Exclusively Expressing Breast Milk

As my second child approaches 18 months old, I thought it was about time to share my breastfeeding journey.

First of all, I just want to say that whichever way we choose to feed our babies, is a completely individual choice, and I am not here to say that we should do it one way or another. There is plenty of guidance out there so you can make an informed choice.

I did choose to breastfeed both of my children, but it wasn't until I was pregnant that I realized I wanted to.

When I had my first child, he was jaundice and wouldn't latch. It didn't matter what I did, he just wouldn't. He genuinely didn't seem to want to be breastfed, which I know sounds ridiculous but once jaundice had passed and he became a bit more alert, he would just get angry all of the time. In the hospital, I started to hand express for him, and give him formula top-ups, and once we were home, I continued trying

g to get him to latch for about three months and then decided I would just express and continue to give him formula top-ups. I ended up combination feeding him till he was about 6 months old and then swapped to formula feeding from there.

With my daughter, I wanted to try nursing again. She came early -my son had been late - and was very small - as was her brother - and also slightly jaundice. She seemed much keener to feed though, but I would find she would latch great but then come off pretty quickly, and if there wasn't a midwife around, I wouldn't be able to get her back on. I panicked and decided while we were still in the hospital that I would express for her. I was much more confident in what I needed to do and really happy with the decision. I managed to exclusively express for her for nearly 7 months and introduced formula as my supply started to drop.

Both experiences were very different, so I'll go into a little more detail below.

So what exactly is expressing? Some people express breastmilk so their partners can offer the baby a bottle to help out, or so they can, for whatever reason, leave the baby with another caregiver but continue their breastfeeding journey.

Sometimes when a baby is born, they will require a feeding tube, or be fed via syringe, and so expressed milk can be offered for this purpose till they are in a position to get the baby to latch. There are some circumstances, like my own, where the baby just won't latch no matter what you try, but you still want to give breastmilk so you express and bottle feed. And in some cases, the parents may want to breastfeed but, for various reasons, may not want to directly nurse the baby. Expressing can be done by hand, by manual pump, or by an electric pump. It helps to mimic breastfeeding so you still produce milk, and draws the milk out into a container. You get all of the same benefits of direct nursing, especially if you have lots of skin-on-skin contact with your baby.

My Own Journey

The experiences I had between feeding my son and my daughter were pretty much total opposites. With my son, I couldn't get my head around the advice regarding the correct routine to follow, and I felt incredibly lonely because I didn't know anyone else who had really done it like this before. I also felt like a huge failure because while I was sitting hooked up to a breast pump, my husband would be getting all of the one-on-one time with the baby. Shouldn't that have been me?

It's recommended that you pump every 2-3 hours including at least once in the night for the first 12 weeks to build a good supply. This helps to mimic a newborn feeding pattern and instructs your boobs how much milk to make. When I found this out, I just couldn't believe it. By the time you've expressed till empty, you've fed the baby, and washed and sterilized your parts, it really does take up a lot of time. And then doing it in the night as well, it's exhausting. Between that, and the fact that I would miss pumps because I would be out visiting someone, or have a visitor I didn't feel confident pumping in front of, meant that I ended up with a low supply, too low to exclusively breastfeed him.

I was much more prepared for baby number two. I started by hand expressing colostrum to take into the hospital, although as our plans changed and I ended up being induced early, I didn't have much notice to do this. I was in the hospital for a couple of days before she made an appearance so I did get to express on and off throughout.

Once I had made the decision to express for her, I decided I was going to follow the rules to the letter. It helped that she was a lockdown baby, so we couldn't go anywhere or have any visitors, meaning I never missed my schedule. I expressed round the clock for about 18 weeks, then I moved the timings apart little by little. I didn't really start to properly drop sessions for a while, and I stuck at around 5 pumps per day for a long time. I can't quite remember when I dropped the middle of the night pump, but I think it must have been around 4/5 months. It was exhausting, but worth it because I then ended up with an oversupply. This meant that I actually re-introduced breast milk for my little boy who will have been between 2.5 - 3 years old, and I was also able to donate some to three other children. Once I started to really drop pumps, my supply quickly started to dip as well. It was at this point that I decided to just wind it down, and stop I had altogether.

Top Expressing Tips -

  1. Schedule - I didn't trust the advice with my first, and I wish I had. It is so important if you want to keep a good supply going to express every 2-3 hours, including one during the night for at least the first 12 weeks. Even if you feel you are overproducing, it takes at least 12 weeks for your supply to fully establish and find its pattern. It's hard work, and it sounds intimidating, but it really does work. I didn't do this with my first, it was more like as and when I could, and my supply dropped very quickly. With my second, I stuck to this religiously, and I went on to donate my oversupply because I couldn't store it.

  2. Hydrate - I am terrible at hydrating, but it is so important to keep you healthy and maintain your supply.

  3. Relax - Much like giving birth, it's really important to keep those happy hormones when you express. Your body is going to start shutting down and producing less if you are stressed and anxious. When you express, create the environment that you need. Read a book, chuck on a funny film, eat chocolate, keep your baby nearby, or look at their photos if they are napping.

  4. Supplements - Don't bother. There is little evidence to suggest that taking supplements and eating certain foods are going to improve your supply. Instead, try to get a well-balanced diet, with energy-rich foods, like oats and dried fruits.

  5. Invest - Investing in the right equipment will go a long way. Get a good, double electric pump, and a couple of pumping bras. I also had some heat pads to apply to my breasts while pumping, and would highly recommend getting some Lanolin cream for your nipples.

  6. Praise - Praise yourself for what you are doing, and don't put yourself under pressure. Feeding a baby whatever way you do it, has stressful or difficult elements. From weight gain to getting the temperatures of formula correct to the judgment you get for feeding in any way can cause us to feel like we are doing wrong regardless of our choices. This is wrong - we should instead be praising ourselves for every oz we pump. Expressing is so hard, it's mentally and physically exhausting. I felt lonely, and at times detached from my babies. But I would do it all again if had another because it works well for us.

  7. Reducing - When the time comes that you want to start reducing or dropping pumps, do it gradually otherwise you risk blocked ducts and mastitis. I would recommend just cutting back by say 5 minutes, and gradually merging the pump you want to cut out with another.

You can do it!

A lot of people come up against objections - for all manners of feeding, but especially with pumping. We are told our supplies won't last, that it will be easier to switch to formula (nothing wrong with that at all, first was combination fed) that it's hard work. It is hard work, but it is doable. I have connected with loads of parents through expressing, even those that are feeding twins and triplets through expressing! Don't let those kinds of comments put you off, and get you down.

My results

I am just going to briefly talk about how much I froze, donated, and expressed for my daughter. I'm not looking at my son's stats, it's all just a bit too much to try and get the info together, but it's more really to show the results from following the schedule.

I kept a record of my milk total in an app on my phone, and then I noted down in my diary how much I froze and donated so this is just a rough idea, based on that information.

Pumped in total - 7636oz/216,976mls

Frozen and fed after I had stopped/donated - 1727oz/51,075mls

Donated - 1508oz/44,610mls

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