No matter if you breastfeed, pump exclusively, or a combination of both, every mother should know how to manually massage their breasts to express milk. Expressing milk by hand is vital for several reasons:
- Colostrum – The first milk that comes in after you give birth is called colostrum. This is a nutrient rich pre-milk that is different from your regular mature breast milk and it is vital for establishing a strong immune system and encouraging weight gain in newborns. The problem with colostrum is that it only comes in small amounts (like a couple drops at a time) which would get lost in the parts of a breast pump. Since newborns and new moms often have to overcome a learning curve with breastfeeding before they are successful, it can be a better idea to hand express the colostrum into a bottle so that this nutrient rich resource doesn’t go to waste.
- Engorgement – Every breastfeeding mother will encounter problems with engorged and painful breasts eventually. If you are unable to feed your baby to get rid of the excess milk built up in your breasts, then manual expression is a quick and easy solution. Hand pumping breast milk is quiet, discreet, and (almost) free. All you need is a cup to collect the breast milk. This makes it the perfect solution for moms who are only returning to work part-time or moms who do not want to lug around a large electric breast pump to work. Since expressing milk by hand can be messy, you will want to use a manual expression cup or breast milk storage container. You will notice that manual expression cups are almost like the breast shields of a pump, but they are large and bowl shaped to fit small and large breasts. You will want to aim your nipple at the center of the cup and squeeze out the milk into the cup where it will drain into the bottle. After you’re done, simply put a lid on the storage bottle and pop the bottle into a cooler until you can get home and refrigerate it.
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The downside to manual expression of breast milk
While hand expression is free and does not require a lot of equipment, it can take several times before you learn how to do it correctly.
The first time you try to take out breast milk by hand, you’ll probably make a mess with a wild spurt of milk or fail to draw out any milk at all!
Manually expressing breast milk can also take a long time compared to using a breast pump. You will typically need at least 20 minutes to completely empty out one breast. Some women who are proficient at hand pumping can set up two collection cups on a table and empty out both breasts at once, but this takes a lot of practice.
Manual expression of breast milk video
This video demonstrates the basic technique of how to hand express milk. You do not have to do all the preparation steps and you’ll probably find it’s easier to use a warm nursing cover instead of warm water, but notice the way she massages her breasts sweeping in towards the nipple and how she extracts milk from the nipple.
What about a manual pump?
If you like the freedom of hand expressing, but want to do it regularly, I would recommend a half-way compromise–the hand-powered manual breast pump.
Manual pumps are simple to clean, use, and carry. In fact they are small enough to fit in your purse and they make zero noise, making hand pumps the perfect solution for working moms who can’t find a place at work to set up an electric breast pump.
Manual breast pumps are powered by a trigger which you squeeze or pump to get suction. You will need to squeeze one time for each pump, so your hands will probably be cramped by the end of each pumping session. That’s why I only recommend hand pumping if you work part-time, pump no more than several times a week, or need a backup pump in case your electric pump breaks.
Using a hand pump to express milk is faster and less messy than manually expressing, at around 15 minutes to empty a breast, but the time it takes will depend on how good you are at keeping up a fast and strong rhythm with your hand. It can take a lot longer if your hands get tired.
There are traditional manual breast pumps (trigger style) like the Medela Harmony (Amazon | buybuybaby), and newer style silicone pumps where the bottle is made of squishy silicone and is both the bottle and pump! The silicone pumps have the advantage of being about half the cost of most manual breast pumps, super easy to clean (only one part!), no parts that can break, and they fit all breast and nipple sizes.
The only downside with these small portable pumps is that they are meant for infrequent or temporary pumping. If you try to use these pumps multiple times a day, you’ll find that they will lose suction after a couple months.
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