If you don’t know my story here is a brief summary – I am a nurse and midwife. When I had my daughter 5.5yrs ago, I had been working in NICU for 7 years, and as a midwife for just under a year. I thought I knew everything about breastfeeding and expressing that there was to know. But she taught me that I didn’t. And the journey I went on lead to me to exclusively express and then start up my business 2 years later. You can read my story here.
The reason mothers choose to exclusively express can vary – their baby might be unable to take milk directly from the breast (ie they are premature, or unwell), their baby refuses to directly breastfeed, they don’t want their baby to feed directly but they still want to give their baby breast milk, and many others. Exclusive expressing can be a viable option for some families, but there are some health professionals, and even lay people, who will tell you that it can’t or shouldn’t be done for a number of reasons.
Here are 5 of the most common myths I have heard about in regards to exclusive expressing, and the truth
Myth 1 - You can’t maintain your supply just with expressing
About a year after I finished my journey I happened to be walking past a room on a postnatal ward where I was working as a midwife. A mothercrafting nurse was telling a mother that she could not exclusively express as her supply would diminish after 3 weeks. I backtracked to the room and, very kindly, told the nurse that she was wrong, that I had exclusively expressed for almost 9 months, and that I had not only maintained my supply I had increased it. I then told the mother that I was part of a Facebook group where there are literally thousands of mothers exclusively expressing, some for over a year or more. The mother later stopped me in the corridor and thanked me for clarifying and supporting her – she didn’t want to directly breastfeed but she wanted her baby to get breast milk.
It is true that some people may not respond to certain pumps or expressing at all, but generally speaking the majority can express – either with a hospital grade pump*, a manual pump, or by hand (click here for a good video on how to hand express properly - ignore that it says 'for the first milk', the technique is same regardless). If you’ve tried one and not been successful, then I suggest you try another – not all pumps are made the same, and what works for one may not work for someone else.
*An electric pump that is not considered "hospital grade" might not be sufficient for maintaining your supply long term. Click here for an article on the difference between pumps
Ideally you need to do at least 8 sessions in 24hrs – if you’re doing anything less and your output is dropping or not increasing to an acceptable level then you need to go up to at least 8 sessions in 24hrs before you can say that you can’t express enough (note that this doesn’t have to be every 3hrs, you can do a few sessions close together so that you can space others out).
You also need to be draining the breasts – breasts are never truly empty (think breasts are factories not warehouses), but a well drained breast will make more milk, faster. If you just take small amounts out your body will not know that you want to make more.
For the majority of exclusive expressers, if you maintain 8 sessions in 24hrs and you are at an output you are happy with, you can start dropping sessions from 12 weeks post partum. I recommend dropping 1 session per week. This should give your body enough time to adjust to the new number. If you find your output dropping you may need to go back up a session. Also, you may find that you need to express for long at each session to get the same amount. Most EEp’ers will find their ‘magic number’ – the minimum number of sessions they can do in 24hrs to maintain their supply – somewhere between 3 and 5.
You might also want to check what size flanges you are using – click here for a guide of how to measure your flange size. Using the wrong size can affect comfort and output. There are also variations on regular flanges such as Lacteck BabyMotion flanges, Pumpin Pal flanges, or