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Expressing breastmilk

Advice on the benefits of expressing breast milk, including information on expressing by hand and using breast pumps.
Expressing allows you to continue to provide your baby with the nutritional benefits of breast milk when you are unable to breastfeed directly. It can be used to relieve engorged breasts, to provide your partner with the bonding opportunity of feeding your baby, to stimulate milk production and for storage if you are going out or returning to work.

Expressing involves the release of milk from your breasts, either by hand or using a pump, and storing it in a sterile container for your baby to feed on at a later date. It takes approximately three weeks for a breastfeeding routine to become established so you should wait until after this time before you start to express milk.

Some believe that feeding a young baby with a bottle can hinder direct breastfeeding as baby may prefer the faster flow of milk provided by a bottle. If you are concerned about this you should talk to your healthcare professional, however you may choose to feed your baby using a spoon or through a plastic beaker (this is only suitable for infants over the age of 4 months) as an alternative.

Expressing can take some practice, so don't be put off if things don't go to plan right away. Before you begin you should wash your hands thoroughly, ensure all equipment is sterile, go somewhere you are unlikely to be disturbed and try and relax. Although it differs between individuals, many find that the best time to express is in the morning when milk production is at its highest. However, after, or when you are practiced, during a feed can also be a good time to express as your let-down reflex (the reflex that encourages milk to flow towards the milk ducts and nipple) will already be stimulated.

Expressing by hand

The only pieces of equipment you will need to express by hand are a sterile container and a warm towel, this makes it the most economical and flexible option, especially if you don't intend on expressing milk regularly. You should warm the breasts using heated towels or by taking a shower or bath and then massage the breasts in a downwards motion towards the nipples for several minutes before you begin.

To stimulate milk production you need to compress the milk ducts surrounding the nipple rather than the nipple itself. Place your thumb and index finger on either side of your areola (you will feel small lumps under the skin, these are the milk ducts) and compress your breast back towards your chest whilst squeezing your fingers together gently. If your hands are placed correctly a stream of milk should be produced. Release the pressure and rhythmically repeat, working your fingers around the whole of your nipple area so as to release milk from all of the ducts. Once milk production has ceased on one breast you should repeat the process on the other.

You shouldn't find the process of expressing milk painful, if you do experience some discomfort you should try moving your fingers upwards away from your nipple slightly. Additionally, if you find it difficult to stimulate the release of milk it may help to think about, or look at a picture of your baby.

Expressing by hand can take some practice and may be a bit messy to begin with, however once you get the hang of it it will provide a quick and flexible way of providing extra milk for your baby.

Expressing by pump

Breast pumps are designed to extract milk from the breast by creating a vacuum using a funnel placed over the nipple area and storing milk in an attached bottle. Hand, battery and electric varieties are all available.

Pumps can provide a quicker, simpler way to express milk (especially if you are not experienced at expressing by hand) and most pumps have the flexibility to adjust the sucking strength to one that is comfortable for you.

It is essential that each componenet of a breast pump is steralised regularly either by boiling or using a chemical or steam steraliser. Additionally, you should make sure that the funnel fits over the nipple properly and doesn't feel uncomfortable in any way.

If you find expressing milk difficult at first you should ask for help from your healthcare professional and pursue as the health benefits of breastilk for your baby are extensive. Once breast milks has been expressed it can be used straight away, stored in the back of the fridge for up to 48 hours or frozen for later use.

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i am also confused if i can express for the baby as soon as he/she is born, cos i read also that you are supposed to breastfeed for a few weeks before i can start expressing, i wanted to bottle feed the baby breastmilk from birth too x
by christinejanine 12th Aug 2010, 10:36am
does anybody know if i can express and store my milk before baby is here? if no when would be the reccoened time to strt expressing.
by jo3gg86 14th May 2010, 3:53pm
Im 18 and my baby is 14 weeks prem he is 2 weeks old know but i have noiticed that when i am expressing i am not getting alot out im getting around 10ml and that every 4 hours, should this be happening.
by Jessica2010 5th Jan 2010, 3:53pm
how do I go about expressing milk - once I feed on the left should I express the right then feed my baby on the right later? Any ideas on how to get started??
by trubie 28th Jul 2009, 12:59pm
I am currently breastfeeding but am dfinding it difficult through the night as i almost always start nodding off to sleep and am worried as i dont want my son to get hurt. I would like to express my milk but not sure how much to express, i know he has between 4 and 6 feeds a through the night but am not sure how much milk he will need per feed. Plz help as it is really worrying me.
by amandaandpeter 24th Jun 2009, 9:49am
I am having to express milk for my baby as she was born 10 weeks premature and is in the special care unit, my baby is 2 weeks old now and i have noticed that my milk supply is running slightly lower than usual, does anyone know how i can fix this?
by HazelT 31st Mar 2009, 10:35am
I want to share how I breastfed my little boy as it has worked so well and want others to share my experiences although I know that I have been very lucky. Within minutes of our baby boy being born, he was suckling away on my breast and we had skin-to-skin contact on the ward during the first 36 hours. He was calm and happy as a result. I put Lansinoh (lanolin) on my nipples BEFORE the very first feed and applied it constantly, before and after feeds, even in the mddle of the night and especially after baths and showers for the first 12 weeks at least and avoided any cracking or pain. (Did get mastitis as I had too much milk!) I never let my nipples dry in the open air and changed my pads pretty regularly. He didn't always latch on properly so I used my finger as they suggest to ease him off and re-latch him when this happened. He is still being breastfed and I thoroughly love the time together. I express each evening around 9:30, which is a few hours after he has gone to bed, and use this milk during the day to top him up when my milk seems not enough or his dad uses it to feed him when convenient! He took to the bottle straight away at around 14 weeks for his night feed. All I can say is good luck to all you who are going through the early stages and buy that lanolin!!!!
by mumofjohn 11th Mar 2009, 9:17am
can you mix breast milk that has been expressed from an earlier time
by taniia 17th Feb 2009, 9:45am
Can you mix breastmilk that has been expressed at different times of the same day? I express milk in the morning and i get out about 120ml but my baby only drinks between 80 and 100ml. but by thetime i need to express in the afternoon i dont have enough to give my baby a full feed. I've gotten tabs from the doc to make my milk more but i just like to know if its safe to mix the milk?
by MelissaEthan 26th Jan 2009, 9:41am
I am wanting to express my breastmilk, so that the baby is still getting all of the goodness but I can monitor how much he/she is taking. I don't understand why I can't express immediately and why I should breastfeed for 3 weeks first. Surely it is the same as people who choose to put their babies straight on to formula. Can anyone help??!
by katiekatiejohnson 12th Jan 2009, 10:36am
how do I go about expressing milk - once I feed on the left should I express the right then feed my baby on the right later? Any ideas on how to get started??
by TeresaConti 8th Dec 2008, 8:34am
i am fully breastfeeding my gorg little man n am so proud that hes been gaining roughly 2oz a day since he was born. However im having a little bit of a problem with expressing, i can do it with a manual pump but it seems to mess up his next feed and im unsure which breast to feed him from once iv expressed?!? Can anyone help? ive tried looking on different websites but cant seem to find anything!!
by xxxlegzxxx 24th Nov 2008, 9:37am
Expressing and working can work - but the downside is you have to express roughly the same as the amount of feeds a baby has - so normally 4 or 5 times a day. THis means before and after work and lunchtimes are dedicated to the pump. i did it for 2 months when i went back to work at 4 months and was worth it to get her to 6 months without formula.
by JulesHawk 10th Nov 2008, 9:50am
Very few women have problems with having enough milk for their baby, although many say they didn't have enough. As long as you get skin-to-skin contact with you baby straight after birth (or as soon as possible) and feed or express if there's a reason you can't feed as soon as you can and continue to feed on demand with no supplements of water, formula or dummies then you will have enough milk for your baby. It is one of the most common worries for women. Get good support in hospital and maybe at local breastfeeding group or from your HV/NCT and you'll continue to make enough milk to return to Uni.
by JOJACK 22nd Aug 2008, 10:33am
I am expecting and planning to breast feed hopefully. However i am studying a degree at the moment and so my child would have to be with a baby sitter from around 3 months. I was thinking that i could express milk and was wondering if i would have enough milk and how much i would need to express for one day. Thank you
by elefantebianco 21st Jan 2008, 3:24pm