by Susan Greenbank, ABA Breastfeeding Counsellor
Many breastfeeding mothers will need to express their breastmilk at some time.
The reasons for expressing are many and varied, but can generally be grouped into short-term (less than 4 weeks) or longer-term.
Short-term reasons can include temporary breastfeeding difficulties such as engorgement, poor attachment, breast refusal, nipple soreness and the like; or short-term separations of mother and baby.
Longer-term reasons can include a mother who needs to be separated from her baby during her working hours; or a baby with permanent attachment difficulties (e.g. cleft lip or palate), or breast refusal.
The need to express due to a premature birth, or illness in either mother or baby, could be either short-term or longer-term. Some mothers also choose to express breastmilk for their own personal reasons, on either a short-term or a longer-term basis. Many mothers also like to keep a small store of breastmilk in the freezer for emergencies.
Whatever your reason for expressing, it can be confusing working out the best way to express and what breast pump is best to use (if any).
The most important thing to consider is how often you will be using the pump. Each breast pump is designed for a specific level of usage and you will get the most benefit from a pump that closely matches your personal circumstances.
If you have decided to use a breast pump, it is a good idea to carefully consider what the best pump is for you before purchasing or hiring. With breast pumps you really 'get what you pay for' so it is worthwhile buying or hiring a good quality pump designed for the need you have.
The following table may be useful in making your choice.
Most preferable choice Next preferable choice Least preferable choice X Not recommended
The example pumps listed above are from the two brands sold by the Australian Breastfeeding Association's sales subsidiary, Mothers Direct.
If you would like more information on choosing a breast pump talk to your local breastfeeding counsellor or the friendly, knowledgeable staff at Mothers Direct (free call 1800 032 926 or visit one of the retail stores in Melbourne or Brisbane). Mothers Direct stock a good range of pumps for hire and purchase. Australian Breastfeeding Association subscribers hire at half price and receive 10% discount on product purchases. Breast pump hire is also available through many local groups of the Australian Breastfeeding Association and subscribers hire at half price.
There is some more information on expressing and storing breastmilk, and an information sheet Suggestions On Using An Electric Breast Pump, available on this website. The comprehensive booklet Expressing and Storing Breastmilk can also be purchased from Mothers Direct.
Instead of using a pump some mothers express breastmilk by hand, or combine hand expressing and pumping. Hand expressing is also useful for the times when a pump is not available.
Hand expressing is relatively easy to learn and may be sufficient for short-term or occasional expressing. Some mothers also use this method on a longer-term basis.
Some mothers find hand expressing an easier way to remove the smaller amounts of colostrum in their first few days of breastfeeding. Other mothers have found that hand expressing will continue to remove milk from their breasts after a pumping, or when a pump is not able to do so.
Combining hand expressing with electric pumping has also been found to increase milk production in mothers of premature babies. (See the videos 'Hand Expression of Breastmilk (Premature Babies)' and 'Maximizing Milk Production with Hands On Pumping (Premature Babies)' on the links page. Other videos about pumping, hand expressing, and also returning to work can also be found on the same links page.
Once you get the hang of it, hand expressing can be a quick and efficient method. To learn more talk to your local Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor or contact our National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268.
Hand expressing is also described well, with accompanying photos, in the Australian Breastfeeding Association booklet Expressing and Storing Breastmilk or on the DVD Hand Expressing and Cup Feeding (both available through Mothers Direct).
For further information on using an electric breast pump, see the Suggestions on using an electric breast pump article on this website.
© Australian Breastfeeding Association Reviewed February 2013