All about Expressing Breast Milk

Most doctors will encourage every new mum to breastfeed the baby. This is because breast milk is:

  •  Safe
  •  Contains all the nutrients a baby needs to grow
  • Helps strengthen your baby’s immunity and keeps him healthy

It is possible and proper to combine both breast and bottle-feeding through expressing your milk. This way, your baby can still have breast milk even in your absence.

What Is Expressing Milk?

Expressing your breast milk involves either of the following:

  • Hand Expression

Expressing manually with your hands requires technique. Most women use it to alleviate engorgement. You can choose to use your hands and can be much faster than using a pump if you master it. It could be the fact that the breast responds more to skin-to-skin contact, but this is yet to be established. This explains why the amount of milk your baby feeds and the amount you pump out during a specific period of time will differ largely.

The problem with hand expression is it can be:

    • Messy
    • Unhygienic
    • Time-consuming for beginner
  • Breast Pump

Some women might find pumping, whether electric or manual, easier than using their hands. This is perhaps because a pump helps stimulate the letdown reflex. There are different types of breast pumps, both electric and manual that you can review before making your ultimate choice.

  The problem that comes with using a breast pump is:

    •  Your milk supply may be affected if your breasts do not respond well to the pump you go for.
    • Milk supply relies on a demand-and-supply mechanism
    • Pumping too much or too hard can lead to problems such as bleeding

Reasons for Expressing Milk

There is no reason you should express your milk if your baby’s feeding is going well. Breastfeeding during the first four weeks helps in initiating and building breast milk supply. It also teaches your baby how to latch and suckle. Sometimes, however, it may be necessary to express your milk. Some of the reasons for this include:

  •  If your newborn in the NICU and you cannot breastfeed
  • Your baby is unable to latch on to your breast
  • You are a working mom or are not around the baby much.
  • Breastfeeding is unbearably painful
  • You are not sure of your baby feeds enough when breastfed – the bottle allows you to measure your baby’s milk intake
  • You have twins or more
  • You choose not to breastfeed

Storage of Expressed Milk

Before expressing your milk, make sure everything you’ll use is clean and sanitized. Store the expressed milk in a clean, covered hard plastic, glass, or BPA-free container.  There are also special plastic bags specially designed for the collection and storage of milk. With such bags, you can save on space, especially if you place the milk horizontally at first, then once frozen store them upright.  Otherwise, store the milk in tightly sealed containers to prevent tear, leak, and contamination. How long breast milk safely lasts depends entirely on the method of storage;

  • Room Temperature–  you can keep freshly expressed breast milk up to six hours when stored properly. If the temperature is warm, consider four hours at most before it goes bad. 
  • Insulated Coolers – these when used with ice-packs can keep milk fresh for a day.
  • Refrigerator – You can store milk at the back of your fridge’s lower compartment for up to five days although it’s advised to keep it to three days for safety.  
  • Deep Freezers – These, on the other hand, can keep milk safe for up to 12 months. It’s also however recommended that you keep it at most 6 months for safety.

It’s important to note that the longer you store your milk, the less the level of vitamin C you’ll find in it. This also means that the quality of stored milk cannot match freshly expressed milk. Also, keep all storage facilities clean and remember to wash your hands before handling the baby’s milk. Finally, when bottle feeding your baby, choose a bottle with a soft nipple often made of silicon.


#Please note that development differs from one child to another

# Content intended for educational purposes only, and not a substitute for medical advice from your doctor.


Last reviewed January 2019

Sources: medela, verywellfamily, romper, momtricks

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