reasons why women express their milk rather than nursing their babies directly. Some babies have difficulties latching on, so by expressing and feeding their babies from a cup or a bottle, mothers are able to give their babies breast milk. Breastfeeding can take time to get the hang of, and neither mothers or babies automatically know how to do it, so for mothers who are experiencing difficulties nursing, expressing their milk is a way of still being able to feed their babies breast milk. It's also a way of being able to give your baby breast milk if they are going to be looked after by someone else. Women also do it if their breasts get engorged with milk. Engorgement makes nursing more difficult, as well as causing pain and discomfort to the mother.
How To Do It
You can express milk either by hand or by using a breast pump. Whichever method you choose, try the following ways to encourage your milk to flow before you start expressing:
- Hold your baby if you can, or have your baby near you. If that's not an option, look at a photo of him.
- Choose a time when you are relaxed to express your milk. Sit somewhere quiet and take your time. If you feel most relaxed while watching TV, or reading a book, do it then.
- To encourage the 'let down' reflex, put a warm flannel on your breasts. A warm shower or bath also helps encourage milk flow.
- Before you express milk, spend a few minutes gently massaging your breasts. Use your your fingertips to stroke over your breasts, towards your nipple to stimulate milk flow.
After massaging your breasts to stimulate the milk, put your hands under your breasts, with the thumbs pointing upwards. Push your fingers in towards your ribcage, and move them around to locate your milk ducts. Apply pressure to encourage the milk to come out. There are many milk ducts in the breast, so move your fingers all around your breast to make sure you get milk from the whole of the breast. When the milk flow starts to slow down, move to the other breast. Keep moving from breast to breast until the milk flow stops.
It can be tricky to get the hang of hand expressing at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will become and as your body gets used to expressing, it will produce more milk.
Using a Pump
Pumps, which are either handheld or electrical, are a quicker way to express than hand expressing milk. Many hand held pumps can be used with one hand, and work by drawing the milk out by suction, which is collected in a bottle attached to the pump. Electrical pumps are either battery or mains operated, and are the quickest way to express. These are a great option for women who plan to express often, for example, if they have a baby with feeding difficulties, or are going back to work, as they are less tiring to use than hand expressing or hand held pumps. All parts of a breast pump must be sterilised thoroughly before each use.
Breast milk should be stored in a sterilised container in the fridge. If your fridge is 4 degrees or cooler, it will keep for 5 days, but if your fridge is warmer than 4 degrees, use it within 3 days. Breast milk can be kept in the freezer for 6 months at -18 degrees or colder.