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The Whys and Hows of Expressing Breast Milk

Milk Expression 101

Regardless of the method you use to express milk, many mothers may find the process a bit challenging at first. But have patience with this and don't give up, even if you only get a few drops the first few times! After several tries, you will start to get the hang of it and it will become easier and easier.
When a woman breastfeeds her baby, there is a response by the mother's body where her breasts "let down" the milk. The let-down reflex is a hormonally driven process that allows the milk to flow from the upper portions of the breasts through the ducts to the sinuses beneath the areola, out the nipple, and to your infant.
When breastfeeding a child, the baby's suck stimulates this natural let-down response. That suckling motion stimulates the mother's pituitary gland in the brain to release two important chemicals, prolactin and oxytocin. It is the oxytocin that stimulates the let-down reflex.
However, there is also a psychological part to the let-down process. If the mother is stressed or unable to relax, it can prevent the let-down reflex from occurring. So, in short, you can mentally delay or even stop the let-down process if you are stressed, rushed, or not able to relax. This can be challenging for moms if they are trying to pump and they are late for work, or if they are in a work or public environment and trying to pump.
There are several helpful tips to help achieve successful milk expression, including:
  • Try to pick a comfortable setting that has minimal distractions or interruptions. Turn off your phone and have those who may be nearby give you some privacy.
  • If it's possible, try having your baby around while you are pumping. The bond that forms with your baby while nursing is part of the let-down process. Sometimes even hearing your baby babble or cry can stimulate that let-down process.
  • Try to set aside a pre-expression time for yourself, where you can just relax for at least five minutes without the hustle and bustle. Taking a few breaths, having a cup of tea, or just relaxing in peace and quiet can go a long way.
  • Try placing warm towels on your breasts or taking a warm shower beforehand.
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