There are 101 reasons why women choose to express their breast milk; whether it’s taking the plunge to return to work and needing to leave milk for baby, expressing for premature babies who can’t yet latch, alleviating the pain of uncomfortable full breasts, or just for the reassurance of having milk in the freezer – sometimes you’ve just got to do it.
Of course not every woman will express or want to pump – and that’s OK too!
If you are currently expressing milk or planning on pumping at some point, the last thing you need is for it to be a challenge. We wish we could tell you that it will all be smooth sailing, but we’ll be honest, it can come with it’s difficulties.
If you’ve struggled with breastfeeding or expressing milk effectively, lactation consultants can be incredibly helpful. But if you’re just getting started, or are planning ahead, we’ve got our top 5 tips to help you express milk comfortably, safely, and with as little stress as possible.
1) Know that you have options! For starters, did you know you can express milk by hand or with a pump? Pretty neat huh? Well, you’ll also be thrilled to know that there’s no right or wrong way to go about it – every mom has their own technique and preferences, and whichever route you choose is up to you and you alone. That’s right, you have all the power mama!
If your breasts are quite tender already or you find yourself stressing over the proper technique, you might find it easier to start with a pump. It’s less personal and there will be days when you won’t be able to fool your body into thinking the pump is your baby – which can lead to reduced expression – but it will most definitely help to reduce discomfort. With hundreds of brands, styles and price points available on the market, you’ll be able to find the right one for you. Just remember to always sterilize all products before expressing to prevent any bacteria transferring to the milk.
2) Mastering the letter ‘C’. Let’s go back to the topic of expressing milk by hand. It might be tough at first but we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves to help a gal out. Start by cupping your breasts and feel back to the end of the nipple where the texture is slightly different. From there use your thumb and the rest of your fingers in a C shape to gently squeeze. This helps minimize any pain but for extra comfort avoid pulling on the skin.
On average it takes women about 2 weeks to get into the swing of things – so keep up the practice and the patience! You’ve got this. If the flow of milk starts to really slow down, try repositioning your fingers over a different part of your breast. Expressing is a huge learning curve, but your body is made to adapt and will get used to it.
3) Triggering the let-down reflex. First let’s discuss what the let-down reflex is, because it’s definitely not about being let down by the whole experience. It’s when your flow of breast milk naturally increases, which usually occurs after 2-minutes of baby nursing. Some women feel it as a warm tingling sensation of increased milk flow, and others don’t notice a difference at all. But there is a change and there are a few things you can do to trigger it!
You may have heard of pregnant women and new moms lactating when they hear a baby cry – and that definitely can happen! It’s the let-down reflex at work. Some other things that can help are looking at your baby while expressing, smelling his or her baby blanket, or hearing his or her cooing voice. If you have to express away from your baby looking at a picture or listening to a recording of your little one can still do the trick!
Bonus tip: Your body temperature can also affect expressing success, and you may find a warm compress on your chest helps to get things going. It can also help calm you down, which leads us to our next tip…
4) Practice deep breathing. Deep breathing can also help you relax and come into a peaceful state of mind and body – which is incredibly helpful when trying express. Many women find it useful to meditate before or during their expressing sessions.
This tip is also applicable when advice starts coming at you from everyone and their mother. You’re probably used to the barrage of advice and people offering their two cents on what they think you should be doing, as it probably started during your pregnancy. While 99 times out of 100 it comes from a heartfelt and caring place, it can wear you down and lead to self-doubt and reduced confidence. What might work for someone else may not work for you and vice versa, and that’s A-OK! If outside suggestions do start raining down on you, take some deep breaths and trust that you know what’s best for you and your baby.
5) Remembering the storage basics. If your breast milk is freshly expressed it can keep for up to 6 hours without refrigeration, but otherwise you can store expressed milk for up to 5 days at 4°C (39˚ F) or lower. Expressed milk can also be stored for 2 weeks in the ice compartment of a fridge or up to 6 months in a freezer. Once milk has been thawed, you’ll want to either use it or toss it, as refreezing is not recommended.
Bonus tip: When placing your milk in the fridge, put it all the way in the back. The warmest part of the fridge is the door, so that’s the key area to avoid, as it can encourage bacteria to grow, which you definitely don’t want!
Whether you express milk by hand or pump, keep reminding yourself to take daily breathers, keep cheering yourself on, and enjoy the journey. If you’re having difficulty expressing or breastfeeding, are not able to do so, or choose that it’s not right for you – then that is perfectly fine and you should still enjoy the journey, because it’s a beautiful one either way!
If you’re eager for more info on the benefits of breast milk and how it all works, discover the 7 wonders of breast milk here.