How to Hand Express Your Breast Milk When Needed
Knowing how to hand express your breast milk can be helpful in a variety of situations - whether you've been away from your baby (and breast pump), need to relieve engorgement, or soften the areola to help your little one latch better.
Knowing how to hand express your breast milk can be especially helpful in a variety of situations - whether you've been away from your baby (and breast pump) for a longer period of time and need to express some breast milk to relieve engorgement and uncomfortable fullness, or your breasts are full and you need to soften the areola to help your little one latch better so he or she can nurse. These situations may occur for a ton of reasons, such as simply forgetting to bring your breast pump with you to work or mistakenly snoozing through an overnight pumping session (it happens – sleep can be a premium with a baby at home!). So, knowing how to correctly hand express your breast milk if away from your little one and caught without your pump can help you continue to meet your breastfeeding goals while avoiding discomfort, eventual supply concerns, and even potential health complications.
How to Hand Express Breast Milk:
- Always first wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
- Starting by massaging your breasts for a couple of minutes can help your milk let down.
- Support your breast with one hand – with your other hand, place your thumb and index finger around your nipple, about an inch away.
- Gently push your fingers back and towards your chest wall.
- Compress the breast between your thumb and index finger, and then roll the tissue forward and towards your nipple. Be sure not to squeeze your nipple or slide your fingers along your skin! Doing so can make you sore and/or bruised – plus, you won’t express much milk that way.
- Release the pressure and repeat by getting yourself into a rhythm – Push back, compress, roll, and release.
- Drops of breast milk should start appearing and soon after your milk will begin to spray.
- When the flow of milk slows, change the position of your thumb and index finger slightly to start expressing another area of your breast and then repeat your rhythm: push back, compress, roll, and release.
- Continue to change the position of your thumb and fingers to move around the breast in a circle, which will allow all areas of the breast to be thoroughly expressed.
- When you’re finished with the first breast, switch to your other one. Alternate between your breasts until all milk flow stops.
- Massage each breast again – they should feel noticeably softer and there shouldn’t be any firm spots or hard knots present.
Totally emptying the breasts when manually expressing your milk – by hand expression – will usually take about 20 – 30 minutes. Figuring out how to hand express is a learned skill, but one that is very valuable as you navigate your breast milk feeding journey. With a little practice, you’ll soon be able to hand express whenever and wherever a situation may arise when it’s necessary. It may also be helpful to keep a copy of current breast milk storage guidelines in English or Spanish (and a few breast milk storage bags) on hand as a reminder when to refrigerate or freeze your expressed milk, so none of that precious liquid gold goes to waste. We see your dedication, mama - you’re doing a great job continuing to provide breast milk for your little one!
1. Lawrence RA and Lawrence RM. (2016) Breastfeeding: A guide for the medical profession. (8th edition), Philadelphia: Elsevier. pp. 792-793.