The benefits of breastfeeding cannot be overstated. When breastfeeding is going well it should never be painful. Breastmilk has evolved naturally and Nature is complicated. It is overwhelming for some mothers to feel pressured to breastfeed especially when they do not have professional support. Learning about the effects of breastfeeding on both individual babies and on entire groups of people has motivated me to share this information in hopes of helping as many families as possible. For every 597 women who breastfeed their infants, 1 case of an infant or maternal death can be prevented1.
Although we now live in a world with hospital-grade breast pumping technology, it is not the only way to express breast milk. Before (and even now after) this technology was invented women would hand express breast milk when they produced more than their infants could feed at one sitting. With hand expression, you do not need electricity or to wash the many pieces of a breast pump. The hand expression of breastmilk is useful because it helps mothers express more healthy fat into the milk2 which gives more calories for babies to grow big and strong. Mothers are able to increase milk supply when combining using both breast pump and hand expression methods3.
Another good reason to hand express milk is that the sense of touch on the breast stimulates the milk ejection reflex to get milk flowing3. It can feel devastating for a mother to be separated from her baby after birth and hand expression is a way to get the milk supply started to come down until they are reunited. Hand expression is also a good strategy to maintain the flow of milk and keep a mother’s milk supply plentiful.
The biggest trigger for the production of breast milk is the frequency with which the breast expresses milk. This expression and emptying of breasts triggers more prolactin, the hormone from the brain that tells the breasts to make milk, to be released to replace the milk that was just withdrawn4. There are times when large hard masses form in the breasts of lactating mothers that are a collection of milk waiting to come out. Hand expression of milk is one means by which that milk can be withdrawn. This must be done carefully because forceful massage of the breast will cause bruising.
1 Bartick, M, et al (2017) Suboptimal breastfeeding in the United States: Maternal and pediatric health outcomes and costs. Maternal & Child Nutrition, Vol 13, Issue 1, DOI: 10.1111/mcn.12366
2 Mangel L, Ovental A, Batscha N, Arnon M, Yarkoni I, Dollberg S. Higher fat content in breastmilk expressed manually: A randomized trial. Breastfeeding Medicine 2015;10:352-354.
3 La Leche League GB. Available at : https://www.laleche.org.uk/hand-expression-of-breastmilk/
4 Pillay J, Davis TJ. Physiology, Lactation. [Updated 2020 Jul 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.