Once you feel comfortable and confident with breastfeeding you may want to go out without your baby, or give somebody else the opportunity to feed them. Expressing your breastmilk means removing it from your breasts so that someone else, usually through a bottle, can feed it to your baby. You can also choose to express your milk if your baby is unable to breastfeed directly or is in special care. The two main ways that you can express your milk is by using your hand or a breast pump.
How to do it
You will need to sterilise a container to collect your milk in. A small plastic bowl or other wide necked container is fine to use.
Once you’ve given your hands a good wash, it is good to give yourself some time and privacy.
To help get the milk flowing massage your breasts gently.
Feel your breast to try and find the spot where the milk ducts widen. It is usually behind the nipple and there is normally a change in the texture of the breast tissue.
Place the flat of your thumb above and your first finger below the nipple in a C shape.
Press your thumb and finger together while squeezing your breast between thumb and finger. Release and repeat this action until milk starts to drip and squirt out in a spray.
To release as much milk as possible, rotate your fingers around the breast to make sure that all of the breast segments are empty. You may need to stimulate your milk supply by stroking your breast a few times whilst you are expressing.
Using a pump
There are lots of different breast pumps on the market, some are hand operated and others are electric. Before you invest in an expensive model it’s best to consider how much you are going to use it, and if it’s a good investment. It’s good to ask other mums and health professionals for their recommendations.
Larger electric pumps are available to hire and are usually used by mums who are expressing a large amount of milk for an ill or premature baby. Speak to your midwife, health visitor or one of our breastfeeding team for more information. You can also find out more here.
Start off by sterilising your breast pump equipment and leave yourself plenty of time.
Begin by massaging your breast and expressing the first drops of milk by hand (see our advice above for this technique).
After the milk has started dripping, place the funnel of the pump over your breast with your nipple in the centre. Don’t worry if it takes a few minutes for the milk to start flowing. Sometimes having your baby nearby or something that helps you to think of them can help to get the milk flowing.
Express from one breast until the flow of milk begins to slow down or until you feel that you have collected enough milk. You can now switch to your other breast and do the same.
If you want to get as much milk as possible, massage your breasts before you switch sides and continue to express until your milk flow stops completely.
If you’re expressing milk for a baby in hospital then you will need to start expressing as soon as possible after the birth and express your milk at least 6-8 times a day.
If you’re going out and are leaving expressed milk so that someone else can feed your baby it’s a good idea to be organised and express your milk at least a day before you go out.
Here’s a rough guide to how much milk your baby will need to be left:
Under 3 months – 100-120mls (3-4 ounces)
Over 3 months – 150-200mls (5-7 ounces)