Express yourself

Somehow the words ‘breast pump’ have developed the most amazing resonant qualities. Try entering a party and saying them, just slightly above normal volume and I can guarantee heads will turn with a mixture of horror, fascination and incredulity. When pregnant I found that if someone (usually male) wanted to be really ‘hilarious’ and outrageous when discussing the baby experience, they’d eventually say something like ‘yeah, once minute it’s mojitos and all night karaoke and the next it’s dirty nappies and b b b b breast pumps’ (to be said with an uncertain stammer, delivered with relish and topped off with an almost smutty grin).

Now I have no idea why this is. I could posit a few theories but it could take all day and lead you deep in to the recesses of my take on the human mind. But in reality a less amusing, more mundane and often tedious piece of kit is rarely to be found. Unlike almost everything else baby-related noone has jazzed up the breast bump: they don’t come with a Cath Kidston/Orla Kiely print on them, there isn’t a glamorous nubuck back to put them in and I’ve never seen one appliquéd with diamanté.

Nevertheless if you are planning on breastfeeding and think you might want to express milk at some point, you’re probably going to end up spending ages umming and ahhing over which one to chose. Here’s a quick round-up of the basic types:

Manual pump

  • Usually nice and cheap, here’s the Avent Isis one for £25
  • Portable, no need for batteries/plugs etc so you can pump on the move (good for if you’re away from your baby for a feed)
  • Can be hardwork so probably not good if you want to do loads of expressing
  • Some people don’t find them as effective as an electric pump, though others swear they express more with a manual

Electric pump

  • More expensive: cheapest are around £60 all the way up to £250 for a double pump with lots of whistles and bells
  • Less portable (but do come with batteries if you need to use them on the move)
  • Not hard work at all for you (though can be a bit dull if you’re expressing for 30 mins so stick the TV on)
  • Most people find they express more with an electric pump

Hospital grade pump

  • If you are pumping alot (if you have a premature or poorly baby who is in the hospital) you’ll benefit from a hospital grade pump
  • Your hospital, local NCT or breastfeeding group may have one they can lend you
  • Or take a look at Express Yourself Mums for rentals

I was initially filled with trepidation at the thought of expressing – something about cows and milking… But in reality it isn’t painful, doesn’t take much skill and though at bit boring at times it isn’t much of a hardship. Here’s a few basics:

  • If you’re expressing so your baby can have a bottle (e.g. so you can be away for a feed) do be careful about introducing this before breastfeeding is properly established as you can risk confusing your little one (who’s still work out what goes where) and causing difficulties with breastfeeding. Have a chat with your doula, midwife, health visitor, breastfeeding counsellor (and check they know a good bit breastfeeding before you do) who can give you some tips on when it might be safe to introduce a bottle of expressed milk (usually after 6 weeks) and how to make sure your milk supply doesn’t drop (e.g. make sure to express once for every feed you miss remembering that nothing’s as effective as stimulating your milk supply as an actual baby!)
  • Find somewhere quiet and private at first. If you can express while looking at your baby all the better – if not take something that smells of her and a photo/video to look at. This will help your let down reflex start. This sounds like hooey but as it’s all about hormones it actually makes sense. Eventually if you express regularly you’ll probably find you can do it surrounded by people and talking about computers or astronomy (I’ve done the former but don’t have the mental capacity for the latter).
  • Don’t worry if you don’t get much. If you express at about the same time every day (morning’s are often more plentiful in terms of milk) you will usually find your yield increases.
  • If you never get much, don’t worry. Some people just find it hard and it is no indication of a poor milk supply. Repeat after me it is NO INDICATION of a poor milk supply. It is hard to believe this, but I promise it’s true (I have it on good authority from a breastfeeding counsellor who fed all 9 of her children no problem but couldn’t express a drop).

There’s more information on expressing  here and on my favourite breastfeeding website Kelly Mom.

Happy pumping and do try and remember not to answer the door while hooked up. As a certain East London postman will testify it can give the unaccustomed view a bit of a shock.

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The Hackney Doula

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