Expressing Breastmilk

As a general rule if babies are given adequate access to the breast and are not separated from their mothers, expressing is not necessary.  However, if you have an unwell/premmie baby, are returning to work, having a few hours apart from your baby or working on increasing supply, knowing how to express your breastmilk for your baby can be a great skill to have.

It’s important to remember that the amount you express is not an accurate reflection of how much milk you have – babies are often far more efficient.

There are two ways to express milk – using a pump or hand expressing.  There are pros and cons for both, but both methods are a learned skill and often get easier with practice.  Having expressed my milk for several months, I have a personal interest in this topic.  With any type of expressing, the key to draining the breast is to stimulate a let-down – this makes the milk flow more freely and is how your baby gets most of their milk.  Information on let-down is HERE.

Hand expressing is free, can be done almost anywhere and requires no power.  It is also much more gentle than some alternatives and is shown to be more effective in the first few days after your baby is born.  The down side is that it is very-much a learned skill and can be quite time-consuming.  This method is great for when your baby is very young or you need some milk to leave with your baby if you’re going out for the evening.

For all pumps, it is important to find one that works for you and is COMFORTABLE.  Most pumps have a flange (the portion that sits on your breast) that comes in a variety of sizes.  Having the correctly fitting flange can make expressing much more effective and comfortable.  Pumps come in three basic varieties.  There are manual pumps, basic electric, double pumps and hospital-grade pumps.

A manual pump uses suction to draw milk from the breast.  This is done using one or both hands.  These pumps are often inexpensive and are best for occasional expressing.  The downside is that it may be difficult to stimulate a let-down with these pumps as it’s a bit of  ‘hard work’.

Basic electric pumps use either an electrical or battery power supply to do the suction for you.  Some of these pumps will allow you to vary the strength of the suction and/or rate at which the suction is done.  These pumps are more expensive and are generally effective for most mums who express semi-regularly, need to express for a day or so or are returning to work one or two days/week.

Double electric pumps are usually high-end (expensive) or bulkier pumps.  The upside is that they can be used over a more extended time and can express both breasts at the same time, saving time.  These pumps are designed to be used for full-time return to work mums or for those mums who are separated from their babies for an extended time.

Hospital-grade electric pumps are often hired on a weekly or monthly basis.  They are designed to be used for mums of premmie babies or those who need a very effective pump.  This pump is what I recommend when a mum needs to rest her breasts for any reason or is working on improving her supply.  Hiring these pumps involves buying a single or double pump set on top of the hire cost.  The Australian Breastfeeding Association hires these pumps and gives a generous discount for members.  Information on ABA pump hire is HERE.  Some chemists also hire these pumps.

No matter why or how you choose to express your milk, your baby will benefit from the amazing ability your milk has to sustain life and nourish your baby.


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