3 Things I Wish I'd Known About Expressing
Whether you’re an occasional expresser or an exclusive pumper, most people would agree that breast-pumping doesn’t get as much kudos as it deserves. Breastfeeding in itself can be tough, but there’s nothing that makes you feel like a prized cow more than hooking yourself up to a milk extraction machine.
When my first child was born, he refused to latch. Point blank refused. Don’t get me wrong, he tried his best, but he just couldn’t get the hang of it. He was crying, I was crying, it was a nightmare. So, I borrowed the hospital’s medical-grade expressing machine and started pumping every few hours around the clock. After six months of exclusively expressing, we managed to transition to breastfeeding and successfully continued our journey for another 18 months.
Why do I tell you all of this? Because I know someone out there will be reading this blog while listening to the hiss of hydraulic cylinders and the steady drip of milk, wondering if there’s an end in sight. There is, and today I’d like to share a few tips I wish I’d known about pumping that might make your journey a little smoother.
When you’re relying on expression to feed your child, relaxing doesn’t come easily, the pressure is real! That being said, you’ll notice a big difference in how much milk you produce if you can convince your body to relax and think happy-baby-thoughts.
If your child is in NICU, they often suggest looking at a photo of them to help your milk kick into gear as you express. We won’t go into the science of how that works, but it really does. Feeling your baby’s skin, smelling that new-baby scent and holding them close are all ways that your body can also trigger the hormones to help release your milk if it’s being coy.
A few decades ago, they would have recommended half a pint of Guinness for a little extra relaxation, but these days it’s considered safer to stick with chamomile tea or similar.
Increase Your Fluids
Along with your calming cup of herbal tea, it’s a good idea to increase your fluid intake throughout the day, especially if you’re prone to dehydration. While the science is out on whether expressing mums should drink more than the daily recommendation for women, many of us aren’t hitting the standard daily water target of 2.5 litres to begin with, and as breastmilk is 90% water, this can have a big knock-on effect.
My personal experience was that when I made a conscious effort to drink water throughout the day, it had a direct impact on my milk production and mood. So, treat yourself to a fancy water bottle and get in the habit of sipping throughout the day and refilling often.
Don’t Rush It
In general, most expressing mums will find themselves hooked up to their contraption of choice every 4 hours day and night for weeks on end. So, my advice is to reclaim that time for yourself and find something you enjoy to fill the time.
Along with relaxing to release those feel-good hormones, laughing is another way to get your milk flowing, so find a new Netflix series to binge or a podcast to listen to. Or, use this time to build your support network by joining local Facebook groups for new mums. You’d be amazed at how many other women are also sitting awake at 3am, wishing they could pass the time by texting someone who shared their experience.
Above all, that’s the one thing I want to say to anyone out there who’s having a tough time expressing right now - you’re not alone. Organisations like La Leche League are a great source of guidance, while online communities like boobingit connect you with like-minded mums from across the country. For tailored support specific to your unique situation, Chloe at @littlepimpling is a breastfeeding peer supporter who focuses on exclusive pumping and has been expressing herself for the past 18 months.
Keep it up, you’re doing an awesome job!
"After six months of exclusively expressing, we managed to transition to breastfeeding and successfully continued our journey for another 18 months." - Sarah Todhunter, content writer and mother of two.
Want to read more about expressing, breastfeeding and other feeding options? Read What I Didn't Know And Wish Someone Had Told Me About... Feeding A Newborn.
Originally from New Zealand, Sarah is a mother to two boys and has lived in the UK for the past 10 years. She is a home educator, freelance writer, Netflix-binger and has a penchant for strong black coffee.