Mothers may choose or need to express breast milk for a number of reasons:
- If mom and baby are separated, if her infant is sick, preterm or hospitalised.
- To increase milk supply.
- To prevent or relieve breast engorgement.
- Some mothers decide to express all feeds and not put her infant to the breast.
- As your baby grows, a mom may need to express if going to be separated for a period of time, such as for social or work reasons for example, both to have milk for your baby and also to relieve fullness of the breasts while separated.
Breast milk can be expressed by hand or by use of an electric pump. There are many breast pumps on the market, but if you are planning on breastfeeding for a long period, I would recommend a double breast pump, especially if returning to work.
Expressing is a learned skill, and some moms find it a little difficult at the beginning. Often times, and particularly in the first few days, only drops of milk may be expressed, but all these drops are precious.
Tips for Expressing
- Find a comfortable quiet place to express. If you are away from your baby, having a photograph of your baby beside you may help to get your milk flowing. Relaxing music or a favourite TV programme may help you to relax.
- A warm shower before expressing, or a hot compress on the breasts may help.
- Massaging your breasts downwards towards the nipple, or rolling the nipple between your fingers may help to release your hormones and get your milk flowing.
- In the first few days, it would be advised to express for approx 15-20 minutes every 3 hours.
- Milk should be expressed into a sterile container, and can be stored in a breast milk sterile bag or container. Breast milk storage bags can be bought in most chemists, Mothercare or Tesco. I also recommend Axifeed storage bottles for safe storage and easy defrosting.
- Breast milk can be left at room temperature for 6-8 hours.
- Breast milk can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days (though not in the door of the fridge).
- It can be stored for 2 weeks in the freezer compartment of the fridge, for 3 months in the freezer section of a fridge with separate main door, and for 6 months in a separate chest freezer.
- Freeze milk in small quantities to avoid waste.
- Frozen milk thawed in the fridge and not warmed can be left in the fridge for 24 hours, but if it has been warmed or thawed in warm water, it should be used within 4 hours.
- Storage bags are not foolproof – be aware that they can leak on thawing.
- Always label/date expressed milk, and use older milk first.