Another example of how touch beats technology?

3467632119_ab6fc2c0dcThe authors of a small but fascinating research study have found another example of when touch beats technology. Hand expression of mother’s milk may lead to a different quality of breast milk being collected than when a pump is used.

This is one of those great examples of a really simple but effective study design.  The researchers found 21 mothers who had given birth to 21 newborns (that’s one each, which makes it simple, because the issues might be different for women who have two or more babies to feed) and waited until 48-72 hours after they had given birth.  Then, they asked them to express breastmilk.  Half of the women did this manually first and then expressed with a pump, and the other half tried the different methods in reverse order. This was to remove the possibility of biased results based on whether the milk was collected from the first or second method used.

The contents of the milk samples were then analysed by machine and the results showed that, although there were no significant differences in the protein and carbohydrate content of the milk that was collected via the two different methods, the milk collected when the women hand expressed had a higher fat and energy content than the milk collected by pump. The researchers looked to see if the difference correlated with other factors, such as the mode of birth, maternal age or parity, but it did not.

The researchers have speculated that this difference may arise because the technique of hand expression is more likely to eject hindmilk (which contains more fat) than when women use a pump.  It certainly raises some interesting questions about the value of touch and technology.  I am aware, though, that there are lots of issues tied into this area, but Dr Jack Newman has already covered them on his website, so please check it out for more on expressing breast milk and to find out about some of the wider debates on expressing and pumping.


If you’d like to stay up-to-date with birth-related research and thinking, make sure you’re subscribed to our free newsletter list, which means you’ll get Sara’s monthly Birth Information Update.
And if you’re a midwife or other birth worker who enjoys unpacking research, seeing what’s behind the headlines and sharing wisdom with like-minded others, come and join Sara and colleagues from all over the world in one of our online courses!


Mangel L, Ovental A, Batscha N et al (2015). Higher Fat Content in Breastmilk Expressed Manually: A Randomized Trial. Breastfeeding Medicine.  Online ahead of print doi:10.1089/bfm.2015.0058.
photo credit: Mano! via photopin (license)

1 comment for “Another example of how touch beats technology?

Comments are closed.