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Breast pumping

There are a number of reasons why you might be considering expressing and storing breast milk. You might be nearing the end of your maternity leave, but want to continue giving breast milk to your baby after you return to work. Or you might want a supply so someone else can feed your baby while you and your partner have an evening out together.

You may want to express milk if your breasts feel uncomfortably full or if your baby isn't sucking well but you still want to give them breast milk.

Some new mothers whose babies are in special care may decide to express so the infant can have breast milk while in hospital.

Whatever the reason, there are a few things to consider about breast pumping.

How do I express milk?

You can express milk by hand or by using a special pump.

You may have to experiment to find which method suits you best. It's worth bearing in mind that none of these methods is as effective as a baby sucking direct from the breast.

Finding the right pump

Pumps are hand-operated, battery-powered or electric. Most work by creating a vacuum once the funnel has been placed over the nipple and areola.

Electric and battery breast pumps are more expensive than the manual types. However, they are good if you need to express frequently, and are less tiring to use.

Manual pumps are easier to use when your breasts are full than when they are soft. They have the advantage of being cheaper to buy.

Double pumps are also available that allow both breasts to be expressed simultaneously. These can save time and may be particularly useful if you are feeding multiples.

Pumps come in many different designs, so ask for advice, or consider trying one out before you buy.

What about safety?

Whatever method of expressing milk you choose it is important to keep equipment scrupulously clean.

Everything that comes into contact with the milk should be sterilised before it is used the first time and then at least once a week. Sterilise by using a chemical or steam steriliser, or by boiling the equipment for 10 minutes.

In between times wash the equipment with hot soapy water or put into the dishwasher. You should check which parts of the pump are suitable for your dishwasher.

Also, remember to wash your hands before expressing milk.

How often can I express milk?

The more often you express milk, the more you will produce. However, the frequency will depend on whether you want a reliable supply for bottle- or cup-feeding your baby, or whether you just want to put aside a supply of breast milk for special occasions.

You should aim to express as often as your baby would normally feed.

Some women express milk in order to increase supply. If that's your intention, the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers recommends pumping for an extra minute or two after the last drop of milk has been extracted. Shorter, more frequent pumping sessions are better than a few long sessions.

Breast pumping tips

Remember that when you start pumping, milk will often not flow immediately. There are a number of ways that you can encourage the 'let-down' reflex.

  • Take a warm shower or bath
  • Relax with some music or TV
  • Gently massage the breast, towards the areola, for a minute or two
  • Try expressing from one breast while the baby is feeding from the other
  • If you are separated from your baby, it might help to look at a photograph of him or her.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 05, 2018

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