Note: The information featured on this page is currently under review, and will be updated in due course. Please ensure that you speak with your health care professional about any queries you may have about the issues covered here.
There are various options available to help you express your milk – from the high tech to the very basic. You may wish to use a combination of methods to suit your needs.
- Electric pumps – Hospital-grade electric breast pumps are a good choice if you will have to express for a long time. There are several types, and most can be adapted to allow single or double pumping. Electric breast pumps can be rented if your unit can’t lend you one. There are a number of suppliers, including Ameda, Express Yourself Mums Ltd and Medela UK Ltd.
- Hand pumps are either manual or electric, are a cheaper option and are easier to find. With manual hand pumps, suction is created by squeezing a handle, which can prove quite tiring after a while. The battery or mains-operated versions can save you save you both time and energy.
Breast pumps do not pump, suck or pull milk out of the breast. The breast pump removes milk as it flows into the nipple. Therefore, you should make sure you fully understand the following guidelines about milk expression before you begin.
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare the equipment and express your milk. Make sure you have all the bits and pieces you will need close at hand. You will need lids for the bottles, water to drink, a pen to complete the label and a table to put the bottle on while you disconnect from the tubing. Follow the links for sterilising equipment and storing breast milk for tips.
Make sure you wash your hands before you start.
- Try to sit comfortably, with your back straight. A sturdy chair with arms can make expressing much more comfortable.
- Support your breast from underneath, with fingers flat on your ribs and the index finger where the breast meets the ribs. This supports the breast tissue while it is in the funnel.
- Make sure that the nipple is central to the funnel. Keep the funnel close enough to the breast to maintain a vacuum. Do not press it too firmly or the breast tissue will be squashed.
- Be careful not to set the suction level on an electric or battery pump too high, since this will cause friction and may make your nipples sore. Try increasing the vacuum on the pump slowly until it starts to feel a bit uncomfortable and then reduce it slightly. It is a good idea to make a note of the best suction level so you can use the same setting the next time you sit down to express.
- Do not try to remove the collection funnel while pumping, since the vacuum can be strong. It can hurt if you pull away while the pump is running.
- Try gently massaging your breasts when expressing, as this can encourage milk flow (see page on breast massage technique).
- Breast compression stimulates the milk ejection reflex, helping your milk to flow more quickly. When you start pumping, you might find that the funnel makes your nipple feel uncomfortable. If this happens, it could be the wrong size for you. In this case, it is worth discussing the problem with your breastfeeding adviser or nurse. Larger funnels are available, which will make expressing more comfortable. Availability depends on the pump that you are using.
While expressing your milk, changing from one breast to another can help to stimulate the milk ejection reflex, which can make your milk flow faster or come out in spurts.
Carry on until the milk flow slows to the occasional drip. The amount of fat in your milk rises as the breast is emptied, so it is important not to restrict the time taken to express milk. Double-pumping/expressing from both breasts at the same time can save a lot of time. Research has shown that double-pumping may increase your milk supply, especially if your baby is born very early.
Wearing a halter-neck that has been adapted to hold both collection sets securely may be useful, since it will free your hands while you express. Some mums find that adapting a well-fitting bra can also work. You can do this by cutting slits in the end of the cups just large enough to ensure that the narrow point of the funnel can slip through, and ensure that the widest part of the funnel can be placed more snugly against the breast.