Ideally, babies should receive their own mother’s milk directly from the breast through suckling.

New mothers know the “breast is best” mantra by heart. “Yet, there are times when it’s just not possible to latch baby to the breast and a mother may just need to turn to expressing and storing her breast milk just so she can keep her milk supply going and baby will have a constant supply,” shares Dr Varsha Atul Shah, Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine, Singapore General Hospital (SGH) , a member of the SingHealth group.

Reasons for breast milk expression

There are several reasons why a mother would require expressing her breast milk. These include:

  1. Feeding an unwell or premature baby
  2. When mother and baby are separated due to medical and non-medical reasons
  3. To reduce breast engorgement
  4. If the mother’s milk ducts are plugged or blocked
  5. If the mother has flat/inverted nipples
  6. If the mother is suffering from painful inflammation in her breasts (mastitis)
  7. If the mother is planning to return to work or need to spend time away from baby

Techniques to encourage your let-down reflex when expressing

The let-down reflex occurs when baby starts sucking on the breast and she is properly latched on. However, if breast milk needs to be expressed instead, a mother can try these steps to ease the expressing breast milk:

When preparing to express milk

The mother should consciously try to relax, using whatever method suits her, and in a quiet, warm, relaxing area, and away from distractions. While expressing, she must take slow, deep breaths. She could also consider expressing in the place where she would usually sit to feed her baby. Some mothers have a warm drink first or listen to soft music. Warmth (expressing after a warm shower or placing a warm face washer on the breast for a few minutes before starting) may also help.

To start expressing milk

Gently massage breasts by stroking down towards the nipple, and gently rolling the nipple between fingers. While one can’t actually push the milk out of her breasts by massage, it can help trigger the let-down reflex from touching the breasts.

Thinking about baby and how much breast milk is helping her will also encourage the let-down reflex. For a baby who is born premature or sick in hospital, a mother might find it easier to express near her baby’s crib or just after she visits her. If the mother is away from her baby, having a photo of the baby to look at can help too.

During breast milk expression

The mother should have someone around to accompany and support her during milk expression. Many mothers find they manage much better when they have an encouraging partner or friend, who might sometimes just be there to give a massage on her neck or back, and encourage her positively.

Ref: Q15