Expressing Breast Milk
When you are pregnant you imagine that your baby will majestically pop out of your tummy and start suckling as soon as possible. You imagine that you will have enough milk and that your baby will be a great fan of suckling. This may all be true but many times you find that many women don’t have milk until a few hours or even days after birth. Sometimes you may not be able to breastfeed for other reasons.
Such situations call for alternative options like formula milk since your baby has to eat, and especially if they are predisposed to certain conditions, such as low blood sugar, at birth (this is a possibility with babies whose mothers have diabetes). The ideal scenario actually involves the baby taking colostrum – that first thick yellowish milk a mother produces.
Colostrum is sometimes referred to as a baby’s ‘first immunization’ because it is rich in antibodies that begin to build up your baby’s immune system from the get-go. It starts off the process of activating immunological responses, sets the stage for gut flora to develop and keeps bad bacteria from growing in their gut. It also helps your baby pass meconium (that very dark tar-like first poop), thereby reducing the chances of reabsorption of bilirubin. This reduces the risk of developing jaundice since it is brought on by an increase in bilirubin levels.
Breast is best and all but if you have no breast milk at the time of birth, what to do? Some choose to take milk from a breast milk bank but those aren’t quite as common as sperm banks. Do you let your baby take formula and wish that they didn’t have to? Well, they don’t really have to. You can create your own milk reserve for use at this time. All you need to do is express while you are still pregnant and freeze it in readiness for d-day.
At this point you are probably thinking about nipple stimulation and early onset of labour and whether you should really take the chance. That was indeed a big worry a couple of years ago but recent, more in-depth studies have shown that nipple stimulation only poses the risk of uterine contractions when your body is ready for labour. This study also included women who were breastfeeding during pregnancy.
Now that we’ve dispelled those fears, let’s create the stash.
Start by getting 1ml and 3ml syringes. You can easily get them from a pharmacy. You should also get plastic Ziploc bags for storing the syringes in the freezer.
You can start expressing at 36 weeks unless a healthcare professional says otherwise. You only need to express with your hands and you can start with once a day. You can graduate to twice or thrice when you get the hang of it. The most appropriate time to express is after a shower since your hands will be clean and breasts warm. If not, make sure your hands are clean and place a warm towel or heat pack on your breasts to warm them.
- Start by gently massaging your breasts towards the nipple.
- Use your thumb and fingers and place them above and below the areola (the dark circle around your nipple). Compress your breast towards the chest and not the nipple, using your fingers to imitate the sucking motion of a baby. If the flow reduces move your fingers around to express from other milk ducts too. You can express for about five minutes and switch to the other breast and then repeat the cycle on both breasts.
- You can collect it in a clean glass or feeding bottle (if the flow is good) or a spoon. Draw it up with a clean syringe when done. If you will use a new syringe every day, mark each syringe with the date and time expressed. If not, make sure you keep it in the fridge between expressing sessions.
- Colostrum can keep for three months in the freezer and about six months in a deep freeze.
- You should stop expressing if you feel any cramps.
Remember to carry your syringes to hospital on delivery day. Make sure you let them know that you want your baby to have colostrum instead of formula as the first feed and ensure they know where it is in advance.