The day after I gave birth, my midwife came over to check on me and my son. Like every first-time nursing mom ever, one of the first things out of my mouth was, "We're kinda starting to figure out how to latch, but I can't tell if there's anything in there." She asked if she could show me how to hand express breast milk, I said "Of course!" and we did. At that point, I was still making tiny drops of colostrum — "The perfect amount for his tiny little tummy, don't worry!" — which didn't flow all that quickly, but it reassured me that my boobs were working as expected.
"Just watch," she continued. "In a few days, as your mature milk comes in, you'll be spraying streams everywhere." I laughed, partially because "spraying streams" sounded hilarious to me, and partially because anyone else but her talking about my boobs spraying anything would be really weird. You can get pretty close with someone when she helps you give birth, though.
My midwife was totally right, of course. A few days of nursing every other hour later, my breasts were the biggest they'd ever been (I about fainted later that week when I went to my local breastfeeding center for a nursing bra fitting, and heard what size she recommended), and uncomfortably full. My sleep-deprived mama brain didn't quite remember the graceful little motion my midwife had done, so I found a YouTube tutorial of another mom of a new baby (who looked way more put together than I did at that point) and started engaging in a little trial-and-error. The first time you hand express milk is strange, interesting, a little exciting, and mostly really funny, because it's pretty much inevitable that the following will happen:
You'll Feel Confused
“My midwife and the lady in the YouTube tutorial made this look so easy! What am I doing wrong?”
You'll Spray Milk Everywhere By Accident
Once you finally get the hang of it, whoosh. You'll realize pretty quickly why breast pumps are designed with what are basically little funnels on top: breast milk comes out in multiple streams, that all travel in slightly different directions. (Pro tip: if you've got any breast pump parts, use one of the flanges as a funnel on the top of the bottle or baggie you're trying to fill.)
You'll Spray Milk Everywhere On Purpose
Oh, don't even deny it. It's totally understandable: it's really cool to see something shoot out of your chest. Of course you're going to spray a little bit, just to see how it all works.
You’ll Make Those Little Toy Gun Sounds
Pew pew pew! Take that, invisible monsters! My milk is rich in antibodies and antimicrobial agents that will destroy you immediately!
You'll (Unsuccessfully) Fight The Urge To Make A Bad Joke About Milking Yourself
It's unavoidable. Just remember: you are not a cow. Human moms have been milking ourselves since well before humans domesticated cows.
You'll Check The Time (And Often)
“OK, this is cool and all, but I've been doing this for how long now? And I've only gotten an ounce?!”
You'll Be Ridiculously Impressed With All The Moms Who Raised Kids Before (Or Without) Breast Pumps And Formula
I find hand expressing much more comfortable than pumping, but there's no question that, for me at least, pumping is a lot quicker. (Some mamas who hand express more regularly than I do are way more efficient than I am, though, so your mileage may vary.) The time difference is especially apparent on your first go around. You'll definitely find yourself in awe of moms whose babies wouldn't latch, who spent months hand expressing milk for them multiple times a day.
You'll Be Pretty Impressed With Yourself
Not only can you make people with your own body, and make milk with your own body, you can express it with your own hands. This is some next-level DIY sh*t, right here.
You'll Stare Impatiently At The Bottle You're Trying To Fill
If you're hand expressing to get a meal for a baby, rather than just trying to relieve engorgement, then after the initial novelty wears off, you’ll start wondering if this bottle could just go ahead and fill itself up in the next couple of minutes. Ain't got all day here, boobs...
You'll Notice Random Things About Your Boobs
Chances are, this is probably the longest you've spent feeling your own boobs. "Huh! Has that always felt like that, or is this just a lactation quirk?"
You'll Develop Your Own Little Rhythm
In, out, squirt. In, out, squirt. In, out, squirt...
You'll Find Yourself Doing A Random Milk Dance
I mean, you've already got a little rhythm going, and you gotta keep yourself entertained somehow. Especially since your hands are probably too busy to read or scroll through your phone.
You'll Be Incredibly Relieved No One Can See You
Or, you'll be super grateful if your partner or whomever else happens to see you is amused and understanding. You might look a little silly, but you're basically performing a little miracle, on behalf of the even more impressive miracle you just made. All hail Me, the Milk Queen!