Breast milk can be expressed either by hand or pump. In either case you must have a let-down reflex in order to get the milk out of your breast. Manual expression is easier to learn if someone, like a lactation specialist, can demonstrate how to for you, rather than just reading about it. Manual expression can be very quick and effective once it is learned, but it requires practice. In this article, The How To Of Breast Pumping, will go over how to express milk, how to choose a quality pump, how to store and serve expressed breastmilk to your baby.
I personally was an “exclusively pumping” breastfeeding mom for the first 6 months of my sons life. The reason why my son would not breastfeed the natural way was because he was born via cesarean so I didn’t get my milk in right away. He also had some complications and had to stay in the NICU for almost 2 months. On occasion the nurses would offer him formula while I would attempt to breastfeed him. But my son got “nipple confusion” and would refuse to latch on and as you might imagine, it became very upsetting and stressful. Eventually he refused to breastfeed flat out. Everytime I put him to my breast he would shake his little head back and forth avoiding my nipple. For a little while I took it personal, thinking that my son was weirded out by me ( how silly to think such a thing right? ) but thankfully, my NICU doctor told me it had nothing to do with me but the circumstances of how we weren’t able to nurse right after birth, and of course his nipple confusion.
I could have chosen to give up and feed my son only formula but I know that breastfeeding has so many benefits. I chose to pump my breasts every 3 hours ( every 24 hours ) for 6 whole months until my doctor told me that it was okay for me to stop. It was A LOT OF WORK. But let me tell you, how empowered I felt knowing that even though I couldn’t breastfeed my son the way most mothers do, I was able to give him breastmilk for the first 6 months of his life.
In the beginning, if you are planning to express your breastmilk, know that breast pumps are much easier to use than learning to do hand expression. The quality of breast pumps varies widely. If you are going to invest in a breast pump, make sure not to penny pinch or try to get a “good deal” on a 2nd hand one. Take it from me; it is much better to buy a brand new good quality breast pump. A low-quality breast pump will not effectively remove milk, resulting in engorgement, frustration and a gradually lower milk supply over time. Low-quality breast pumps can also irritate the nipples and be very painful to use.
If you want to express manually, first wash your hands and use a clean container to collect the milk. Place your thumb on your breast, above the areola, and your fingers underneath. Gently but firmly roll the thumb and fingers towards each other while compressing the breast and pushing toward the chest wall. Do not slide your fingers toward the nipple as this can cause soreness. Transfer the milk into a clean bottle, plastic container or specialty made plastic bag for storage in the freezer. If your baby is in the NICU for some time, like mine was, you may loan a hospital grade breast pump. Once have pumped your breasts a few times you will get the hang out it. If you have invested in a good quality “hands free pumping bra” you will be able to pump your breasts while doing tasks around the house, change / play with baby, work on your laptop, or watch TV.
While hand pumps are available, good-quality electric pumps are the best option and can stimulate the breast much more effectively than manual expression. These pumps have regulated pressures and are self-cycling for the most efficient milk removal. They are primarily used to induce or maintain lactation when a mom is unable to feed her baby directly for several days or more, like when mom returns to work or school. Electric pumps are efficient but can be expensive, ranging in price from $150 to $300 and up. If your baby is in the NICU or you want to return to work shortly after your baby is born and you want to continue breastfeeding, then getting a breast pump is essential.
When shopping for an electric breast pump, make sure it creates a steady milking action with variable pressure, and is not only a suction device. You should also consider getting a pump that expresses both of your breasts at the same time; a pump like such will save you a lot of time and increase your milk volume. Make sure that all parts of the pump which come into contact with the skin or milk can be removed for proper cleaning. You don’t need to sterilize the pump pieces or containers for a healthy baby; you can simply wash them well with hot soapy water or put them in the dishwasher. And you only need to wash your breast pump pieces once a day. To save time, in between pump sessions, you can put your pump parts inside a gallon-size Ziploc bag in the fridge so that you do not have to wash them in between every use. And remember to wash your hands whenever you use your pump.
As with breastmilk that is expressed manually by hand, milk that is pumped should be stored in a clean container, preferably glass or special plastic bags. Baby bottle insert bags are not strong enough or thick enough to protect breastmilk from contamination. If you plan on giving this milk to your baby within seventy-two hours, it should be sealed and cooled immediately. If the refrigerated milk doesn’t get used within 72 hours, it should be thrown out. It may be frozen after up to 24 hours of being in the fridge.
If you already know in advance that you won’t be using the milk within four days, then you should freeze it asap. Breastmilk will keep safely in the freezer for at least a month. Store it in the back of your freezer. If you have a separate deep freezer, it can be kept there for about three to six months. Because the fats in breastmilk begin to break down over time, you should use the frozen milk asap!)
If you pump your breasts and intend on giving your breastmilk to your baby within a few hours, you can keep it out at room temperature for up to 6 hours. If its usually hot or warm, then no more than 4 hours.
It’s a good idea to place a label with the date that you expressed the milk on each container so you can use the oldest milk first, obviously. It’s also a good idea to freeze milk in quantities of about 4 ounces (120ml) – which is the amount of a single feeding. You can also freeze some 1 or 2 ounce portions ( 30-60ml ) which will come in handy if your baby wants a little more after any feeding.
When is time to use this stored milk, remember that your baby is used to breastmilk at body temperature, so naturally the baby might prefer that the milk be heated to at least room temperature for feeding. Frozen milk can be thawed in the fridge, or you can put the container in running hot water, or placed in a bowl of hot water.
Do not heat breastmilk, formula, or bottles in a microwave. Microwaving overheats the milk in the center of the bottle. Even if the bottle feels comfortably warm in your hand, the superheated milk in the center can burn your baby’s mouth. The bottle can also explode if left in the microwave for too long. But the most important reason why you shouldn’t microwave breastmilk is that the heat can destroy some of the nutritious, protective properties of breastmilk.
Incidentally, once breastmilk is thawed, its fat might separate, but that doesn’t affect its quality. You can swirl the container around gently until the milk returns to a uniform consistency. Thawed milk should always be used within 24 hours. Do not refreeze it. And never save unfinished milk from a partially consumed bottle to use for another feeding.
Not all breastfed babies react to a bottle the same way. Some will accept it easily, regardless of when it is first introduced. Others are willing to take an occasional bottle, but they won’t accept a bottle from mommy or whenever mommy is in the house or nearby.
You can increase the chances of your baby accepting a bottle for the first few times if someone other than mom offers it, and that she is out of sight at the time. Once your baby is familiar with the bottle, he might be willing to take it in his mothers presence, possibly even from mommy herself. If your breastfed baby refuses a bottle, try using a sippie cup instead. Even premature newborns are able to drink from a sippie cup. Some breastfed babies go from breast to cup without ever using a bottle.
As an “Exclusive Pumper” I knew that I was really dedicated to giving my son breastmilk for as long as I could. Breastfeeding naturally became a challenge and came to a point when my son was about 2 1/2 months old and flat out refused my breast. Without my son to stimulate milk production, I had to keep my milk supply up by eating lots of lactation cookies, teas, water, and every 3 hours on the dot I was pumping away. I knew that if I missed a session, or if I didn’t take every measure to maintain my supply, it would go away. It becomes very hard to maintain a steady supply ( enough to keep your baby happy and full ) when your baby isn’t actually at your breast and you rely only on a machine. It was very time-consuming and sometimes my son would be too impatient to wait for his milk to be pumped, so I would have to supplement him with regular formula and to me, that was OKAY… I would save that breastmilk for later and he would always get it eventually.
I feel very proud of myself for accomplishing 6 months of exclusive pumping. This may not be your situation. You may be breastfeeding your baby just fine but you plan on going back to work or school so you will need to pump. Make sure that whenever you come home you put your expressed breastmilk away for the next day while you are gone and put your baby on your breast first and throughout the evening. Make sure that your baby is stimulating your breasts which makes that hormone prolactin pump from your brain into your breasts. If you do this, pumping will not be such a challenge as it was with me because you will have steady milk flow.
I wish you lots of luck in case you are going at it full throttle like me, because your baby refuses your breast. Do NOT feel bad! Feel proud that you want to give your baby the absolute best and won’t stop at nothing to make sure that happens. You might be a little more challenged in keeping your supply up. I suggest eating lots of Oatmeal, drink lots of water and Omega 3s and Almond Milk also increases breast milk production.
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