Why learn to hand express?

It’s National Breastfeeding Awareness Week here in the UK. It’s got me thinking about why breastfeeding awareness is important and what it’s important to be aware of.

Call it a bit niche but I think women need to know more about pumping and hand expressing because chances are, if you’re lactating, you may need to do one or both of them at some point.

In fact, I honestly can’t think of why they’re not given so much as a mention in most antenatal breastfeeding classes other than that teachers have enough of a challenge trying to convince women to give breastfeeding a go without mentioning something that sounds like hard work.

A lot of women have a hard time expressing. It’s never going to be quite as effective at emptying your breasts as a healthy full-term baby with a full oral function will be. Yet many women find that, with the right conditions and some decent practice, they can get things going.

I’ve pulled together a few ideas on why I think all pregnant and breastfeeding women should get some information on hand expressing.

1. What if you’re away from your baby and, umm, forget your pump? Hmm? This happened to me last weekend.

2. Pumping mothers often find that throwing hand expressing into the mix helps them to maximise their output (this great video shows you how). I certainly found doing breast compressions while pumping made a significant difference.

3. Learning to hand express during pregnancy helps you become more comfortable with handling your boobs. Someone who was at the Association for Breastfeeding Mothers conference this year tweeted this brilliant bite.

4. Hand expressing when your colostrum comes in means you can store some in case your baby needs supplements when they’re born – particularly worth thinking about if you’ve got gestational diabetes.

6. Some women find they’re more responsive to hand expressing than they are to pumping. To my surprise, I think I may be one of these women! On Friday night, once my milk let-down, I definitely had more effective drainage than I did even with the manual pump I used the next day. I can’t speak from personal experience but I imagine a quality double-electric pump trumps that though.

7. It can quickly and effectively relieve early engorgement. I had a nightmare trying to relieve the agony in my left breast (yes, you needed to know which side!) when my milk came in. I didn’t have a breast pump and just could not work out what I needed to do to hand express so Laurence went out and got me a cheap manual pump. It operated appallingly but I persevered with it, trying to soften the breast so I could latch my newborn on. It would have been much easier to hand express if I’d known then how.

8. What if you’ve got to do it somewhere where there is not electrical outlet?

9. It may offer a gentler way of emptying breasts that are sore.

10. I reckon it’s pretty good for your self-esteem! Yes you may still need a pump depending on your situation but knowing how to hand express gives you fantastic autonomy.

Do you have any other reasons to throw into the mix? How’s your hand expressing? Apparently, if men could lactate, they would hand express to do this.

Today I’m also over on the MamaBabyBliss blog talking about my breastfeeding journey and how it led me to train and volunteer as a breastfeeding peer supporter. Please come show me some love there. I’ll also be helping them run a Q&A on Twitter this Friday – in no way as an expert but simply as an informed breastfeeding mum who wants women to know that they have options.

By the way, I’m running a giveaway for a Babybeads breastfeeding necklace for NBAW12 (how’s that for a catchy acronym!)

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  • Great post! I could never get on with electric pumps so it was always a manual pump for me, with a bit of hand expressing where necessary. Hand expressing was great when DS2 was newborn – he was refusing to feed so I actually hand expressed into his mouth so he got the idea of where the food came from! From that point of view, if you can learn to do it while you’re pregnant would definitely make feeding easier if you get a lazy one like mine!!

    • Wow, that’s really interesting. I don’t think I’ve seen someone express into a newborn’s mouth. How cool.

  • I agree – `every breastfeeding needs to know how to – there are places you can’t pump (e.g. on a plane) where you just have to (breastmilk seems to expand at altitude… ouch!) and I had to learn in a hurry in a plane toilet
    Muddling Along recently posted..Anatomy of a blogger

  • We try to teach all new mums how to hand express before they go home, it’s so important to be able to relieve engorgement without relying on a machine. I can’t express without doing compressions at the same time myself.

    • Absolutely agree! For a while I couldn’t breastfeed without doing compressions either so it was such a great skill to learn.

  • Thanks for a great post i did do it with my little girl and used a manual pump also as i did find it quicker but this time around i want to do it more especialy to help relieve the engorgement.

  • I’m 37 weeks pregnant and to be honest its the first time I’ve come across hand expressing, I always assumed I’d need a pump, thanks for opening my eyes, feeling so unprepared, baby boy due in 3 weeks, eeekkk

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