Tips for expressing breast milk

Expressing breast milk is hard work. Many mothers are stressed by the thought of not being able to express enough milk to fulfil in their babies’ needs. Below, some tips to help you to maximise the amount of milk you express in the time that you have available.

Before you start expressing breast milk

  • Remember that expressing breast milk is a skill that will master and refine as you go along. Through experimenting with when you express, for how long and on which pump settings, you will find what works best for your body.
  • Some mothers express very well by hand, others will definitely benefit from a good quality breast pump.
  • Make sure that you are using the correct size flange for your nipple. The diameter should be slightly larger than your nipple to allow your nipple to move back and forth freely. A flange that is too small will cause painful expressing, ineffective milk drainage and reduced milk supply.
  • Choose a peaceful environment where you can relax, and have something to drink on hand.
  • Sit upright in a comfortable position with your back supported – this may take a while!
  • Position the pump correctly, with your nipple in the middle of the flange and with the pump flat to your breast, not pointing downwards or sideways.

Ready, steady, express

  • Set your electric pump on the stimulation setting first for 1-2 minutes to establish a let-down reflex. This setting provides suction in quick, shallow flutters, mimicking a baby’s initial sucking on the breast.
  • NOTE: A let-down or milk ejection reflex occurs when your body releases hormones that cause your milk to start flowing.  You may experience a tingling sensation in your breasts, and may see milk starting to drip into the pump.
  • Once you experience a let-down, switch your breast pump to the suction setting for expressing of milk. Increase the suction strength until it becomes uncomfortable, then turn it down one notch. Expressing shouldn’t hurt.
  • With a manual pump, maintain a rhythm of one squeeze every 1-2 seconds.
  • Continue expressing until your milk stops flowing and you can no longer see drops of milk falling into the bottle. At this point, you can either stop, or switch back to the stimulation setting for a minute, before actively expressing again for another few minutes.
  • If you are expressing to increase your milk supply it is a good idea to continue expressing for a few more minutes after your milk has stopped flowing, as this will provide extra stimulation on your nipples, leading to increased supply.
  • If you struggle to experience a let-down, look at a photo or video clip of your baby.
  • Heat encourages milk flow, so put a warm compress on your breast while expressing, or sit in the sun.

Hands-on expressing for more milk

New research done has shown that combining expressing with a breast pump with breast massage and hand expressing can significantly increase the amount of milk a mother expresses. This is easy to do and possible to combine with any breast pump. Watch this excellent online video tutorial, or try these tips:

  • Massage both your breasts before you start expressing milk
  • If possible use a double pump with an expressing bra to keep the pump in place, leaving your hands free to do some breast compressions on full areas in the breasts.
  • Once the milk starts slowing, pause expressing and massage both breasts again, then resume.
  • Continue until you no longer get any milk out.
  • Finish the session by hand-expressing the final drops directly into your milk container.

When should I express breast milk?

  • If you are separated from your baby (for example if the baby is in NICU), you would need to express every 2-3 hours in the day, and at least 1-2 times at night to establish and maintain your supply.
  • If your aim is extra stimulation to increase your milk supply, express a few minutes after every feed.
  • When at work you can express in a tea and lunch break – you will need to express every 3-4 hours during the time separated from your baby.
  • If you simply want to store breastmilk you can express at 2-3 times during the day when you have extra time – do not skip these sessions.
  • You can feed baby on one side and express on the other – you can even do this at the same time to make use of the let-down your baby is already stimulating.

Remember: A baby latching and sucking will always get out more milk than a breast pump. Do not judge your milk supply on the amount of milk that you are able to express. You may have some very successful sessions, and others yielding only 10-20ml of milk. Every drop of expressed breast milk is worth gold!

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Christine

Christine Klynhans is a midwife and lactation consultant with a firm believe that gentle parenting can change the world. She has worked in midwifery since competing her B.Cur nursing degree in 2004, and has a special passion for education and for writing. She currently works in a well-baby clinic and give antenatal classes and breastfeeding support. She enjoys working with parents of babies and toddlers, aiming to help them find gentle solutions to their parenting problems and assisting them in incorporating healthy habits and natural health alternatives into their daily lives.

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