Your baby may be too small or too sick to begin breastfeeding, but you can still give them the best start by expressing your breast milk.

This can be done by hand or by using a pump. It can take time to learn this skill, but with patience and some encouragement, you can begin to give your baby the best start. The staff looking after your baby should give you positive support and practical help with learning how to express milk. It is important to start expressing your milk frequently as soon as possible after the birth of your baby.

Only a small amount of milk is produced in the first few days after a baby is born. This milk is called colostrum, and is thicker and more yellow in colour than breastmilk. Later on, the amount of milk you express may change depending on the time of day and how you feel. Expressing can feel like a big pressure and it is important to remember that no matter how much or how little you are able to express, your baby will benefit.

Milk ejection reflex

Each time you express milk or sit down to breastfeed your baby, you may notice a sensation in your breasts called the ‘milk ejection’ reflex. In the early days, this takes a few minutes to appear, but later on it will occur within a few seconds.

Milk ejection feels different to different women. You may have tingling or prickling in your breasts and nipples, or a feeling as if the milk is rushing in to fill them. Some mums describe a slight pain and some mums have no sensations at all, but notice that milk starts to drip from both breasts.

Getting into a routine when expressing

You are going through so much at the moment, and it is important to relax as much as possible. Try to give yourself plenty of time to express your milk.

It will help to get into a routine for expressing as soon as possible. You may find that your milk flow responds to a fixed routine to get you ready for expressing. These can be very ordinary actions, like removing equipment from the steriliser, or putting together the pump. The sound of a breast pump or even the smell of disinfectant may trigger your breasts to release milk. The preparation time is an important part of expressing milk. Your body may learn that certain things you do leading to milk expression will trigger a milk ejection reflex, making it easier to express.

Everyone is different

Some mothers find it very easy to express milk and they produce more milk than the baby requires; others need more time and may produce just enough to feed their babies. Don’t think that you are a failure if you are finding it very time-consuming to express. It does not mean that you will find breastfeeding equally difficult. After all, nature has equipped babies with a very efficient system of getting milk from the breast.

The information on this page is more than two years old