Expressing Breastmilk

by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC

Here's What You'll Find Below:Why do you have to express your breast milk?
About expressing milk
Pumping information
Cleaning the pump
Hand expression
Storing breastmilk
Encouraging the milk ejection reflex

Why do you have to express your breast milk?

Many women are under the impression that it is necessary to own or use a pump to breastfeed. This is not so. You do not need a breast pump to breastfeed. Too often mothers want to express breast milk so that the father can feed the baby a bottle. This notion is very much pushed by formula companies in their marketing. Ask yourself why. There are many things the father can do to help you besides giving the baby a bottle. Even if it is your own expressed breast milk in the bottle, even one bottle a day can lead to a baby starting to feed less well at the breast and the increasing "need" to give more bottles.

Mothers are also being encouraged to pump their milk and give it to baby by bottle for the most unnecessary reasons: weddings, doctor's appointments, shopping and the list goes on. Why not take the baby with you? How can babies not be welcome at weddings? What could be a more natural place for a baby to be than a joyous family gathering? Your baby is part of the family. One of the odd things about Western society is exclusion of children from "adult" society. Then we wonder why they don't want to have anything to do with us when they are teenagers. If it is truly necessary to leave the baby with someone else, why not use a cup (see the information sheet Finger and Cup Feeding)?

If you go out, take your baby with you. Almost all states and provinces have laws or human rights codes that allow a mother to breastfeed in any location she is legally allowed to be. Strike a blow for breastfeeding mothers and babies! Breastfeed your baby in public! Your feeling of discomfort will soon be replaced by an incredible feeling of freedom.

Furthermore, you will be encouraging other mothers to do the same while at the same time educating others, especially young children who may never have seen a baby at the breast before. Don't worry, they won't be traumatized psychologically. If you are shy about breastfeeding in public, a good place to start breastfeeding in public is at a cinema. The lights go down, the baby gets breastfeeding, is quiet, and nobody can see.

We are not keen on pumping when the mother is already supplementing her breastfeeding with formula. Yes, the baby may get a little less breastmilk and take more formula but here is why we feel this way:

  1. Pumping is expensive (to rent or buy the machine).
  2. Pumping is tiring and time consuming.
  3. Pumping diminishes the mother's enjoyment of breastfeeding.
  4. Pumping, if not done properly, may cause sore nipples.
  5. In spite of everything we tell mothers, that you cannot tell how much you are producing or can produce, mothers look at what they pump and get discouraged.
  6. Compression is like pumping, but instead of pumping into a bottle, you express into the baby. It works even better, in our opinion. But see the information sheet Breast Compression and the video clips on how to do compression well.

There are a very few circumstances when it is necessary to express your milk. Certainly, if baby is not yet latching onto the breast then mother needs to pump in order to maintain her milk supply (see the information sheet When Baby Does Not Yet Latch).