The Ultimate Guide on How to Hand Express Milk

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Published On
24 May, 2023
Read Time
5 minutes

Learning how to hand express breast milk may take some practice, but lots of parents find that it's worth it in the long run. It means you can express milk without the need for a pump and can help you increase your milk supply and promote a good latch for your baby.

If you're a new parent who wants to learn the art of hand expressing breast milk without a pump, you've come to the right place. We're here to cover the essential steps and give you some helpful tips so that you have all the information you need to express with ease.

What is expressing milk by hand?

Hand expression can be useful if you don't have a breast pump or want some quick relief from engorgement. It involves gently squeezing your breast to get breast milk out and then collecting it in a sterile container, ready to go into storage or to feed to your baby.

Some parents are only able to collect a small amount at first, but getting started with hand expressing during pregnancy is great practice for when your breast milk fully comes in. You can start expressing colostrum by hand before your baby arrives from around the 36th or 37th week of your pregnancy.

Top tips for hand expressing

  1. Hand express in the morning: Some people produce more breast milk in the morning after their baby's first feed.
  2. Use gravity to your advantage: Leaning forward while expressing can encourage the flow of more breast milk.
  3. Put a warm compress on your breast: Warmth encourages breast milk flow.
  4. Try different areas around your breast: Try squeezing different places on the breast as some areas may push out more breast milk than others.
  5. Be prepared: Expressing is hungry and thirsty work, so you need to stay hydrated and energized. Make sure that you have everything you'll need close to hand before you start.

How to express milk by hand step-by-step

While a manual or electric breast pump may speed up the process and allow for more milk to be expressed, some parents prefer the convenience and comfort of expressing milk by hand.

Let's go over the process of expressing breast milk, step by step.

1. Wash your hands and get a clean container

Before expressing and handling breast milk, wash your hands with soap and warm water, and dry them with a clean towel. Then, make sure you have a sterilized cup, bowl, or bottle to collect the milk.

2. Get comfortable

To prepare for expressing breast milk, sit in a comfortable seat with a drink and something relaxing, like a podcast or TV show.

3. Gently massage your breasts

This can stimulate the release of oxytocin, an important hormone for lactation. Oxytocin not only helps to release breast milk, but it can also promote feelings of relaxation and calmness for moms.

4. Use the C-shape method

Place your finger and thumb opposite one another on your breast, with your thumb at 12 o'clock, and finger at 6 o'clock. This position is known as the C-hold and is perfect for expressing breast milk by hand.

5. Press your thumb and finger together and use a rhythmic movement

You might find that there's a bit of a delay before your breast milk or colostrum begins to trickle out. Take your time and establish a comfortable rhythm that works for you.

6. Move your finger and thumb around the breast

After your breast milk or colostrum starts to flow, you can try expressing it from different areas of your breast by adjusting your hand placement.

7. Move back and forth between your breasts

When you've expressed all the milk you can from one breast, repeat the process on the opposite one, then go back to the first breast. You can repeat this process as many times as feels comfortable for you.

8. Feed your baby or store your expressed milk for later

Once you're done, you can either feed your baby the expressed milk straight away using a bottle or safely store it in the fridge or freezer to be used at a later date.

The benefits of expressing milk by hand

  • It's free: Expressing breast milk can be done in different ways, with breast pumps being a popular choice due to their versatility in shape and price. However, using your hands to manually express milk is a straightforward and equipment-free alternative. Sometimes, simplicity can be the best approach - especially when you're first getting started!
  • It's convenient: You can hand express anywhere, any time.
  • It can increase supply: Hand expressing after a feed or even after a pumping session can encourage more milk to be produced.
  • It's better for immediately after birth: During the early days, breast milk is sticky and still features a high amount of colostrum which can get stuck to the sides of the pump. Hand expression is great because you catch everything and can feed every drop to your baby.
  • It can relieve breast discomfort: If you have clogged milk ducts or your breasts have become uncomfortable and engorged, hand expressing can offer quick relief. Plus, you're 100% in control of the pace and pressure you apply.
  • It can encourage baby to latch: Expressing a small amount of milk before a feed can encourage baby to latch on as it softens the breast and makes it easier for baby to feed.

How long does it take to hand express milk?

Hand expression can take five minutes per breast if you just want to express to provide some light relief, but it may take between 10 and 30 minutes per breast if you want to express a full feed.

The truth is, the amount of time it takes to hand express milk depends entirely on the person who's expressing - no experience is the same!

Does hand expressing increase milk supply?

Yes, hand expressing alongside using a breast pump can be a great way to boost breast milk production. Research has found it could boost breastmilk output by as much as 48%.

You can reduce the chance of getting messy while hand expressing by having a muslin cloth positioned under your breast to catch any drips. You can also have a warm, wet cloth close by to clean up after.

To help establish breast milk production if you're not breastfeeding a newborn, you should aim to hand express between eight and 12 times a day, including at least once during the night.