A Handful is a Mouthful… Hand Express Breastfeeding
Denise Bolds, MSW CD(DONA)
January 13, 2016
Without any support, I breastfed my newborn son Jordan twenty-five years ago. I was a divorced (single) black mother and the recipient of medical disparity. My breastfeeding journey was arduous: I sustained a traumatic birth followed by post-partum depression. I was determined to breastfeed. The last thing I owned as a new mother; a breast pump.
That’s right, you heard me. I did not own a breast pump, not even a manual one. In all of my lack of experience and support, I breastfed my baby; when he wasn’t feeding, I was squeezing my milk from my breasts with my bare hands into a cup. At the time, I thought I was the only nut doing this. I kept it to myself for years.
Two Breasts, Two Hands…
You can do this. Hand expressing has been around for years. I’ve heard stories of great-grandmas expressing their milk into Mason jars! Twenty-five years later I am validated when I attended a workshop in NYC facilitated by Francie Webb: a schoolteacher, wife, mother and the CEO of TheMilkinMama. Francie hand expresses her milk for her babies while holding down a successful career.
As a certified birth doula and lactation counselor, I feel (pun intended) hand expressing is not encouraged or taught as a preliminary resource to mothers whom breastfeed. In fact, the same day I was in NYC attending Francie’s workshop, I saw a very pregnant woman waddling down the street with a Medela Pump kit in her hand. I always overhear conversations of mothers-to-be about their registries – the breast pump is at the top of the list. In fact, the more expensive, the better! Many mothers coordinate with their health insurance to secure a breast pump before the baby is born. The breast pump is often misused and abused as a tool to stimulate milk production. What many do not realize: breast pumps can cause trauma to the breast. Hand expressing is natural, gentle and calming. What in the heck is hand expressing?
A Gland In The Hand…
Anatomically, women have breasts to feed their offspring. The breasts are made up of glandular tissue; these glands produce milk and travel through the breast by ducts. When stimulated the milk is ejected from the breast. Sounds familiar? The breast sounds just like a penis. A penis is also a gland that when stimulated ejects a product. It is imperative to become comfortable in hand massaging the breasts prior to hand expressing, pumping or breastfeeding. As with anything, practice and patience are necessary. Breast milk is food, so please wash your hands before expressing or pumping.
Expressing is a form of massage that relaxes as well as stimulates. It involves the total breast: from the tail to the nipple. Many images of pumping are portrayed with the nipple being sucked into a cup and suction pressure draws out milk. This is often cold and does not involve the total breast, just the anterior portion. Noted lactation consultant Andrea Syms-Brown describes pumps as applying negative pressure, taking milk only from around the nipple and not the total breast where hand expressing involves positive and negative pressure engaging the total breast and stimulating mammary glands.
Technique: Your Hands… Clutch!
Relax all the way to your fingertips and correct your posture: hunched, drawn up shoulders promotes stress. Keep shoulders back and down. The breast is like a small purse or clutch with smaller side pockets, compartments inside. Do you remember looking in your purse for something only to have to search in all the little side pockets too? Your breasts are the same when it comes to breast milk.
Clutch the breast from your ribs and massage out to your nipple pushing the breast back against the chest so that milk is ejected forward through the nipple. Use the base of your palms to massage from the top of your clavicle down to the nipple and repeat this on inner cleavage of the breast. Repeat on other side.
Speeding Doesn’t Equal Quality or Quantity…
Just as in breastfeeding with the baby to the breast, pumping hurriedly is a no-no. Just because you have an electric pump doesn’t mean you will release milk faster. Relaxation and moving the milk to the nipple is key. Massaging the breast prior to pumping helps move the milk forward out of the side pockets, reducing engorgement. Avoid lanolin as it may promote allergies for you and your baby. Organic coconut oil is very helpful in nipple care. If your baby’s latching is making you sore or tender, using a pump can increase discomfort.
Getting to Second Base…
Practice hand-expressing in-between feeding your baby and watch how good you get at it. Get comfortable touching your breasts, massaging them. Decrease your stress and anxiety about forgetting pump attachments at home, keeping spares in your car of at grandma’s house. Hand expressing is great for moms with preemies to get colostrum collection. Becoming proficient in hand expressing is natural and builds self-esteem. You can also be away from your baby and still express safely; with the baby using your stash at home. Imagine how approachable hand expressing is for transgender parents!
Get Pumped With An Expert!
Francie Webb, TheMilkinMama offers workshops both on-line and in person to breastfeeding mothers, doulas, lactation counselors and more. You can contact her: #gomilkyourself Follow: @themilkinmama