Every drop of breast milk is worth gold – especially to an expressing mom. This is because in this case, it not only refers to its value for baby, but to the hours and hours that you have sat watching it drip into a bottle with the whoosh of your breastpump in the background.
There are few things as disheartening as an expressing session only yielding a small volume of milk. Whatever your reason is for expressing, you will always be seeking out ways to express more breast milk.
Of course, there are many things that influence your expressing success. The most important factor is probably your breast pump and flange size.
But even with all the correct tools, expressing is still a skill that needs to be practised and mastered. How much you express will also depend on the time of day, and how much time has passed since baby’s last feed.
Below are a few simple and easy tips to help you express more breast milk.
Kick up your feet
Expressing breast milk actually gives you a few minutes of peace and quiet where everyone mostly leaves you alone. Alone time is a rare thing in a mom’s life. So, sit back and relax a bit. You can read a book or listen to music. Don’t sit and fret over everything else that you should be doing in this time. Remember that your stress hormones will inhibit your let-down reflex and milk volume. If you are struggling with this, try watching video clips of babies laughing – no one is immune to that!
Get the hormones flowing
Seeing or hearing your baby kicks your breastfeeding hormones into action. Watching photos or videos of your baby on your phone can help with this.
Pull a sock over the bottle
Sitting and staring at the amount of milk in the bottle causes anxiety and makes you focus on the task rather than just letting your body get on with it. Many women express more if they cover the bottle and just express until their time is up.
Experiment with your pump settings
Most good quality electric breast pumps will have a stimulation and an expressing cycle. You start off with the first, and once you get a let-down, you move on to the second setting. When your milk starts slowing during expressing, try moving back to the stimulation setting for a minute, and then back to expressing again.
You can ‘copy’ this with a manual pump as well, by using the lever to create light, fast flutters to start off with, and then slower and deeper suctions.
Shake your boobies!
Some women find that wiggling and shaking their breasts before expressing helps to improve their milk flow. Be sure that your door is closed if you are not expressing in private at home!
Heat helps to improve milk flow. You can place a hot wheat bag or gel pack on your breasts during expressing. Some women even report better flow by just sitting in the sun.
- Start by massaging and kneading your breasts gently before your session.
- Express with your pump, first on the stimulation setting and then on the expressing setting.
- If your milk starts slowing, move back to the stimulation setting, massaging a bit in-between.
- While expressing you can also gently massage from the outside to the inside of the breast.
Empty your breast with hand expressing
Expressing by hand is quite a skill. Many women who cannot afford a breast pump only express by hand, and if done correctly it can be very effective. Google some YouTube clips to help you find the best technique. At the end of your expressing session, empty your breast through hand expressing. You may be surprised at how much milk was still available inside!
Take the pressure off the pedal
Many moms actually choose not to express because they are worried they won’t get out enough milk for baby. Obviously, you would prefer to give baby only breast milk. But in all honesty, expressing is hard work and you can only do your best. If now and again you don’t get out enough and baby needs a formula bottle, it’s not the end of the world. But remember, it is still better for baby to get breast milk most of the time than to quit because you don’t want to mix feed. In fact, even one bottle of breast milk a day would make it worthwhile. So, hang in there mama, and don’t focus so much on the millilitres that you forget to enjoy the ride!
Christine Klynhans is a nursing sister and South African Certified Lactation Consultant (SACLC). She currently works at Parentwood Baby and Family Wellness Centre in Pretoria as a well-baby clinic sister and antenatal teacher. She also has a breastfeeding practice and a Breast Pump Demo Centre. She is passionate about supporting parents on the journey of pregnancy, breastfeeding and the early childhood years. Learn more about Christine Klynhans.