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It may not be possible for a breastfeeding mother to always be physically present with her child to feed them. The mother may, for whatever reason, have to spend a few hours or days away from the baby. In such a scenario, expressing milk and storing it becomes the best option for the baby to stay fed and healthy in mother's absence. "This can occur in any stage of breastfeeding journey -- whether in the early stage when the baby is only a few days old, or later when the baby is 12 months or so. In any age, if the mother and baby are apart before weaning-off happens, the milk can be expressed so as to sustain its supply, as well as to provide for the child," said Roghayyeh Bayazi, lactation consultant at Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Pune.
According to the expert, some mothers are comfortable manually expressing their milk, but there are different types of breast pumps available in the market that can be used for the same purpose. Massaging and hot fomentation are important, but not mandatory. "Manually giving massages and compressing the breast can help empty them," said Bayazi.
"Research has shown watching baby pictures or videos while pumping can be helpful in expressing more milk. Even a baby's scent like a piece of clothing can help trigger let-down reflex and good milk ejection," she added.
Manual breast pumps are the best option for occasional pumping; they are less expensive as compared to electric pumps, but take more effort to operate and may not be suitable for every woman.
Electric breast pumps are small in size and require less physical effort to remove the milk; these can be plugged in or used with a battery. It is good for those who want to pump regularly and more frequently.
"The mother can carry the pump to work. The size of the flange or shield needs to be selected correctly to prevent nipple injury; it needs to cover the entire nipple and areola. A lactation consultant can help you with the right size according to your nipple shape. The mother also needs family and society's support to be able to express milk in privacy," Bayazi stated.
The expert stated that there are various reasons that may keep the mother away from her baby, like returning to work after maternity leave. As such, it is advisable that before making the transition, the mother trains her baby by feeding them expressed milk for a few weeks. "The baby needs to learn to take the expressed milk from a cup or spoon, and the mother must learn to get comfortable with expressing and storing milk," said the lactation consultant.
Bayazi further explained that employers are required to provide an appropriate space for lactating employees to pump their milk. "Most mothers need to express every 2-3 hours to prevent engorgement. In addition to that, the mother may take some time to sustain her milk supply without having the baby around, so they need emotional support without being under constant work pressure. Hand hygiene and sterilization are important, otherwise expressed milk can get contaminated. Expressed milk can stay 4-6 hours at room temperature and 24 hours in the fridge, but it needs to be in an airtight container."