It’s easy to think that every mom knows how to express milk. After all, it must come with the whole motherhood instinct thing, knowing just how to relieve that engorged breast or to save that milk for later. However, many new moms find it a really daunting thing. Indeed, the whole affair can be really complicated.
Fortunately, generations and generations past have plenty of experience with expressing milk. So there’s quite a repository of information for moms who are willing to learn. Of course, aside from the tried and tested tricks from seasoned moms, there are also ones that the medical community has urged us to practice to ensure that the entire milk expression affair is safe for both mom and baby.
The important thing to remember is that sometimes it takes a lot of practice. There may be a bit of frustration here and there, but have faith that with persistence, it can be done properly. Many moms find that once they’ve grasped onto that “Eureka!” moment, they’re able to express their milk almost intuitively.
One thing that might help is to ensure comfort and privacy when milk is being expressed. After all, the body can “hold it in” if it’s ill at ease or feels like it’s being watched. Looking for a safe and private space might be the key to get things going.
And when it comes to all the little facts and details about milk expression, we’ve got you covered. Here are fifteen things that most moms still don’t know about milk expression, which may come in handy.
One thing that many moms don’t know is that milk expression can be done entirely by hand! Because of the ready availability of hand-pumps and electric pumps, some moms don’t seem to know that this is possible! But true enough, there are techniques to express by hand, which can be extra gentle on nipples that are both cracked AND engorged. (We know, what a nightmare!)
It’s important, of course, to make sure that the hands are clean before beginning. The standard technique is done by, first, adjusting the hand in a C-shape around the areola. Make sure that while the thumb and the forefinger are around this area, the other fingers cover as much breast as possible to ensure that a large area is covered. Squeeze, moving the pressure from the body to the nipple, but without moving the thumb and the forefinger. Milk should come out, especially if letdown has been triggered.
14 Pumps, Pumps, Pumps
Another thing that many moms don’t know: the sheer number of pumps that are available in the market. With all the choices and the fancy features, it can be tough to pick which one is just right! However, as a general rule, it’s best to ask three key questions. First, how portable should it be? Working moms will probably need light and portable models to take to work, while those staying at home might be able to get by with bulkier ones. Second, how fast should it pump? Hand-pumps are obviously the slowest models, especially since they can only be used on one breast at a time. Electric pumps, however, may do the job faster, another great thing for working moms.
Finally, what’s most comfortable? Some pumps just work wonders for some moms, while others may “feel” a bit off. While mom probably can’t try out every single pump in the market, looking at videos of how to work specific pumps may help with selection.
13 Read The Manual
Just purchased a new pump? Have experience with an old one? Don’t assume that the new one can be used in exactly the same way as the old. Certain pumps require certain protocol, as complicated as that may sound. After all, it’s best to have an inkling of how to work it, rather than to get all confused about it in the middle of a pumping session.
Some pumps, for instance, require a thorough check before and after expression, to ensure that no milk remains in the motor. Any remaining milk can harbor microorganisms, which can contaminate the next batch. If baby drinks this milk, she just might get sick. And if the microorganisms stay in the pump for a long time, there’s also a risk that mom might get a nipple infection. Other pumps have tubing inside, which means that no milk actually gets in contact with the motor. Still, this may require specific maintenance to make sure it stays safe!
12 The Letdown Reflex
One of the most important skills in both breastfeeding and milk expression is triggering the letdown reflex. While this bodily function, for the most part, is not in mom’s conscious control, there are quite a few things that can be done to increase its chances of turning up. Once mom knows her triggers, the letdown becomes easier and easier.
Since, psychologically, milk letdown is associated with the baby, sometimes just thinking about the baby can help! Other triggers include the baby’s cry, which is why some moms record their babies and listen to this recording just before pumping. Moms at work will sometimes even call home to “talk” to their baby. Then, of course, there’s always manual stimulation. Touching the breast and nipples in a way that mimics the baby’s sucking motion can help trigger letdown. If dad is available, he can do this himself – but in private, of course!
11 Nipple Damage
Many moms also don’t know that some pumps can damage the sensitive skin of the nipple. This is usually with electric pumps, when they’re set at too high of a vacuum. Of course, depending on the mom, mileage may vary. Some moms are perfectly comfortable at the highest setting, while others may experience damage with even the lowest. As a general rule, manufacturers recommend setting the pump to low or middle setting, just to make sure there’s as little risk of damage as possible. Moms in a rush, however, might want to set theirs to the highest possible setting that is still comfortable.
Injury happens because the vacuum basically applies pressure to the skin of the nipple. In the long term, this can result in sore nips. In addition, after pumping, the moisture around the nipple can promote the growth of microorganisms. Make sure, therefore to air or pat the area gently until it’s dry.
10 Boost To Supply
Frequent expression of milk is a wonderful way to boost milk supply in moms who may not have much, or who don’t breastfeed often. This is because the body’s milk production system operates in a simple way: the more the breast is emptied, the more milk is made. In fact, moms who exclusively breastfeed are encouraged to feed per baby’s demand so that the breast is emptied as frequently as possible.
However, working moms or moms who have to be separated from their babies may find this tough. After all, not breastfeeding comes with two serious problems: breast engorgement and the reduction of milk supply. Milk expression is a happy middle ground in which mom can maintain her milk supply, even when she’s not around baby. Creating a milk expression schedule that roughly coincides with the baby’s feeding patterns may help. After all, it can be quite difficult for the working mom to remember to pump when she’s immersed in the job!
9 Great For Baby
Milk expression is also great for the baby. After all, this means that the little one is still able to have mom’s own milk, even when she’s away for work. This allows her to get all the benefits of mother’s milk. It’s pretty common knowledge that breast milk is still the best option for babies. After all, even if infant formula has come remarkably close to mimicking the exact nutrients in human milk, breast milk still contains immune boosters. This includes infection-fighting antibodies and white blood cells, reducing the little one’s risk of getting sick in infancy!
Moms who want to take advantage of this had best get milk storage equipment along with the pump. We’ll give a few tips on milk storage shortly, as improper storage can be dangerous for the baby. Moms who produce more milk than their little one needs might also want to donate to a breast milk bank, a great resource for moms who are not able to breastfeed!
8 Father-Baby Bonding
Dad might feel a little left out of the parenting thing. After all, with the roughly forty weeks of pregnancy, the little one is mostly mom’s literal load to carry. Then, there’s childbirth, in which he can do practically nothing but twiddle his thumbs or pretend not to panic as he instructs mom to breathe. Now, there’s breastfeeding. And, dad’s breasts won’t give the little one any milk at all.
However, expressing milk can give dad the opportunity to have some quality time with the little one. After all, any mom must admit that it’s pretty satisfying to feed the baby! This can, of course, be done with formula as well, if mom is away. However, even stay-at-home moms might want to give dad a chance every so often. It’s a wonderful way to build their relationship, and to make dad feel that he’s still important in the whole parenting thing!
7 Sucking Troubles
Some babies may initially have trouble with their sucking reflex. This is particularly if the little one is sick, or if she was a low-birth weight baby. In this case, they might need to be fed through special bottles, which make it easier for them to get milk. After all, one must admit that breastfeeding requires quite a lot of mouth work!
If the baby is under observation in the hospital, moms can give the breast milk to the nursing staff and request that this be fed to the little one instead of formula. Mom can even try it at home with soft silicone nipples for a sick child having difficulty sucking. Do note, however, that if the baby is unable to suck because she is lethargic or difficult to awaken, make sure to take her to the doctor right away! This could mean something more serious than a minor condition. If she is below four months old and gets a fever as well, a trip to the doctor is also in order.
6 For The NICU Babies
Sadly, there are cases in which the little one may have to be admitted to the NICU. This is particularly for those who are very premature, experienced severe meconium aspiration or oxygen deprivation, or has any other condition that warrants intensive care. But just because the little one is in intensive care, even when she’s intubated and is physically unable to breastfeed, doesn’t mean that she can’t get any breast milk!
If there is no contraindication for the baby to be fed, the doctor will allow her to have small feedings through a tiny tube that goes from her mouth into her stomach. Breast milk here is ideal, as it’s packed with nutrients that can help her with recovery. So, if mom is able to, express away! In fact, premature babies who get breast milk have been found to recover just a little bit faster! They’re also less likely to catch an infection, probably due to the immune boosters in breast milk.
5 Ask for Advice
Moms who just can’t get milk expression right need not despair! There are tons of people out there who can give expert advice. Just after giving birth, a mom in the hospital may be able to opt for a lactation consultant, who can give advice in everything from breastfeeding to milk expression to pump use. If mom missed this opportunity, however, it’s never too late to talk to her doctor, nurse or midwife about this as well.
Also, many breastfeeding support communities also offer advice for milk expression. It’s best to look up a local group for new moms or a nearby chapter of La Leche League. Communities are valuable resources where mom can gather advice from experts and seasoned moms alike. It’s also a great place to get support from people who totally understand the sometimes frustrating ordeal of milk expression! Just remember: chances are that mom is probably not the first to have her specific sort of breastfeeding troubles. There’s surely someone out there who can help!
4 Clean and Sterilize!
We’ve already briefly covered in a previous section about how important it is to clean the pump according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure, also, that the milk storage bags and bottles are clean. In fact, sterilizing the bottles by boiling them is the way to go! This is because microorganisms in the equipment can contaminate the milk, which can lead to problems later on.
Some parents even invest in milk bottle and nipple sterilizers, which makes the task of keeping them clean relatively stress-free. It’s best, however, to get to know the specific brand of sterilizer that was purchased and to follow the instructions for use to a T. However, it’s also possible to sterilize the bottles in the microwave, provided that the microwave itself is regularly cleaned, or in a pot of boiling water. Boiling, however, can be harsh on the feeding equipment, so make sure to check them for damage regularly.
3 Store it Properly
After expression, it’s important to store milk properly! Some pumps allow mom to attach a bag or a bottle, directly depositing milk in the container. Others however, may require mom to transfer the milk from the pump’s built-in receptacle into the desired storage option. It’s best to use a container that’s specifically designed for breast milk, as this is usually made of sturdy plastic that doesn’t leach chemicals into the milk over time.
As soon as the milk is expressed, make sure to use it within 3 to 4 hours if it’s kept at room temperature. It may last a few hours longer in cooler parts of the world, however. If it won’t be used for a while, make sure to transfer it to an ice box or a fridge as soon as possible. Breast milk will keep in a refrigerator for about three days. When stored in a freezer, however, it can last for about six months, as long as it’s stored in the coolest part at the back.
2 Warming The Milk
When it’s time for baby to drink up on mom’s liquid gold, it’s important to thaw and warm it first. It’s best to thaw the milk in the fridge for up to twelve hours rather than leaving it out at room temperature. This way, there’s less of a chance of microorganisms growing in the milk, even if the container has been contaminated. It’s therefore better to plan to put all the milk to be used the next day into the fridge the night before.
Once the milk has thawed out and the little one is almost ready to feed, heat water to just below boiling. Take this off the heat. The thawed milk should be in a heat-safe bottle or plastic container. Place the container gently into the heated water, making sure that it doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot. It might help to transfer the water to yet another pot to avoid scorching the milk bottle. Leave it for a couple of minutes to warm through and then take it out and shake it a bit to make sure the heat is evenly distributed. This can also be done in the microwave. Test that the milk is lukewarm, never hot, before giving it to baby.
1 Don’t Refreeze
Expressed milk is not meant to be refrozen! Once the milk has begun the thawing process, it’s dangerous to put it back into the freezer. This is because this practice could promote the growth of microorganisms in the milk. Not a great thing for the baby’s well-being!
One of the best things to do when storing milk, therefore, is to keep them in serving-sized containers. That is, separate them into portions that are roughly the amount that the little one drinks per feeding, plus perhaps a little extra just in case she’s unusually hungry. This ensures that mom is thawing and reheating just enough for the little one, and there’s no need to refreeze. If this sounds like way too much effort, it might be best to invest in serving-sized plastic bags that were made specifically for breast milk. No need to measure the milk, just fill the bag up, label and freeze.