Hand Expressing Breastmilk
I was afraid it would happen one day. It happened before, years ago, but Iíd 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 Iíd forgotten the part of the pump that actually attaches to the breast. And I hadnít 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 wouldnít be so bad, would it? I imagined the engorgement, and the lost momentum Iíd barely gained in getting enough milk for the baby I donate Bearís extras to. Then, a mental image of my mother, squeezing her milk by hand into my sisterís 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 donít remember her using water. She always squirted her milk. It was such a common sight for me and my siblings to see, Iíd 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 didnít even last a minute until I Googled how to hand express. Yes, there is a correct method for doing it, and it shouldnít 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 ďCĒ around the areola, push the breast back against your chest, and roll downward towards the nipple. Your hands shouldnít 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 itís like a massageófirm, but gentle. The more you do it, the more youíll get used to the way your breast feels and youíll 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, Iím also somewhat of a visual learner so I braved YouTube (I say ďbravedĒ because you never know what kind of things youíll find when you search for a video tutorial that involves an exposed breast) and found a nice tutorial immediately. It was helpful. Iíll share it here so you donít have to filter through anything inappropriate:
I found that, though I followed the technique illustrated and demonstrated on both of these sites, my movements werenít exactly the same as theirs. Thankfully, through these demonstrations I was able to find a comfortable way to hand express, that didnít 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 12≠15 ounces after two, ten minute sessions. I hand expressed for about 30≠35 minutes all together and got 5 ounces, not because my breast wasnít producing but because my hand was just so tired.
This whole experience gave me a new resolution: Iím 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 arenít 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 wonít face the panic that assailed me last week when I realized Iíd 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 Iíve started doing that, Iíve 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 babiesótime I can be playing with them, or time I need to be getting things done when theyíre 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 Iím done, I just have to screw the cap on the bottle. I wonít 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, itís a skill that Iíve decided is absolutely necessary as a working and breastfeeding mother. Honestly, I think it would be even more necessary if I didnít work and didnít have the need to regularly use a breast pump.
I canít believe I didnít decide this sooner: Iím committing to hand expressing. Now that Iíve actually learned the skill, thereís no reason not to use. It.