Using the tools at the ends of your arms

I’ll admit, I like simplicity. Why go out and get a complicated piece of equipment when something simple will do?

That was the message delivered a few weeks ago by Dr. Jane Morton when she spoke to members of the Nursing Mothers Counsel. Now in private practice with Burgess Pediadrics, Dr. Morton conducted research at Stanford on how moms of preemies could greatly increase milk supply through the use of the “hands-on pumping” technique.

Her talk was titled Is Pumping Out of Hand? The Merits and Rationale of Hand-Expression and Hands-on Pumping. Dr. Morton’s answer to the question posed in her title is “yes,” and she is making it her mission to reintroduce moms to the two amazing tools at the ends of their arms while both simplifying their lives and increasing the success of breastfeeding.

The most common reason women give for stopping breastfeeding is insufficient milk supply. It stands to reason, then, that anything they can do to increase supply will increase their chances of successful breastfeeding. Dr. Morton’s “prescription” is simple: even for healthy, term babies, moms should hand express about 5 times a day for the first 3 days.

I had already been encouraging pregnant moms to watch her video on hand expression before having their babies. Now I’ve begun passing along her advice about early hand expression. As she explained it, working on your supply early is like money in the bank–invest a little now for a big payoff later. And we know that physiologically, it makes sense: in the first few weeks, the frequency of breast stimulation influences development of the hormone receptors that control milk production. The simple equation? More frequent stimulation=more hormone receptors=more milk.

Dr. Morton also encouraged hand expression for moms who might be suffering low supply later on (after several weeks or months). To help boost supply, a mom could hand express for a few minutes every time she gets a drink of water, or goes to the bathroom, or sends a text message (now that might be a lot of hand expressing!) The idea is similar to one we sometimes suggest of a “nursing vacation” for moms suffering with supply issues after weeks or months of breastfeeding: go to bed and nurse the baby as frequently as possible for a couple of days, just as you did during the newborn period.

I have only attended one birth since getting, and giving, the early hand expression advice, but the one mom who tried it has a great milk supply and breastfeeding was going well after just a couple of weeks. I can’t say for sure that the hand expression did it, but it couldn’t have hurt.

So I’ll pass along Dr. Morton’s advice to anyone reading this. Learn how to hand express effectively and do it early. It has the potential to make your breastfeeding experience a whole lot better.


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