There are dozens of reasons why women choose to express their breast milk: whether you’re returning to work, expressing for a premature baby who can’t yet latch, alleviating the pain of uncomfortable full breasts, or just for the reassurance of having milk in the freezer–expressing can be a lifesaver.
Of course not every woman will express or want to pump–and that’s okay too! Every breastfeeding experience is unique, and each mama will make the best decision for herself and her baby.
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… just like breastfeeding itself, it comes with its own difficulties.
If you’ve struggled with breastfeeding or expressing milk effectively, lactation consultants can be incredibly helpful. But if you’re just getting started, read on for our top 5 tips to help you express milk comfortably, safely, and with as little stress as possible.
1. You Have Options
You don’t need to go straight for a pump–you can express by hand, too. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it: every mama has their own techniques and preferences, and whichever route you choose is up to you.
If your breasts are quite tender or you find yourself stressing over the proper technique, you may find it easier to start with a pump. 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”
Want to try expressing by hand, but not sure how to start? Give it a try:
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 don’t be disappointed if it’s slow going at first. 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
You may be asking: what is the let-down reflex? 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.
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 their baby blanket, or hearing their 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
And… relax. Deep breathing can help you relax and come into a peaceful mind/body state, 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.
Bonus Tip: Try our free guided breathing exercises in the Baby2Body App–you can customize the length to just 1 minute, so they’re perfect for when you need to relax in a rush.
5. Remember Storage Basics
Freshly expressed milk can keep for up to 6 hours without refrigeration, and it can be stored for 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!
Want to win an Elvie Portable Pump?
We’re giving away one of Elvie’s silent, portable pumps (a £249 value). It’s perfect for busy mamas, and the wireless design means you can pump while you’re on a conference call, playing with your kids, cooking dinner, or enjoying some quiet time to yourself.