Breast milk is one of the most precious gifts you can give your baby. While it is possible to fully breastfeed your baby for many months, expressing can help you enjoy a little more freedom. In fact, expressing breast milk ensures your baby always gets the very best in nutritional feeding while giving you more flexibility. You may be going back to work, your partner might like to be more involved in feeding your little one, or you may just want to treat yourself to a long overdue rest – or night out.
Here are some of the benefits of expressing
Premature babies – If your baby is too small (premature) or too unwell to take the breast directly, expressing your colostrum or breast milk means your baby can still benefit from essential nutrients.
Difficulty latching on – If your newborn is failing to latch on, expressing can help encourage your milk to ‘come in’ and reduce the need to rely on formula milk. Ask your midwife for extra help if you are having difficulty getting your baby to take the breast.
Using a pump – When your milk comes in, there may be times when your breasts feel full and uncomfortable, but your baby isn’t ready to feed yet. That’s when using a pump can give you some relief. Later, once you’re up and running with breastfeeding, expressing can help to build your milk supply, along with your baby suckling. You’ll then have a store of milk handy for when you need it.
Expressing breast milk is really easy with practice, although it’s best to wait four to six weeks after the birth to let breastfeeding become established before you start – unless a healthcare professional recommends otherwise.
The quickest and easiest way to express milk is with either an electronic or manual breast pump. Deciding which breast pump is best for you depends on how often you plan on expressing and how much time you have to spare. Manual pumps take about 15 to 45 minutes to pump enough milk from the breasts, depending on individual flow rates.
However, once you get used to your breast pump you’ll be able to express quickly and easily. It may seem strange at first, but it’s worth sticking at it.
Here are some tips to remember
Expressing for the first time. When you start to express, give yourself time and privacy and try to relax. Gently massage your breasts for a few minutes before you begin to get them ready. Warm wet flannels on your breasts will help even more at first. Having your baby nearby, or a photo, piece of clothing etc, can often help your milk to flow.
Sterilising. You’ll need to sterilise your pump before you start. If you’re planning on giving this milk to your baby later, store it in a sterile container, clearly labelled with the date and amount. You can store expressed breast milk in the back of the fridge for up to 24 hours, or the freezer for 3 months.
When to express. Lots of mums express once every morning after feeding their baby, to build up a store of milk to use when they wish.
Defrosting breast milk. To defrost breast milk for use later the same day (and always within 12 hours), sit the container in the refrigerator and allow it to defrost slowly. For use straight away, stand the container in warm water. Or you can simply use a bottle and baby food warmer. You should use warmed milk within an hour or thrown away. Never be tempted to keep it for a later feed.
If you are fully breastfeeding, but know you may want your baby to take a bottle at some point in the first six months, try to introduce a regular bottle of expressed milk by about eight weeks, just a few times a week. And remember to enjoy every moment!