Is it time to ditch the breast pump and HAND express your baby’s milk?

EDITORIAL: baby at lunch with mum

Is it time to ditch the pump and hand express breast milk instead? Experts say it’s a brilliant idea – and are keen for this age-old practice to become more mainstream.

Express yourself

In a really interesting piece in The Cut, doula Francie Webb – certified lactation consultant-in-training and founder of TheMilkinMama – makes the case for breastfeeding mums to take matters into their own hands, and it’s an intriguing proposition.

When Francie headed back to work, she had trouble keeping up with her four-month-old daughter’s breastmilk needs.

She began researching ways to increase her supply and optimise pumping, eventually stumbling on a video made by Stanford University’s Dr Jane Morton. Dr Morton’s video shows new mums how to maximise their pumping output by hand expressing, and it was a game-changer for Francie. The more she expressed, the easier it got – and the more milk she was able to produce. 


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Go Milk Yourself!

Francie now runs online courses teaching other mums how to effectively hand express and hopes women will feel more empowered – and less squeamish – about taking matters into their own hands.

While you might think Francie’s a fully paid-up lactivist, she actually passionately supports women feeding their baby in whichever way they need to. That said, she’s keen to promote this pared-back approach to pumping for those who might be interested.

Francie’s published a guide to hand expressing success called Go Milk Yourself: You Have Power. Express It! You can also find a helpful guide at the Australian Breastfeeding Association site and here’s a brilliant free how-to guide, if you’re not sure where to begin.

While hand expressing is often used as a way to encourage colostrum production, siphon off excess milk, relieve engorged breasts or unblock ducts, Francie and Jane point out that it can be used as an alternative to regular breast pumping with a device, too. 

“Never less than with a pump”

Stanford’s Dr Morton is also a real champion of hand expressing, and her study on its benefits found that mums who used hand-expression techniques were reaping the rewards.

“We have observed that pump suction alone often fails to remove a significant fraction of milk as more can be expressed using manual techniques,” the authors state in the study.

“In every study that’s been done, you get more milk or the same amount of milk as you do with a pump, but never less than you do with a pump,” Dr Morton said in a recent phone interview, referring especially to milk expression in the first few days. “Volumewise you’re better off.”

While this all sounds brilliant – and it’s fab that there are resources to assist mums who want to hand express – it’s important to note that this practice won’t suit everyone. It can be a real slog to express yourself and some women find it more difficult than using a pump. Many women also like the hands-free option of using a breast pump, so the message here is to try a few approaches to see what works – and do what suits YOU best!

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