What is exclusively expressing and why are more mums turning to it?

More mums are choosing to exclusively express their breast milk to feed their babies [Photo: Getty]
More mums are choosing to exclusively express their breast milk to feed their babies [Photo: Getty]

Bottle Vs breastfeeding tends to command all the headlines when it comes to how babies are fed. But there’s another option mums are increasingly turning to when it comes to feeding their little ones – exclusively expressing.

Yep, in amongst the breast, formula and combination-of-the-two feeders there is a growing band of women who consider themselves ‘exclusive expressers’, which means they express breast milk, and feed it to their babies from a bottle, rather than directly at the breast.

A national survey in the US indicated that 85% of breastfeeding mothers fed their infants some expressed human milk between 1.5 and 4.5 months after birth.

The same survey found that exclusive expressers now account for 5% of mums who give their babies breast milk. But those stats were actually collected over a decade ago so some experts believe the number now is actually substantially higher.

What is exclusively expressing?

Anna Burbidge, from breastfeeding support group La Leche League GB, says her organisation has noticed a rise in the number of women discussing expressing breast milk as a means of feeding their babies.

LLLGB has noticed an increase in mothers who talk about expressing breast milk to give to their babies when not nursing directly at the breast, and there seem to be various reasons for this,” she explains.

For some women expressing, particularly in the early days, may be necessary if their baby is born with medical conditions which mean breastfeeding is difficult or impossible.

“The increase in assisted conception, along with mothers with chronic health problems, breast surgery, obesity and becoming a mother later in life can sometimes lead to challenges with lactation and mothers might need to pump as part of their breastfeeding experience.”

Every day, I’m pumping

It’s possible celebrity endorsement for the humble breast pump may also have played a role in the predicted rise in popularity of the feeding method.

Just last month, in a now viral image, Rachel McAdams posed wearing a maternity bra and double breast pump for Girls Girls Girls magazine.

The 40-year-old mum who gave birth to her first child last April, was breastfeeding between takes in a shoot and agreed with the photographer to incorporate the reality of the shoot into the final image.

The now infamous shot was also recently recreated by Hilary Duff. And other celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and Chrissy Teigen have also been sharing their breast pump images online which some experts say is helping to fuel a rise in women expressing milk.

While the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding for two years and beyond, breastfeeding in this context is defined as the provision of breast milk, regardless of how breast milk is delivered to the child.

Which means exclusively pumping or expressing could also see babies enjoying many of the same benefits of breastfeeding.

Exclusively expressing as a feeding method is often not discussed [Photo: Getty]
Exclusively expressing as a feeding method is often not discussed [Photo: Getty]

But while more women are undoubtedly talking about expressing or pumping, there still needs to be more discussion and information surrounding exclusively expressing as a feeding method.

“The idea of exclusively expressing is not one that is discussed often,” explains Lucy Shrimpton, The Sleep Nanny and expert from The Baby Show (1st – 3rd March). “We talk about exclusively breastfeeding and formula feeding which is usually the assumption when we talk about bottle feeding but what about expressing all the way?”

Lucy says though many mothers have extreme discomfort with breastfeeding they often feel guilted into persevering with it, but she’s always been of the opinion mums should do ‘whatever works for them’.

“If you’re making the milk and want your baby to have it but breastfeeding is not working out, a good breast pump and stocking up some expressed milk could be incredibly advantageous,” she says.

Benefits of exclusively expressing

Reasons she cites as advantages of exclusively expressing include being able to freeze the milk for a lasting supply, receiving help from your partner during the night and daycare providers being able to give your baby your milk.

“Exclusively expressing could mean that you continue to give your baby breast milk for far longer than you otherwise would have,” she adds.

So what do mums need to know if they want to give EP (exclusively pumping) a try?

“If you have explored your choices and decide to EP, the first thing you will need is a really good quality double electric pump, which you can rent or buy,” suggests Milli Hill, Author of The Positive Birth Book.

“Then, you will need to match as closely as possible your baby’s feeding pattern – and this will depend on the age of your baby. Learning about milk production and supply from a site like kellymom.com can be helpful too,” she adds.

“Most experts agree that around 20 mins is the ideal length of time to pump, and that it’s better to use the lowest setting on your pump – the higher setting does not automatically mean you will get more milk.

“Breastfed babies tend to take in less milk than those fed with formula so it’s important to learn more about the right quantity of breast milk for the age of your baby. You can also read more about ‘paced bottle feeding’ which is a way of feeding via bottle that more closely mimics breastfeeding. Good luck!”

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