When and How Should I Start Expressing Breast Milk?

For those mums who want to have some expressed breast milk on hand so they can share some of the feeds or want to be able to go out without their baby, it is a good idea to start expressing around 6-8 weeks at the earliest...

Prior to the first 6 weeks, you and your baby are learning to get breastfeeding off to a good start, so it is best to not over complicate things by learning how to start expressing milk as well as everything else at the moment!

This blog will explain what is happening in the breasts in the beginning and why it is a good idea to wait a while before you start expressing.

There are, of course, some mums who have been advised to express in the first few weeks after birth. However, this is usually due to breastfeeding difficulties. Your midwife or lactation consultant will advise you if this is required. Otherwise, just wait and get comfortable and confident with breastfeeding your baby at first.

Expressing Breast Milk Occasionally for Going Out or Sharing a Feed

If you are wanting to occasionally express, lots of mums say they find it easier to express in the morning. This is due to most women having the most abundant milk supply in the earlier hours.

Many babies also have “cluster” feeding sessions, where they feed very frequently, usually from very early to mid-morning and then have a fairly long sleep afterwards.

Try expressing in the middle of your baby’s longer sleep. This way, your breasts will have had some time to refill after the cluster feeding and there will also be time before your baby’s next breastfeed for the breasts to refill again.

If you are just planning to have the occasional expressed milk feed, then one to a few expression sessions a week would likely cover your needs.

It’s not advised to regularly express every day unless you need to boost your milk supply. If you add in a regular extra expression then your body will keep creating this extra feed, which means that your breasts will always be full around this time even if you don’t plan to express!

Remember the breast milk supply works on “supply and demand.” In other words, what your baby or your pump “demand” the breast will keep supplying!

Should I Be Expressing a Set Amount of Breast Milk?

Every mum produces milk of varying amounts and produces it at different times throughout the day. So there is no set amount you should be expressing. Some mums find that they get more in the mornings than evenings, but as we are all different, try expressing at different times and see what works for you.

The average baby drinks about 800ml per day from one to six months in age. Some babies will drink all this over 4-6 feeds per day, whilst other babies need 9-12 feeds per day to drink the same amount.

Our breasts hold different amounts in our cells where the milk is made and stored, so one mum may express out 90ml per pump whilst her friend may express 60ml.

We are all different. You will work out how frequently you need to express to get what your baby needs. Try not to compare yourself to anyone else as we are all individuals in everything we do.

Returning to Work and Expressing Breast Milk

When planning on returning to work, it is a good idea to start expressing and building a supply of milk in your freezer beforehand.

A good guide is to start expressing about 6 weeks before returning to work. This length of time allows you to get into the swing of things if you haven’t already expressed your milk. It also allows you to build a good amount of back-up milk in the freezer without making you express too many times per day!

Again, try expressing in the mornings as often your baby will have a certain time frame where they sleep well and our milk supply is highest in the early hours. Depending on how much milk you express you may want to express once or twice per day.

When you go back to work, you need to think of the expressing you do as replacing your baby’s normal breastfeeds during the time period you are at work. If your baby can be brought into your work, then breastfeed as normal. However, if your baby cannot be brought to you, you will need to express to maintain your supply. For example, if your baby would usually have 2-3 feeds in an 8 hour period, then try to express twice during your work day.

You will probably notice that your baby wants to breastfeed more frequently once you get home from work. This is very normal. It is simply baby’s way of saying “Hello mum! Welcome home! I love having feeds and cuddles with you!” This behaviour also helps to give your supply a boost as well.

As time goes on, you and baby will get used to feeding, expressing and working and everything will settle into an easier routine.

If you notice your milk supply dwindling, try to express or breastfeed a few extra times to boost your supply back up again. Remember “Supply and Demand”!

For more helpful tips on returning to work visit this Medela blog.

How Will I Know How Much Expressed Milk to Feed My Baby?

On average, babies between the ages of one and six months drink about 800ml of breast milk every day. Of course, there are those babies who drink much more… and their mums who make a lot more too!

A rough guide is to think about how many times your baby breastfeeds per day and divide this by 800 -1000ml. For example, if your baby feeds about 10 times per day (10 ÷ 800/1000 = 80-100ml per feed).

Of course, when it comes to breastfeeding, remember that the fat content of breast milk changes based on whether it is the beginning or end of the feed. It also changes throughout the day. So, you may find your baby needs more milk at some feeds and less at others. This is normal. This is what they have been doing whilst feeding at your breast anyway. You just haven’t been able to see it!

What is the Best Way to Feed My Baby Expressed Breast Milk?

There are a few ways to feed your baby expressed breast milk. The most common is, of course, via a bottle. The Medela Calma feeding device is designed to help babies use the same sucking mechanism on the bottle as they do whilst they breastfeed.

Some mums may choose to cup feed their baby from early on. Older babies can actually feed from a sippy cup from around 6-12 months. Therefore, they do not always need to be introduced to a bottle.

Of course, some mums need to introduce a bottle as they are going back to work earlier than 6 months. If your baby will not take a bottle and this is the way you would like to feed them, you can find some more helpful hints here.

What is the Right Pump for My Needs?

Check out this post to get everything you need to know about which is the right pump for you based on your expressing needs.

How Do I Use My Pump Correctly?

Follow this link to gain more insight into the importance of using the correct breast shields and measuring your nipples!

How Can I Safely Store My Expressed Breast Milk?

Here is all the information you need to know on storing, thawing and using your expressed breast milk

Do you have any questions about expressing breast milk? How has your breastfeeding journey been so far? For more information and to share your experiences visit us at our Medela Australia Facebook.