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Your question:

How long should I express for each time (expressing for a premature or ill baby)?

Expert’s answer:

When you are expressing for your premature or ill baby it is important to begin hand expressing your colostrum as soon as possible after the birth of your baby. Once you have started ideally you should express at least 8-10 times every 24 hours. It would also be important to express at least one time between midnight and 6am as the milk making hormone, prolactin, is higher at night particularly in the early weeks after your baby’s birth. When your body starts to produce more breastmilk and the colour changes from yellow colostrum to more white coloured breastmilk, you can then move on to using the breast pump. Your nurse or midwife will support and assist you to hand express and use the breast pump.

The following is tips on how to get the most milk for your baby

  • Have a warm shower or place a warm facecloth on your breast and then massage your breasts
  • Look at photos or videos of your baby while you express your breastmilk. These are lovely to have for all the family. They will also help you to produce oxytocin (milk releasing hormone) and so increase your milk flow
  • Keep your baby’s smell with you. The best way to do this is to leave a muslin square in the incubator with your baby for a day. Then change the muslin and keep this close to you when you express milk. Your baby’s smell helps your milk flow
  • Remember to look after yourself and try to get rest. Try to eat normal, healthy diet and drink when you are thirsty. Some mothers feel thirsty when expressing milk, so have a drink of water near you.

It may take a few times expressing before you produce even a few drops of colostrum. Your baby’s tummy is tiny and every drop of this ‘liquid gold’ matters. Following our Tips for expressing can help.  In the first few days it can take 15 to 20 minutes to hand express and when you start using the pump many mothers find it takes approximately 20 -30 minutes to express breaatmilk in the early days. It is important to empty your breasts as much as possible at each expressing session.  Once your milk changes from day 3 onwards generally, you express until the flow of milk slows, pause to massage your breasts then express again until the flow of milk slows before finishing.

There is a protein in breastmilk called 'Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation or FIL'.  When your breasts are full of milk, there is lots of FIL present in your breasts. This sends a signal to your brain to slow down the production of breastmilk.  When your breasts are well drained or emptied of breastmilk, there is very little FIL present hence this sends the signal to your brain to increase the production of breastmilk.  This is why emptying your breasts as much as possible at each expressing session is important - it helps build your supply.

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