Black woman wearing a white shirt holding Black sleeping infant chest to chest. Infant is wearing a blue onesie and a green bib.d

Hand Expression Is a Lifesaver!!

Demonstration of breast hand expression using a cloth breast model
Click on picture for CDC Hand Expression Guidance

Breastfeeding is truly a lost art form and hand expression is a skill every new lactating mother and parent should learn. Personally, I didn’t learn to hand express until my son was 6 months old!! And I only learned how to do it while I was taking my lactation counselor training course LOL.

I was fired from a job when I was pregnant and after I gave birth, I looked for work-from-home gigs. I posted my resume on several websites, including Indeed.com. A travel agency found me on there because I mentioned that I taught HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness in Tanzania. I had a chat with a rep and was invited for an interview.

Blue sky with white clouds. Yellow traffic sign with the words scam alert written out. Ground is a field of brown wheat like crop.
Pixabay.com

Now, throughout this entire process I couldn’t help but think….this must be a scam! I even thought to myself, is this a sex-trafficking ring?? I didn’t know at the time, but I was most definitely suffering from postpartum anxiety and thoughts like this were just the norm for me. Two weeks before my son turned 4 months old, I had an interview at the Empire State Building for an Independent Travel Consultant position. I was still thinking this was totally a scam but it was actually legit and I decided to sign a contract and forge forward.


There was a full day training planned the day my son turned 4 months old. I arrived at 9 am for the 8 hour training with my Medela Pump in Style electric breast pump – you know the one the insurance gives out – and planned to pump ONE time on my lunch break. Cringe, I know. I barely made it to lunch break. By 11:30am, I was extremely engorged. Even though my breasts were full of milk, no milk came out into the bottles. They were too swollen for the pump to work efficiently. I was hurting, near tears and panicking. I didn’t know what to do with my full, leaking breasts. I didn’t really touch my breasts prior to this. It felt weird at the time; my breasts were a part of me physically but were also very much apart from me. Breastfeeding/pumping was never normalized in my family. My mother didn’t have positive breastfeeding experiences so even though she was around during the first few days after I gave birth, she was unable to help me with anything breastfeeding related. More on the topic of family influence and how it affects the breastfeeding/chestfeeding journey will come at a later time.

Background of sunset. Forearms visible with hands making the shape of a heart. Hands and arms are dark by shadows.
Pixabay.com

Long story short, I was so desperate that I called my husband to come to Manhattan from the Bronx with our baby so that I could breastfeed. My husband, son, and I along with a few relatives staying with us at the time, found a nearby Chase bank and I breastfed my son in the lobby. The relief was unimaginable. That was such a frustrating experience for me, but I learned several things:

    1. I would have had to pump about three hours after my son had his last feeding to prevent engorgement and to protect my milk supply. It took me a little more than an hour to arrive at the Empire State Building so a pumping session between 9:30 and 10 am could have saved me from having these challenges.
    2. Breastfeeding isn’t just latching on your baby and nursing so that they can gain weight. I feel that there is a tangible connection between the parent and baby. And I learned that I had to be intimate with my body. Touching my breasts, learning the contours of my body, and being able to use my own hands to express my own milk is something I wished I was taught in the hospital or by my family. It is extremely empowering to know that in a pinch, we could rely on ourselves.
    3. Engorgement is not something to mess around with and I was playing with fire that day by allowing so much time to pass without expressing my milk. My supply could have dropped, I could have increased my risk of developing mastitis (breast tissue inflammation that could lead to breast infection), and I actually went on to develop plugged/clogged ducts. We know now that is actually inflammation of the ducts and a backing up of milk that causes this condition. Lactation research for the win!
    4. I learned that I needed a community of like-minded breastfeeding moms of color. Chocolate Milk Café wasn’t established in 2019, and I never knew about La Leche League, Baby Café USA or Facebook breastfeeding groups. I felt so alone: My child’s pediatrician didn’t know heads or tails about breastfeeding, my nurse from a program I was enrolled in wasn’t a lactation professional, my OB/GYN wasn’t informed either and my family couldn’t provide practical breastfeeding help. I learned about Kellymom and tried to troubleshoot my issues myself but….getting help from someone knowledgeable and talking to other breastfeeding folk would have been great.

Would you like more information about hand expression? Come and learn more in my infant feeding support group.

Stay tuned for next week’s post. I’ll talk a little more about the joys of expressing milk in public places 🙃

Due to the current COVID-19 crisis, support for parents and their babies will be held virtually until further notice. Appointments can be scheduled by clicking here

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