Breast pump manufacturers have done a great job of convincing mothers that their product is as much a “must have” new-parent item as diapers and burp cloths. Many mothers accept that they’ll need to have a pump for when they go back to work, return to school, or are separated from their baby. Expressing milk is a necessity.
But pumping is not the only way to express milk — even if the breast pump makers would like you to think that’s the case!
Like Francie Webb, author of Go Milk Yourself and my guest on Born to Be Breastfed, many mothers are never told that hand expression is an option for expressing their milk. Furthermore, those who are aware of the method tend to think it’s old-fashioned and inconvenient or — even worse for a new mother! — time-consuming and ineffective.
Once they give it a chance, many mothers find there are many advantages. Off the top of my head, I can think of 21 advantages:
- First of all, your hands are always with you.
- Hand expression is a very clean method. There’s no need to worry about cleaning or sterilizing any nooks and crannies where milk might congregate. What could be simpler than washing your hands?
- Studies show that mothers can get a high volume of milk by using hand expression.
- Hand expression can be fast. It may go slowly at first, but with a bit of practice you’ll develop your skills and learn to do it quickly. I’ve seen mothers express as much as one ounce per minute without any real incentive to beat the clock. If you express 5 ounces each time, that’s 5 minutes for the whole process. (It can take that long just to set up, and clean up, an electric pump!)
- There’s no need to lug around a pump. Hence, no schlepping the thing through the turnstiles at the subway entrance or the library.
- There’s no possibility of losing your pump, or having it stolen, because your “pump” is at the end of your arm.
- It’s silent — no noise from the pump.
- There’s no need to worry about losing pump parts — especially one of those itty-bitty membranes (And if you don’t have that itty-bitty membrane, your pump won’t work!)
- It works even when there’s a power outage, making it great for emergencies.
- There’s no need to make sure that you are near an electrical outlet. In contrast to pumping, you can hand express your milk anywhere.
- You’ll never need to scramble to arrange for overnight shipping to get a lost, damaged, or worn out part.
- You won’t need to worry about getting the right size flange.
- If you need to express your milk during the first days after your baby’s birth, you won’t waste a drop of precious colostrum when you express it directly into a spoon or a medicine cup.
- It’s less work. There’s no need to determine which is the best pump for you, or set up a pump, wash the flanges afterwards, and so on.
- It’s cheaper. You won’t need to pay for an electric pump or any breast pump collection kits. (Pump kits are pricier than you might assume.)
- You’ll become familiar with the contours of your breasts. You’ll have fewer worries about “lumps” in your breasts because you’ll know if they are usually there or if they are something unusual.
- Perfect for the assembling-parts-challenged woman. Whew! There’s nothing to figure out or remember!
- It eliminates the possibility of traumatizing your breast or nipple with suction that is too high — because there is no suction.
- It’s the closest thing to breastfeeding your baby. The skin of your fingers on the skin of your breasts is warm and makes “rolling” motions that are similar to the baby’s motions, which can help maintain your milk supply when you are apart.
- Hand expression is empowering. You’re not dependent on a device when you express your milk this way.
- Finally, aside from the cost of bottles or milk storage bags (which you’d need with an electric pump, too) — it’s free!
Have you tried to hand express your milk? What’s your reason for hand expression? Share your experiences in the comments section below!