Research is showing that hand expression helps increase milk supply in mothers who are dependent on the pump to bring in their breast milk. A low milk supply is the most common reason for mothers to stop breastfeeding. We have learned that what we do (or do not do) in the first 3 days after delivery can have a major impact on future milk production potential. Research has found that milk production in pump-dependent mothers of preterm babies depended on the frequency they used hand expression in the first 3 days after delivery.
Mothers who used hand expression more than 5 times a day in the first 3 days, yet pumped with the same frequency as other study mothers, expressed an average of 955 mls, about a quart a day by 8 weeks. This is more than a term 4 month old would need. Mothers also found consistent increases in production when they did not rely solely on pump suction alone to remove milk, but used “hands-on pumping”. This technique combines breast massage, compression and hand expression with electric pumping and does not require more time than simple pumping. By the end of the study, these women were producing 45 percent more milk than women who used hand expression fewer than twice a day during the first three postpartum days.
For mothers of term and late preterm babies, there is an important role for an alternative way to remove colostrum when the infant has not yet learned to latch on and nurse effectively. Occasionally, mothers can have difficulty getting their baby to latch in the first day. Hand expression is one way to continue to remove breastmilk and give it to baby even if mother and baby are still working on latching well.
Make sure you ask a nurse to show you how to hand express and incorporate this into your pumping routine. If you would like to watch a video of hand expression, Stanford University School of Medicine has an excellent video teaching hand expression located at this link:
(All research study information and statistics taken from “Lactation Matters: Official Blog of the International Lactation Consultant Association”)