How to Express Your Milk

Though there are many reasons a mother may need or want to pump, there are a few tips that can help in any circumstance.

Choose Your Method

You may choose to express your milk by hand or with a breast pumpChoosing a pump is serious business.  Check out our article on pumps to learn more.

How Much Milk Should You Pump?

There are a few ways to figure out how much milk to pump. Some women find that the amount that they pump in twenty minutes is enough for a feed. Other women prefer doing some math. On an average, babies between the ages of one to six months need 25 oz or 750 ml of milk per 24 hours. The typical range is from 19 to 30 oz. or 590 to 900ml. It is possible to estimate how much milk you need to pump for each missed feeding by dividing 25 by the amount of times your baby eats in 24 hours.  In general, a baby should not need more milk than fills a 4 oz. bottle. Make sure that whoever is giving the bottle, gives it slowly.  If your baby eats too fast, he will not realize that he is full and will cry for more.  In the end, your baby will be overfed and you will be pressured to pump more milk than he actually needs.  A bottle-feed should mimic a breastfeed and take at least 20 minutes. 

Get the Milk Flowing

You will get more milk out quicker if your milk is flowing before you even start.  The best way to do this is by massaging your breasts.  Massage your breasts from up high, i.e. closer to your chest, armpit and rib cage, toward the nipple. Bending forward and "shimmying" will also help.   Many women find that their milk begins flowing as there baby's usual feeding time approaches.  If you are not with your baby at that time, it is a good time to pump.  For some women, it takes time for their bodies to learn to react to a pump.  For this reason it is good to start pumping ahead of time if you know that you are going to need to.

Keep the Milk Flowing

Unless you are using a double pump system, which pumps both breasts at the same time, you should switch breasts throughout the feed.  Some women like to time it, starting with 5 minutes a breast, then 3 minutes a breast and then 2 minutes a breast for a total of 20 minutes.  Other women pump according to flow; they pump one side as long as milk is flowing and switch when it slows down to a drip.  They continue switching back and forth for about 20 minutes.

Trouble Shooting

If you are having trouble pumping your milk, it is likely that your pump is not put together properly or is not working right.  Make sure to check out the instructions that come with the pump.

If you find that you cannot get enough milk pumped in a single sitting, pump as often as you need throughout the day.  You can combine the milk you pump to make up a whole feed.

If you continue having problems, call a lactation consultant.

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