There are multiple ways to give your baby your breast milk
Tailor-made to meet the nutritional needs of her baby, a mother’s milk supplies unique immune factors, stem cells, hormones, and enzymes. The composition of her milk changes depending on the needs of her baby. How incredible is that!?
Breastfeeding is recommended where possible, as it supports:
- Skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her baby
- The establishment of a mother’s milk supply
- Fewer steps - it doesn’t require pumps, bottles, heating, or sterilization of equipment
Yet, in situations where feeding directly at the breast is not possible, many moms can continue to offer their milk to their babies.
Why is expressed milk so important?
For many mothers, expressing breast milk is an important skill to learn in their breastfeeding journey. There are a variety of reasons why mothers may need to express their breast milk, including:
- To relieve full breasts
- To collect breast milk if they will be away from babies for more than a few hours
- To increase milk supply*
- To maintain milk supply during times when feeding at the breast is not possible*
- To collect milk for feeding via an alternative feeding method, such as a syringe, supplemental nursing system, cup, or bottle*
For families interested in providing expressed milk by bottle, it’s best to wait to introduce a bottle until breastfeeding is well established (usually after four to six weeks).
*Families who need to express breast milk, for reasons other than feeding by bottle, would likely benefit from the support of a lactation consultant, or other knowledgeable health professional or breastfeeding support person.
Helpful tips for families
Just like breastfeeding, expressing breast milk involves a learning curve for families. It’s helpful for families to receive support and information about:
- How to express breast milk, via hand expression, with a manual or electric breast pump, or through a combination of methods
- How often to express milk
- How to store their milk
- How to prepare milk for their baby
- How to clean and sterilize bottles and feeding supplies
Exclusive pumping and combination feeding
Some families make an informed decision not to feed at the breast. Instead, they express breast milk and feed this to their baby as their sole source of nutrition. This approach is sometimes referred to as “exclusive pumping.” Other families choose a different approach called “combination feeding,” where they alternate between feeding at the breast and feeding breast milk by bottle.
Regardless of the feeding approach, it’s vital for mother’s support systems, including friends, family, and health care providers, to have an awareness about milk expression, exclusive pumping, and combination feeding. This awareness ensures that mothers are well care for, and feel understood and supported.
The bottom line
There are reasons why a mother may not feed her baby at the breast. In these situations, we all have an important role to play in supporting women who wish to provide their own milk to their babies.
To learn more, consider these resources:
- NH’s breastfeeding and breast milk public webpage provides links to resources on the expression, storage, and use of breast milk in the Baby has arrived: Getting started
- Healthy Families BC has some great videos about breastfeeding
(Co-authored with Randi Parsons, Regional Nursing Lead - Maternal, Infant, Child and Youth, and Lise Luppens, Population Health Dietitian)