Methods of milk expression for lactating women

Genevieve E. Becker, Hazel A. Smith, Fionnuala Cooney

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Breastfeeding is important, however not all infants can feed at the breast and methods of expressing milk need evaluation. Objectives: To assess acceptability, effectiveness, safety, effect on milk composition, contamination and costs of methods of milk expression. Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (21 March 2016), handsearched relevant journals and conference proceedings, and contacted experts in the field to seek additional published or unpublished studies. We also examined reference lists of all relevant retrieved papers. Selection criteria: Randomised and quasi-randomised trials comparing methods at any time after birth. Data collection and analysis: Three review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion and risk of bias, extracted data and checked them for accuracy. Main results: This updated review includes 41 trials involving 2293 participants, with 22 trials involving 1339 participants contributing data for analysis. Twenty-six of the trials referred to mothers of infants in neonatal units (n = 1547) and 14 to mothers of healthy infants at home (n = 730), with one trial containing mothers of both neonatal and healthy older infants (n = 16). Eleven trials compared one or more types of pump versus hand expression and 14 studies compared one type of pump versus another type of pump, with three of these studies comparing both hand expression and pump types. Twenty studies compared a specific protocol or adjunct behaviour including sequential versus simultaneous pumping protocols, pumping frequency, provision of an education and support intervention, relaxation, breast massage, combining hand expression with pumping and a breast cleansing protocol. Due to heterogeneity in participants, interventions, and outcomes measured or reported, we were unable to pool findings for most of the specified outcomes. It was not possible therefore to produce a 'Summary of findings' table in this update. Most of the included results were derived from single studies. Trials took place in 14 countries under a variety of circumstances and were published from 1982 to 2015. Sixteen of the 30 trials that evaluated pumps or products had support from the manufacturers. The risk of bias of the included studies was variable. Primary outcomes Only one of the 17 studies examining maternal satisfaction/acceptability with the method or adjunct behaviour provided data suitable for analysis. In this study, self-efficacy was assessed by asking mothers if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: 'I don't want anyone to see me (hand expressing/pumping)'. The study found that mothers who were using the electric pump were more likely to agree with the statement compared to mothers hand expressing, (mean difference (MD) 0.70, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.15 to 1.25; P = 0.01, participants = 68). Mothers who were hand expressing reported that the instructions for expression were clearer compared to the electric pump, (MD -0.40, 95% CI -0.75 to -0.05; P = 0.02, participants = 68). Descriptive reporting of satisfaction in the other studies varied in the measures used, did not indicate a clear preference for one pump type, although there was satisfaction with some relaxation and support interventions. We found no clinically significant differences between methods related to contamination of the milk that compared any type of pump to hand expression (risk ratio (RR) 1.13, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.61; P = 0.51, participants = 28), manual pump compared to hand expression, (MD 0.20, 95% CI -0.18 to 0.58; P = 0.30, participants = 142) a large electric pump compared to hand expression (MD 0.10, 95% CI -0.29 to 0.49; P = 0.61, participants = 123), or a large electric pump compared to a manual pump (MD -0.10, 95% CI -0.46 to 0.26; P = 0.59, participants = 141). The level of maternal breast or nipple pain or damage was similar in comparisons of a large electric pump to hand expression (MD 0.02, 95% CI -0.67 to 0.71; P = 0.96, participants = 68). A study comparing a manual and large electric pump, reported sore nipples in 7% for both groups and engorgement in 4% using a manual pump versus 6% using an electric pump; and in one study no nipple damage was reported in the hand-expression group, and one case of nipple damage in each of the manual pump and the large electric pump groups. One study examined adverse effects on infants, however as the infants did not all receive their mothers' expressed milk, we have not included the results. Secondary outcomes The quantity of expressed milk obtained was increased, in some studies by a clinically significant amount, in interventions involving relaxation, music, warmth, massage, initiation of pumping, increased frequency of pumping and suitable breast shield size. Support programmes and simultaneous compared to sequential pumping did not show a difference in milk obtained. No pump consistently increased the milk volume obtained significantly. In relation to nutrient quality, hand expression or a large electric pump were found to provide higher protein than a manual pump, and hand expression provided higher sodium and lower potassium compared to a large electric pump or a manual pump. Fat content was higher with breast massage when pumping; no evidence of difference was found for energy content between methods. No consistent effect was found related to prolactin change or effect on oxytocin release with pump type or method. Economic aspects were not reported. Authors' conclusions: The most suitable method for milk expression may depend on the time since birth, purpose of expression and the individual mother and infant. Low-cost interventions including initiation of milk expression sooner after birth when not feeding at the breast, relaxation, massage, warming the breasts, hand expression and lower cost pumps may be as effective, or more effective, than large electric pumps for some outcomes. Variation in nutrient content across methods may be relevant to some infants. Small sample sizes, large standard deviations, and the diversity of the interventions argue caution in applying these results beyond the specific method tested in the specific settings. Independently funded research is needed for more trials on hand expression, relaxation and other techniques that do not have a commercial potential.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD006170
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 29 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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