Whether you plan on breastfeeding, bottle feeding, feeding with formula, all or none of the above – the truth is that your breasts will produce milk; and that milk needs to make its way out. Although electric pumps are the most commonly used tool to make that happen if your baby isn’t doing the work for you, it’s always good to have a back-up plan. Enter hand expressing.
I like to compare the ability to hand-express breastmilk to being able to drive a stick-shift car. Sure, it’s not the easiest way to get around but what if one day you need to make a quick getaway and your only option is a car with manual transmission? The same is true for breast milk – if you forget your pump on a trip out of town, or the battery dies, or you just don’t have access to one, will you be able to keep your breasts from becoming totally engorged?
As a postpartum doula (and someone who has been in the “oh crap, did I really leave my pump at home?” position) I think that being in touch with this most basic method of expressing breast milk is super important.
Benefits of Hand Expressing
-In the first few days after your baby is born, you can hand express and transfer milk to your baby through a supplemental feeding source (i.e. spoon, syringe) if a good latch hasn’t yet been established or the baby is unable to nurse at your breast.
-Hand expressing has been shown to help increase your milk supply.
-It’s an opportunity for the birthing person to gain confidence and re-familiarize themselves with their breasts; a part of the body that has gone through a major change.
-If you’re ever without a pump, you’ll still be able to remove any excess milk!
-Use your pointer finger and thumb to form a “C” on either side of your nipple. The palm of your hand can be above or below your nipple – try both ways to see what feels better for you.
-With those two fingers, push back gently and then pull forward towards your nipple. Pull all the way through towards the end of your nipple; sometimes milk can get stuck there.
-Repeat those steps and make adjustments as needed. Allow yourself grace as you’re learning!
-You may need to apply more pressure than you’d think and once the milk does starting flowing, keep doing what you’re doing!
Tips & Tricks
-Just like giving birth, you want to use gravity in your favor. Lean forward or bend over to encourage the milk down.
-Heat is your friend. If you’re able to, warm your breasts first with a warm towel or hop in the tub or shower. This is especially nice if your breasts are very full and sore.
-Massage your breasts to loosen things up, and try to work from the top down to your nipple. If certain areas feel more firm than others, focus on those. Bending over and shaking your breasts is helpful too. Don’t worry, it doesn’t look ridiculous, it looks like fierce determination.
-Relax and breathe. This is easier said than done if you’re already uncomfortable but being stressed and releasing milk don’t work well together. Take a deep breath, you got this.
-Try to visualize your baby nursing at your breast, or milk flowing out of it. If the image of a rushing river or an erupting geyser help, you do you. Picture the release.
-Once you do get the milk flowing, don’t fixate on how much is coming out or thoughts that it isn’t enough. Just let it flow and trust your body.
-If you have a hard time doing this on your own, ask your partner or someone you feel comfortable with for help.
Let’s See It
If you’re a visual learner, be sure to watch this video from Dr. Jane Morton at Stanford Medicine for a really great step by step. It’s definitely worth seven and a half minutes of your day.