share their tips for expressing breast milk
By Mel Hyde & Barbara Masser, Donor Research Network
Expressing breast milk, that is removing breast milk by hand or by pump to feed an infant, is very common in high-income countries. In the two weeks after giving birth to their baby, 62% of Australian mums had expressed at least some breast milk. Many Australian mums prefer to use an electric breast pump after their milk has come in, and common reasons they express are so they can go out and leave their baby with family or carers, to store extra milk, to manage their over or under supply, or because their baby has trouble breastfeeding.
For some mums, expressing breast milk can be really hard. It can take too much time, and it may be painful or unpleasant. Mums may lack confidence or practical information about expressing, or they may lack support from their close networks. Mums who have premature babies in hospital and those with low milk supply may find it especially hard to express breast milk, and to stay motivated enough to continue. When faced with these challenges, mums do not always know where to turn for advice.
Online and social media sources are common avenues for help, yet these sources do not always include the views of mums who are skilled at expressing breast milk. With this in mind, we asked 45 mums who donate to a non-profit milk bank about their preferences and experiences and if they had any tips that could help other mums who are finding it hard to express breast milk.
Why did they express breast milk?
Key reasons why donors started expressing breast milk were to manage their milk over or under supply, as well as to help with latch problems, or to allow someone else to feed their baby while they were away.
Where did they look for information about expressing breast milk?
Donors commonly found information from nurses, lactation consultants and educational resources on the internet. They also thought these three information sources were the most helpful. (See ‘Do you need help?’ below for links to specific resources donors and lactation consultants found helpful). These sources were helpful because they either offered hands-on, personalised advice from experts, or they were easy to access and had a greater variety of information.
What was their experience like expressing breast milk?
Donors talked about what they found difficult and easy about expressing breast milk.
What were donors' tips for mums about expressing breast milk?
Donors consistently offered five tips for mums who are starting out or struggling with expressing their breast milk.
1. Choose the right pump for you
4. Take care of yourself by staying hydrated and eating well*
2. Focus on your baby when pumping
5. Find the 'right' time for you to pump
Other advice to mums suggested by some donors included:
How do they prefer to store expressed breast milk?
Donors preferred bags rather than bottles or cups to store expressed breast milk, although some donors used bags for freezing and bottles or cups for refrigerating. Bags were viewed as easier to use and defrost, and took up less space during storage. Bags specifically designed for storing breast milk were the most popular.
What were donors' tips for mums about storing expressed breast milk?
Donors commonly shared five pieces of advice for other mums who are storing their expressed breast milk.
Freeze milk in bags specifically designed for storing breast milk so they don’t break.
Label the bag before freezing with the date, time, and volume expressed.
Lay bags flat for freezing and once frozen stack upright in a container.
Have a system that ensures older milk is used first (e.g., organise by date).
Have a dedicated space and equipment for storing expressed milk.
Mums want to help and support each other
Donors shared that their experiences were not often easy, especially when they first started pumping. Many said that encouragement and support were especially helpful for them, and they wanted to share what they’ve learned with other mums.
We sincerely thank the donors who took part in our research
and so generously gave their time and advice
Do you need help?
- If you are in Australia and you would like to speak to a trained breastfeeding counsellor about breastfeeding (including expressing breast milk), please call the Australian Breastfeeding Association Breastfeeding National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268.
- If you prefer to have an online chat with a volunteer Breastfeeding Educator or Counsellor from the Australian Breastfeeding Association you can use their LiveChat service.
- An App called Mum2Mum is also available.
- Guides for finding the breast pump that will work best for you and information about expressing and storing breast milk are also available on the Australian Breastfeeding Association website.
- If you are struggling with supply and would like to learn more about maximising pumping, Stanford Medicine, Newborn Nursery has freely available resources including the following video clip.
We are working with Lifeblood to create a webpage or flyer based on the advice donors gave us for mums who need help expressing breast milk. This webpage or flyer will be available on the Lifeblood website and Donor Research Network website.
About the Authors
Barbara and Mel co-host the Donor Research Network which is sponsored by the University of Queensland. The Donor Research Network is a global network of researchers and practitioners who aim to promote understanding about, and awareness of, the importance of donors to the healthcare sector.