Breastfeeding: Milk expression

Breastfeeding can be wonderful, once you learn what works for you and your baby.

A smiling baby in a red outfit.
Photo: Pixabay.

As a breastfeeding mother, you may need to express your milk at some point. Removing milk from your breast is a learned skill that becomes easier with practice. You can remove milk with your hand or by using a breast pump.

Hand expression is free and doesn’t require any special equipment. Experiment with different hand positions until you find what works best for you. Some women express milk by holding the breast with one or both hands. Gently massage your breast, moving from your chest toward the nipple in a circular motion for a few minutes. Use your thumb and forefinger to form a “C” about an inch away from the edge of the areola (the dark center of the breast) to your nipple. Gently squeeze your thumb and finger together rhythmically to roll the milk out of the breast. Move your fingers around to get milk from different areas of the breast. At first it may take several minutes before you see any milk. Switching breasts every few minutes will improve your results.

When using a breast pump there are many things to consider. It is important to choose a breast pump that will best meet your needs. A manual or electric single breast pump is good for occasional and brief absences from your baby. An electric pump, that lets you pump both breasts at the same time is convenient when you need to express frequently.

Different mothers have different experiences with expressing breast milk. Some mothers express milk with ease, while others need extra practice. Michigan State University Extension recommends the following tips to improve milk expression:

  • Think about your baby, look at a picture of you baby, smell some of your babies clothing and express in a comfortable familiar place.
  • Reduce distractions, play soothing music and have a beverage on hand.
  • Apply moist warm compresses or gentle massage.
  • Gently massage breasts off and on during expression.
  • Switch breasts when your milk slows.
  • Express from one breast while your baby is feeding from the other.

Keep in mind that expressing milk takes practice. Give yourself and your baby time to adjust.

Michigan State University Extension offers programming to mothers that want to learn more about breastfeeding and feeding your family.

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