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Once you're ready to start expressing breast milk, it's important to remember that everyone is different, milk supplies vary and what matters most is that you find a way to express milk that works for you and your baby.
The truth is, it might take you a while to get the hang of expressing, and that's OK! Just like your baby, you're new to all this. It does take a little practice but being comfortable can help your milk let down. So, try to relax and take your time.
Once you're into the swing of it, expressing breast milk can help you be more flexible with your baby's feeds, and can also help relieve your boobs and give them a break.
Most health professionals recommend that you focus on establishing your breastfeeding routine first. Make sure that you and your baby are comfortable with breastfeeding before introducing a breast pump.
However, some parents are advised by their midwife or lactation consultant to express in the first few weeks after birth due to breastfeeding difficulties.
If you're very uncomfortable with a full feeling in your breasts in the first few weeks after your baby is born, you may want to relieve engorgement with an occasional expressing session. This should only be a short session though, simply serving to give you relief.
When you're expressing breast milk, start by making sure your breast is fully in the horn of the breast pump. You need to create a seal to get things working efficiently.
If you're using an electric pump, begin slowly and make sure that the pump is in the correct position and feels comfortable.
You should be able to see the breast milk flowing into the attached bottle. If you can't, it's worth trying to adjust the pump to get a better seal on your breast.
While you're expressing, use one hand to massage your breast from the armpits towards the nipple.
Be sure to express until the milk flow stops on each boob. How long this will take can vary for every mom, and even from one day to the next. Don't worry if you only get a little milk though, everyone is different, and it will get easier!
If you're having problems expressing breast milk, you might like to try something called breast compressions while you're expressing. These help to stimulate additional let-downs and thoroughly drain your milk ducts.
After expressing milk from one breast, repeat the cycle on the other.
There are a few steps you should take before expressing breast milk with a pump. All your feeding equipment - including your pump and bottles - need to be prepared and sterilized.
Once you've completed the above steps, the following points can make it easier to express:
Not everyone chooses to use a breast pump to express breast milk for their baby. Expressing by hand means that you can encourage milk to flow from a particular part of your breast and can be helpful if one of your milk ducts is blocked.
To express breast milk by hand:
Once you've completed the cycle on both breasts, remember to store your breast milk in a sterile container.
If your baby was born prematurely, they'll often still be able to take small feeds of breast milk. These first tastes should be given through a syringe and help to coat their mouth with the immune-protecting components of breast milk.
If you need support with expressing milk for your premature baby, speak to your midwife or healthcare professional.
Remember, each time you express, you're tricking your body into thinking that your baby has taken a feed! Even if you express and no milk comes out at all, you're placing the order for milk to be made later.
Breast pumps mimic the action of your little one by suckling around your nipple and areola to bring the milk out. Whether you're using a manual, electric, single, double, or wearable pump, they all work in pretty much the same way to express milk from your breast.
Electric breast pumps will express your milk to a cycle of around 50-90 sucks per minute, just like your baby. If you opt for a manual hand-held pump, the motion of expression will be down to you.
As your milk is expressed, it's collected in the container part of your breast pump and can be transferred to bottles or storage bags to be stored for use later. Just like breastfeeding and getting that perfect latch, it can take time to get comfortable with the action of pumping.
Just try to relax, think of your baby, and take your time - you've got this mama!
While you're breastfeeding or expressing, your boobs will never be fully drained of milk. But you can tell if you're ready to stop expressing by gently shaking your breasts to see if they feel soft and light, rather than hard and heavy.
If your breast milk stops flowing while you're pumping but your boobs still feel full, that let-down session has likely finished, and another will begin again in a few minutes.
You should never use a breast pump during pregnancy, and always discuss hand expression during pregnancy with your midwife or health care provider first. They can help you decide if it's right for you and your baby, and help you get started safely.