Pumping breast milk can be a difficult and frustrating process, regardless of which method you choose. However, for many moms, hand pumping is by far the most challenging to get to grips with. Look on any post on the topic online and you’ll find many moms blasting hand pumping as difficult, ineffective and a complete waste of time. So, is it worth even trying?
The truth is, hand pumping is a challenge and it does take time, patience, and practice to master. However, it also offers many benefits you don’t get from a manual or electric pump.
If you’re considering trying the hand pump techniques, or you’ve tried it and you haven’t had much success, here you’ll discover some of the best techniques that can help. But first, let’s start with why you should give hand pumping a chance…
What Are The Benefits?
Sure, hand pumping is a challenge, but when done correctly it offers the following benefits:
- It’s more convenient
- It’s affordable
- It saves time and effort
- It’s more comfortable
- It produces more milk
Trying to express milk by hand may not feel very convenient when you’re struggling to get it right, but once mastered it beats electric pumping hands down. This is especially true when you’re out with your baby. If you choose a manual or electric breast pump you need to worry about carrying them around with you, and they’re surprisingly heavier than you might think! It’s much easier and more space effective to use your hands whenever the need arises.
The cost saving benefits are also fantastic. You have everything you need right there literally at your fingertips. So, no expensive pumps to buy. Then there’s the fact you don’t need to worry about sterilizing the pump, saving time and effort.
When done right, you’ll also find it to be a lot more comfortable than having an electric pump suctioning the breast! Perhaps the biggest benefit however, is the fact it can help you to express more milk. Now, there’s a lot of contradictory advice out there with some claiming hand pumping isn’t as effective as electric pumps. However, when following the right techniques hand pumping can produce more milk due to the skin-on-skin contact.
So, as you can see there’s plenty of benefits that await you with this method. The question is, how can you make sure you experience them?
Hand Pumping Preparation
Before you even try to hand pump your breast milk, there are a few tips to ensure you’re well prepared. As with everything, the secret to success is through preparation, so how do you prepare for hand expression?
Firstly, it’s important to relax. You’ll find it very difficult to get any milk out of your breasts if you’re stressed! Milk flows much easier when you’re both relaxed and comfortable. Being a mom of a demanding baby isn’t exactly relaxing and it’s not easy to switch off, so you may find it useful to try out a few relaxation techniques before you begin.
Some moms find the sound of running water helps, while others find being around their baby encourages milk flow. If you can’t physically see or hold your little one, looking at a photo of them can help. If you’re finding it hard to de-stress your mind, taking a few deep, slow breaths should work.
Massaging the breasts beforehand is also an excellent tip. Gently massage from the armpit, down to the breasts in a way which feels good for you. The massage should feel nice, helping the body and mind to relax and encouraging the breasts to release the milk.
Finally, bending forward a little so your breasts hang with gravity can also help with milk flow. Try out these different approaches to find the one which best works for you. Once you’re relaxed, warm comfortable, you can then focus on hand pumping techniques.
Hand Pumping Techniques
There are a number of different techniques you can try out, but some are much more effective than others. Below we’ll look at the number one tried and tested method – the Marmet technique.
Out of all of the different techniques, most moms recommend the Marmet method. It may take a little practice before you get it 100% right, but there are videos online which can help. Here’s a step-by-step guide of how it works…
Step One – Place Your Thumb And Forefinger Into A “C” Shape
Start by placing your thumb and forefinger into a “C” shape. If you find one or both breasts are particularly lumpy or engorged in a certain area, it’s a good idea to start there. However, if all is normal, place your hand with the C-shape around 2cm away from the nipple. When in the correct position, your thumb and forefinger should squeeze the areola (the darker skin around the nipple) when they’re pressed down.
Step Two – Gently Place The Fingers Together
This is where many moms make the mistake of pressing down too hard. Remember, in order for the milk to flow, the breasts need to be relaxed and comfortable. A sharp pain or discomfort from pressing the thumb and forefinger together too hard, will stop milk production in its tracks! So, gently bring the fingers together to encourage milk out of the nipple.
Step Three – Build Up A Steady Rhythm
Continue opening and closing the fingers and gently squeezing the nipple until you build up a nice, steady rhythm. At first only a few drops will be produced, but you’ll know you’ve reached a good rhythm when the milk starts to squirt out. This can be caught in a clean bottle or pot.
That’s it, those are the only three steps required to naturally extract milk from the breast. Easy right? Well, it should be but the truth is finding the right rhythm and hand position isn’t as easy as it sounds. You may have even tried this method with little to no success. However, it’s all about practice.
While it is mostly a case of try until you succeed, there are a few tips you may find useful…
Useful Tried And Tested Tips
If you’re struggling to master the Marmet technique, don’t worry you’re not alone! However, the following tips can be incredibly useful:
1. Find A Time That Works For You – The most common advice you’ll come across relating to hand pumping is to do it first thing in the morning. Now, for many moms this does help massively; particularly just after a shower. However, if it doesn’t work for you don’t worry.
Some moms find the milk expresses easier at night time. The key factor, regardless of what time you choose to do it, is to try it after a feed. That way, the milk production is already high, so you’re more likely to get a decent amount of milk out straight after your little one has been fed.
2. Don’t Put Pressure Onto Yourself – Hand pumping isn’t something you’re necessarily going to get right the first time. The more pressure you put on yourself, the harder it’s going to be to extract the milk. Relax, breathe, and remember, it may take a while to get the hang of it.
3. Make Sure You’re Squeezing The Areola, Not The Nipple – It’s logical to assume that you need to squeeze the actual nipple to get the milk out. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The milk is produced deep inside the breast, so if you’re squeezing the nipple, you’re not really encouraging the milk out. Instead, you need to be squeezing the area around the nipple, the areola.
4. Rotate Your Hands A Little If Milk Flow Reduces – If the flow of the milk slows down, adjust the rotation of your hands and try squeezing a different part of your breast. You want to try working the entire breast before switching to the next one to avoid milk duct blockage.
These great tips can really help ease your frustration and increase the chances of extracting as much milk as possible. It’s important to remember not to squeeze the breasts too hard or slide the hands over the breasts. These two things can cause bruising and skin burns.
Overall, hand pumping is a lot harder than you’d think, but with the right technique and following the tips above, it’s absolutely possible to get the hang of it. Once you do, you just might not look back!
The article would have been more effective if illustrations had been used. In the first few weeks of delivering the child, my wife used a breast pump. Since the delivery was through C section, milk was not producing on her breasts. Therefore, in order to stimulate the breasts, she used a breast pump. It helped to produce milk but it was very painful. Once milk began to flow naturally, she stopped using the breast pump.