Hand Expressing Breastmilk
I was afraid it would happen one day. It happened before, years ago, but I’d been vigilant this time. I had a routine this time. Still, it happened again. I forgot a crucial part of my breast pump. I sat at my desk at school with only just the time necessary to pump the milk I needed. I had my bottles, and my ice packs, the tubing, but I’d forgotten the part of the pump that actually attaches to the breast. And I hadn’t heeded my own advice: have a hand pump available just in case. At first I panicked. Then, I considered the effects of not pumping. Going my five hour work day without pumping wouldn’t be so bad, would it? I imagined the engorgement, and the lost momentum I’d barely gained in getting enough milk for the baby I donate Bear’s extras to. Then, a mental image of my mother, squeezing her milk by hand into my sister’s baby bottle came into mind. She never had a pump. Granted, she rarely left her nurslings with a sitter, but when push came to shove and she needed to do it, she always hand expressed. Then I remembered her expressing her milk over dried baby oatmeal every morning. I don’t remember her using water. She always squirted her milk. It was such a common sight for me and my siblings to see, I’d nearly forgotten it because it was just so normal. I can hand express! I thought to myself, excitedly. All hope was not lost. I grabbed one of the bottles, exposed a breast, and began pinching and squeezing until milk came out. But I was also making that tender flesh raw and bruised. This didn’t even last a minute until I Googled how to hand express. Yes, there is a correct method for doing it, and it shouldn’t hurt.
How to hand express breastmilk?
I did a quick Internet search and found that Medelabreastfeedingus.com has a great tutorial on hand expression with illustrations.
Basically, instead of squeezing or pinching the breast, you cup your hand like a “C” around the areola, push the breast back against your chest, and roll downward towards the nipple. Your hands shouldn’t slide across the skin, they should stay put and your skin will slide across the milk ducts. Once I got this motion down, the best way I can describe it is that it’s like a massage—firm, but gentle. The more you do it, the more you’ll get used to the way your breast feels and you’ll even be able to differentiate full milk ducts from empty ones and reposition your hand accordingly.
At first, you might not get anything (and you may need a little nipple stimulation to get things rolling) but with some patience, the milk will start flowing. Beware, your milk will come out of your nipple in all directions. You may want to express into a bowl or a wide mouth container rather than a bottle as I did. I basically had to stick my nipple inside the neck of the bottle for all the milk to be collected inside. Now, I’m also somewhat of a visual learner so I braved YouTube (I say “braved” because you never know what kind of things you’ll find when you search for a video tutorial that involves an exposed breast) and found a nice tutorial immediately. It was helpful. I’ll share it here so you don’t have to filter through anything inappropriate:
I found that, though I followed the technique illustrated and demonstrated on both of these sites, my movements weren’t exactly the same as theirs. Thankfully, through these demonstrations I was able to find a comfortable way to hand express, that didn’t involved pinching or bruising. Once I got the rhythm and motion down, I was delightfully surprised to discover that the milk came just as quickly this way as it did with my pump. However, as my hands were unaccustomed to this type of repetitive motion, the muscles cramped rather quickly making it difficult to produce as much milk on my first try as I normally do with a pump. Typically, I pump twice during my time at work and get 1215 ounces after two, ten minute sessions. I hand expressed for about 3035 minutes all together and got 5 ounces, not because my breast wasn’t producing but because my hand was just so tired.
This whole experience gave me a new resolution: I’m going to hand express more often. This method of milk production requires no batteries, wires, or fancy equipment and it is available to me with very little preparation on my part. The only problem is when my muscles aren’t toned enough to keep up the work. If I can work on building up those muscles a by hand expressing a couple of times a week, I won’t face the panic that assailed me last week when I realized I’d forgotten pieces of my pump.
For me, the best thing about hand expression is that it requires no set up. As I mentioned earlier, I donate extra breastmilk (though Human Milk for Human Babies on Facebook) and since I’ve started doing that, I’ve been working hard to actually have extra milk on purpose. I wish I could pump at home but it takes a good 15 minutes out of the precious time I have at home with my babies—time I can be playing with them, or time I need to be getting things done when they’re asleep, so I rarely pump. But hand expression is actually manageable and something I can commit to doing. There are a few moments in the morning, or at the beginning of naptime I can carve out to do it if I really want to. The best part is that when I’m done, I just have to screw the cap on the bottle. I won’t have to wash and sterilize all those parts! Also, having the skill of hand expression means I can more easily express milk for bad diaper rashes and eczema spots, and to water down the people food he just started eating. Basically, it’s a skill that I’ve decided is absolutely necessary as a working and breastfeeding mother. Honestly, I think it would be even more necessary if I didn’t work and didn’t have the need to regularly use a breast pump.
I can’t believe I didn’t decide this sooner: I’m committing to hand expressing. Now that I’ve actually learned the skill, there’s no reason not to use. It.