Hand expressing might seem a bit old-fashioned when we have so many breast pumps available these days.
But there are times when using your hands to collect breastmilk beats the best of modern technology.
In the first hours and days after your baby is born, colostrum is incredibly important for babies.
If your baby is unable to go to the breast directly, then expressing your colostrum will not only mean you can feed it to him by spoon, syringe or a small cup, but will also trigger lactation, which will begin the transition to mature breastmilk. You can read more about colostrum here.
The low volume and fat-rich colostrum is difficult to collect with a breast pump. But hand expressing allows you to collect every precious drop into a small cup or even directly into a syringe!
Understanding how and why to hand express your breastmilk is a valuable thing for any breastfeeding mother.
Hand Expressing Breastmilk
Here are 4 steps to hand expression:
#1: Don’t Underestimate the Results!
One study found hand expression, rather than pumping, in the first three days appears to improve eventual breastfeeding rates at two months.
Other research by Jane Morton, MD has found when mothers use hand expression more than five times a day in the first three days and pumped with the same frequency as other mothers, expressed an average of 955mls a day by 8 weeks!
Remember, your newborn has a tiny belly on their first day of life, only about the size of a marble. It makes perfect sense that you are only able to express small amounts in the early days – it is the right amount for their little bellies.
#2: Press, Compress, Release… Repeat!
Place your fingers and thumb either side of your nipple, roughly at the edge of your hand in a ‘C’ hold.
Imagine a line running from your thumb, across the nipple to your second finger.
Press back into the breast tissue, towards your chest.
Compress your fingers and thumb towards each other, “sandwiching” the breast tissue between them.
Release the pressure, without moving your hand away.
Repeat repositioning your fingers and thumb “around the clock” as you work on different parts of the breast.
#3: Find Your Rhythm
With practice, you will begin to work out which parts of your breast respond best, how long to maintain the compression, and develop a rhythm between your hands and your milk flow.
When the flow eases on one side, switch to the other breast and work backwards and forwards between them.
Once both sides slow down, take a break for a few minutes and then begin the process again.
Colostrum will ooze or weep from the nipple, especially in the first day or so. As your milk begins to change, you might see droplets or even sprays occasionally.
Once lactation is established, you can expect more of a flow, either dripping or spraying as you express.
Find out more about how hand expressing works by watching this video.
#4: Drop By Drop…
To begin with, the amount you express can be measured in drops. Gradually, you will see the volume increasing and will move to collecting it in a small cup and eventually, a small bowl. Some mothers even learn to express directly into a bottle.
In these early days, how much you express isn’t as important as how often you express. If your baby is not latching well or feeding effectively, hand expressing lets your body know you still want to establish a great milk supply. Hand expression helps you get that off to a great start.
Once you are ready to add pumping to your expressing routine, find out why this technique can double the amount of milk you express!