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Expressing Breast Milk: Tips for Success

5 Tips for Expressing Breast Milk

Expressing breast milk is a great way to let your partner, or other caregiver, enjoy the feeding experience. Follow these tips to start expressing today.

What is expressing, and how could it benefit you and your baby?

Nursing is healthy and wonderful, but there may be times that warrant expressing your milk. What does that mean exactly? Expressing breast milk is when you remove milk from your breast using your hands or a breast pump. You can then serve the liquid gold in a bottle to your baby right away or store it for later.

Expressing milk has several benefits. It can...

  • Help maintain or increase your milk supply
  • Give your partner or other caregivers opportunities to feed your baby
  • Allow your little one to continue receiving your nutrient-rich breast milk if you're going back to work, traveling, are unable to breastfeed, or just want a break from nursing
  • Help relieve engorged breasts
  • Provide your baby with extra breast milk following nursing
  • Supply your baby with breast milk if they’re unable to breastfeed

Expressing milk is especially handy if you're planning on pumping at work…or want to plan a girls’ night out. The process isn't difficult, as long as you have the equipment that suits you. These tips can help!

How to express by hand

It’s helpful for all moms to know how to hand express. Also known as manual expression, this is a convenient technique for removing milk from your breasts if they’re feeling too full, if you’re away from your baby for longer than planned, or if you don’t have access to a breast pump. Have a low milk supply? Hand expression is also a simple way to encourage your body to produce more milk.1 

Hand expression is easy, but there may be a learning curve before you’re completely comfortable with it. Don’t worry, you’ll get it. Practice makes perfect.

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Gently massage your breasts with your hands and fingertips.2 
  3. Try to relax. To help stimulate the let-down reflex, hold your baby or look at a photo of your baby. 
  4. Hold your breast in one hand and press down toward your chest wall with the other.
  5. Compress your breast between your fingers and thumb and move them toward your nipple without lifting them.
  6. Keeping one hand on the breast, move your fingers to a different area on the breast after every few compressions.  

How to express by breast pump

If you’re returning to work or going to be away from your baby for long stretches of time, a breast pump can be your best friend. 

  1. Find a good-quality breast milk pump (many hospitals rent them at reasonable rates). 
  2. Try pumping one breast for 5 to 8 minutes, then switch to the other side and repeat. 
  3. Finally, go back to the first breast for 3 to 5 minutes, and repeat on the other side. 
  4. Repeat the sequence a third time, for 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Choosing a breast pump

When it comes to breast pumps, you have plenty of choices. And while having breast pump options is great, it can be a little overwhelming trying to decipher all the benefits and bells and whistles of each. To help you narrow down your selection, we’ve broken down some of the pros and cons of the different types of breast pumps on the market. 

Electric pump

  • Best if you pump often or for a long time
  • Bonus: You can pump both breasts at the same time
  • More expensive, but you can rent (from hospitals, lactation consultants, etc.)
  • Some insurance plans pay for pump rentals

Battery-operated pump

  • Best once your milk supply is established
  • Can use with one hand
  • Lightweight
  • Batteries need to be replaced often

Hand-operated pump

  • Best for occasional use once your milk supply is established
  • Can use with one hand or two, depending on the type of hand pump
  • Easy to carry

How expressing breast milk can help increase your milk supply.

Occasionally moms may experience a decreased or low milk supply. Some possible contributing factors include:3

  • Not breastfeeding often enough
  • Supplementing with formula
  • Improper latching
  • Certain medications

How does expressing fit in? Expressing milk by hand or pump is a key method for increasing milk supply. Full breasts tell the body to slow down milk production; it assumes you have an adequate milk supply and don’t need more. When you pump or express milk, you’re removing more milk from the breasts, giving your body the green light that it’s time to fill up. 

How to increase milk supply when pumping or expressing

Ready to pump up your breast milk production? Get started with these tips.

  • Pump or express more often. The more you milk express, the more you’ll produce. Try an extra session a day.
  • When you are away from your baby, pump as often as your baby typically drinks breast milk.4 
  • Pump or express after nursing. Pumping or hand expressing after a nursing session can help ensure that your breasts are as empty as possible.  
  • Pump both breasts at once. 
  • Power pump. Power pumping resembles cluster feeding, when a baby nurses every 30 minutes to an hour, usually during the evening.5 These shorter spurts may help trigger milk production. 

Consider complementing your breast milk expression with a lactation supplement. Also known as galactagogues, these are herbs and teas that have been used historically to increase milk production. Popular lactation supplements such as fenugreek, milk thistle, and fennel may be found in your local health food stores, but check with your doctor before taking them to make sure they’re right for you. 

Storing breast milk

Now that you’ve expressed all that liquid gold, you’ll want to store it safely.

  • Ensure the breast milk is clean.
  • Store milk in breast milk storage bags or glass or BPA-free plastic containers with tight-fitting lids.6 
  • Aim for 2-4 fluid ounces per container.
  • Date containers (use the oldest first).
  • If pumping and storing breast milk is difficult, consider supplementing.
  • Breast milk can be refrigerated for up to four days.7 If you are not planning to use it within that time, freeze it after pumping. 

Freezing breast milk

  • Frozen breast milk is best used within six months, but up to 12 months is acceptable.8 
  • Store in the back of the freezer to reduce the chance of thawing.

Thawing breast milk

  • Set the container in a bowl of warm water or hold it under warm running water.
  • Never microwave breast milk. High heat can burn your baby and kill the protective cells in breast milk.
  • Never refreeze milk after it has been thawed.9 

From enabling others to join in the feeding fun to supporting increased milk production, expressing breast milk has many benefits. It can help ensure that your precious little one continues to get the important nutrition they need while adding some more convenience to your routine. 

All information on Enfamil.com, including but not limited to information about health, medical conditions, and nutrition, is intended for your general knowledge. It is not a substitute for a healthcare professional's medical identification, advice, or management for specific medical conditions. You should seek medical care and consult your doctor, OB-GYN, or pediatrician for any specific health or nutrition issues. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read on Enfamil.com.

References:

  1. Pumping Breast Milk
  2. How to Hand Express Your Breast Milk
  3. What causes a low milk supply during breast-feeding?
  4. Pumping Breast Milk
  5. Cluster Feeding and Growth Spurts
  6. Proper Storage and Preparation of Breast Milk
  7. Pumping and storing breastmilk
  8. Proper Storage and Preparation of Breast Milk
  9. Pumping, Storing, and Thawing Breast Milk