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6 Benefits Of Hand Expressing, According To Lactation Consultants

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If you plan to breastfeed your baby, you've probably stocked up on all of the essentials — pump, storage bags, nipple cream, shields, nursing bras, etc. But one of the most handy tools for breastfeeding is actually right at your literal fingertips. Yep, the benefits of hand expressing breast milk are plentiful, according to lactation consultants.

Even though it's not the fastest or easiest way to express your breast milk, hand expressing can be extremely efficient. When I was nursing my boys, I could never quite get the hang of hand expression, but I did try my best because it was a convenient way to help prevent engorgement when my babies weren't around and I didn't have time to pump. Although it was difficult for me, I probably just didn't have anyone skilled enough to help me streamline the process.

Admittedly, seeing a lactation consultant likely would have helped make my life a thousand times easier when I was learning how to hand express. This valuable skill is worth taking the time to learn from a pro because the benefits are numerous — removing colostrum, preventing engorgement and mastitis, and getting a sleepy baby to latch, just to name a few. Read on to see how hand expressing your breast milk could benefit you and your baby.

1. Efficiently Removes Colostrum

"Hand expression is a very valuable tool that is often more efficient than a pump in the first few days in removing that precious colostrum for baby. This is due to the thicker consistency of the colostrum and the fact that it’s in smaller quantities," nurse and lactation consultant Angie Natero tells Romper. "It can be done into things such as a medicine cup or a spoon by mom or with the assist of a trusted IBCLC or other support person."

Natero adds that "every drop counts" when it comes to colostrum, and that the health benefits that your baby receives from those few teaspoons over the first day or two of feeding are important.

2. Prevent Baby Choking On Oversupply

If you experience a rush of letdown with a fast flow that causes your baby to spit, sputter, or choke on your oversupply, hand expressing breast milk can help prevent this from occurring, according to La Leche League International (LLLI). Simply hand express for one to two minutes before allowing your baby to latch in order to let the forceful flow of your milk calm down before your baby takes over.

3. Encourages Sleepy Babies To Nurse

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If your baby is prone to not wanting to wake up to feed, but you're determined to keep them on a feed schedule, you might try hand expressing some milk near their mouth in order to help wake them up.

"The benefits to practicing hand expression are numerous, but it is a great way to wake a sleepy baby and get them interested," Natero tells Romper.

4. Prevents Engorgement When You Can't Pump

"Learning hand expression is important because you never know when it will come in handy," Danielle Downs Spradlin, IBCLC, CLC with Oasis Lactation Services tells Romper. "It’s extremely common for pumping moms to forget a part of the pump during the work day or the battery dies. Being able to hand express saves you the risk of engorgement and mastitis."

One of my biggest fears about going back to work while breastfeeding was forgetting pump parts or being unable to pump for one reason or another. Learning how to efficiently hand express can help you feel confident that you have another way to remove milk and prevent engorgement when you can't pump.

5. Unclogs Ducts

If your ducts get easily clogged, being able to hand express can help remove the excess milk fat that causes clogged ducts. "Hand expression has been shown to more thoroughly remove milk fat, making it the ideal expression method for those prone to clogged ducts," Spradlin tells Romper.

Because clogged ducts can be painful and can lead to complications like mastitis, it's necessary to clear them and hand expressing can help do this efficiently.

6. Provides Milk For Babies Who Can't Nurse

Natero says that hand expressing can be "a great way to collect milk for a preemie or a baby separated from mom or unable to latch." She adds that hand expressing is "a great way to give baby extra milk and to avoid supplement, and a great way to help maximize milk production."

When you're removing milk from the breast frequently, either via hand expression or a pump, you encourage production, which can be beneficial for babies who need expressed milk because they are unable to nurse as a preemie or a baby with specific medical needs.

Experts:

Angie Natero, RN IBCLC

Danielle Downs Spradlin, IBCLC, CLC with Oasis Lactation Services