There may be times when you need to be away from your baby whilst still breastfeeding or when it is useful to promote the flow of your milk around your usual feeds. One way to do this is by hand expressing breast milk – a very useful skill. This allows you to store breast milk to feed to your baby at another time and to regulate your milk production as well as helping to prevent milk stasis (when too much leftover milk remains in breast tissue) which can cause the infection mastitis and engorged breasts.
Hand expressing is beneficial because it can be done anywhere, without the need for special equipment and allows you to target specific areas of the breast such as harder parts which may suggest the beginnings of mastitis.
As with breastfeeding, expressing is a skill which takes practice.
In some circumstances, a mum may be taught to hand express before baby comes near the end of her pregnancy. This is something your midwife can tell you more about.
It is much easier to express milk to store for later if the hormones which summon your milk are flowing. This is easy if you have just been feeding your baby or are spending time with them, as this closeness helps your milk to flow well.
If you are away from your baby, you can encourage your milk by gently massaging your breasts and stimulating in a way which feels nice. Do not worry about actually expressing lots of milk at first, just focus on finding pleasant sensations to help activate milk production. You can also think about your baby or look at a picture of them to help this process. Being relaxed and warm is a good way to get your milk flowing so the bath or shower can be a good place to try for the first time.
First, wash your hands with soap and water.
After massaging make a C shape with your thumb and finger about 2cm back from the base of your nipple. You might notice a change in texture in your breast around this area. Gently squeeze or compress your thumb and finger together in a rhythmic movement. After a few compressions, you should begin to see either drop (if early days) or squirts of milk. If nothing happens after a few compressions you can move your finger and thumb forward or back a little to find the right spot. Collect the milk in a sterilized wide brimmed bowl.
Keep expressing in the same spot until the milk flow slows down then move your finger and thumb around (like the quarter hours of a clock) to ensure you express from all area of your breast.
If it does not work at first, do not panic or think that there is no milk, simply try another spot, a slightly different hand formation or rhythm until it works for you. Keeping a playful, relaxed attitude is very important, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get it perfectly first time as this will only make it harder.