Expressing Breast Milk
17 June 2022

Expressing Breast Milk

Breast feeding your baby is often a controversial conversation, and many people have their own opinions on which way is the best way to provide your baby with enough nutrition without causing you significant disruption and discomfort. One such way, is by expressing breast milk.

What is expressing breast milk?

Expressing milk simply means squeezing milk from the breast in order to store and use later. Expressed milk is just as nutritious for your child as fresh breastmilk, and it can be incredibly beneficial to express milk for both you, your partner and your livelihood!

Do you have to express breast milk?

By no means do you have to express milk. It largely depends on what works best for you, your family and your baby. However, there are plenty of reasons and benefits to expressing milk. You may well find that it makes breastfeeding significantly easier, which when you're usually expected to supply your child with breast milk for up to six months, can really make a difference.

Why do people express milk?

There are a few different reasons for expressing and storing breastmilk rather than relying on fresh breastmilk. Sometimes, it is done for all of these reasons, and sometimes it is simply a personal choice. People might express breast milk if:

  • They have to be away from their baby for any length of time, whether that is for work, a hospital visit, a trip or anything else. Sometimes, life can get in the way of our plans, and your baby will still need a milk supply whilst you're not there! Expressing breastmilk will help to keep them happy and full, even when you're somewhere else.
  • They are suffering from uncomfortable (or engorged) breasts. This happens when too much milk is produced and not enough milk flow occurs, causing the breasts to stretch. If your child isn't hungry, but you're seemingly producing milk regardless, expressing breastmilk will allow you to store breast milk for later, and will reduce the discomfort and pain caused by engorged breasts.
  • Their baby is unable or struggling to breastfeed. This usually occurs when a child is unable to latch, meaning that the milk flow slows down or stops, even when the child is sucking. Expressing breast milk reduces the need for latching, as you can bottle feed your child instead.
  • They need to boost their milk supply. A woman's milk supply and milk flow is controlled by a number of factors: the hormone oxytocin, a correct latch, medication, insufficient feeding, and even excessive feeding your baby. However, if new mothers regularly express milk, the body will work in a 'supply and demand' nature, and will instinctively produce more milk in order to cater for the child.

How to express breast milk

Expressing milk is relatively easy, and can be done in a few different ways. Expressing can be done by hand, or by using a breast pump. This can be an electric breast pump or a manual breast pump. There are a few things that can make expressing milk much easier, including:

  • having baby nearby, or holding and looking at a picture of them
  • covering breasts with a warm towel prior to expressing
  • having a warm shower or bath prior to expressing

The way in which you express your milk is entirely up to you, and the way in which you do it will depend on whether you are expressing by hand or using an electric breast pump. For those using a pump, it is relatively simple to express milk. Simply ensure that your equipment is completely sterile and clean. This includes the funnel, and the bottles you're pumping into, as well as the tubes and other aspects of the pump. Once clean, place the funnel over the nipple and follow the instructions on your pump.

Hand expressing is a little bit more difficult, and will require you to cup your breast, and then gently pinch your areola with your thumb and forefinger, and then release pressure. Repeat until you find a rhythm, and you should feel your milk begin to flow.

How to store breastmilk

Storing breast milk is often what trips people up when it comes to expressed milk. People are often unsure about where to find human milk storage information. Luckily, storing breast milk is very simple. You can store breastmilk in the refrigerator, the ice tray (where you would store ice packs etc. in a fridge) or even in the freezer compartment or full freezer.

Breast milk should be stored in sterilized storage bags, and then can be left for the following lengths of time:

  • Refrigerated: in a fridge colder than 4 degrees Celsius, stored breast milk can be kept for up to 8 days.
  • Ice compartment: in the ice compartment of the freezer or fridge, breast milk can be kept for up to 2 weeks.
  • Freezer: frozen breast milk can be stored for up to 6 months as long as it is kept under 18 degrees Celsius.

How to use breast milk

Breast milk can be used from the freezer or the fridge, however, you must first thaw frozen milk in order to make it drinkable. You can thaw frozen breastmilk by placing the cool bag in a jug of warm water or placing the bag under running warm water. If you're not in a rush, frozen breastmilk can also be defrosted slowly in the fridge.

When you have thawed or defrosted the milk, just check to see if the milk smells sour. If it does, it is not wise to use it. You should also give your breast milk a gentle shake in order to recombine the liquid.

Once liquid, the breastmilk can then be warmed up. This is not essential, and if your baby will take it, you can feed them cold breast milk. Alternatively, place the cool bag under warm water and the expressed milk will begin to heat up. Do not heat your expressed milk in the microwave, as this can lead to hot spots which can burn the baby's mouth.

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