How To Express Breast Milk By Hand? Advantages & Precautions

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Breast milk is the best food for infants and provides them with complete nutrition. Expressing breast milk by hand and storing it for the future is a good option for mothers who cannot breastfeed their babies when required, but many new mothers may be confused about how to express breast milk by hand. Although breast pumps are available to allow mothers to express milk for their babies, expressing it by hand has its advantages. It prevents the hassles of cleaning and preparation, reduces breast engorgement, and prevents nipple soreness. However, before trying this method, you should remember some useful tips. Read the post to find complete information on why expressing breast milk by hand is a good choice and what precautions you should take while doing this.

How To Express Breast Milk By Hand?

Expressing breast milk by hand is an alternative to using the pump. The objective is to manually express milk and store for later use. The process may seem tedious at first but is easier once you get it right. Here is how to express breast milk by hand (1) (2):

Step 1 – Preparation:

  • Wash your hands with an antiseptic soap and dry them thoroughly. Your fingernails should preferably be short to prevent scratches while you express milk.
  • Soak a washcloth in warm water and place it on your breast for a few minutes. It softens the breast tissue and also lets down the milk easily. You can also take a warm shower.
  • Sit straight on a comfortable chair and massage the breasts with the right hand below the breast, under the nipple and your left hand on top of the breasts, above the nipple.
  • Slowly move the left hand to the left and the right hand to the right to massage the breast. Repeat the steps for massaging the left breast, with your left hand under the left breast and right hand on top.
  • The circular motion stimulates the flow of the milk from the ducts towards the areola and nipples while sitting straight makes it easier due to gravity. The massage should be gentle and not uncomfortable.

Step 2 – Expressing milk

  • Keep a cup, bottle or a spoon beneath the nipple, ready to collect the milk.
  • Place your thumb on top and the two fingers an inch behind the nipple and gently press back towards the chest. Do not squeeze or yank at the nipple.
  • Milk may start flowing due to the initial pressure, which is only a stimulus to prepare the breast to secrete milk.
  • Place the thumb and two fingers on either side of the nipple such that the fingers and thumb make a “C” or a “U” shape to flank the areola region. Now compress the breasts the same way you did previously.
  • Soon you will notice a few milk drops trickling from the nipple. Collect them using a cup, bottle or a spoon.
  • Once the milk starts flowing, continue applying gentle pressure on the breasts. First you press, then compress, and release the pressure. This is the milking motion cycle, and each cycle may probably give you a few drops to a teaspoon of milk.
  • Collect as much milk you desire by repeating the cycle.

Step 3 – Finishing steps

  • If you have just started breastfeeding, then your milk let-down reflex will initially take about half-an-hour to stabilize.
  • Don’t worry if you do not get the desired quantity of milk. Start again with a massage and then try the cycle of pressing, compressing, and releasing multiple times to get the milk flowing.
  • Store the milk in appropriate containers for refrigeration or feed the baby right away.

While the above technique works best, some women may adopt a different method or modify a few steps as they need. So choose what’s best for you, but take precautions to stay safe.

Precautions While Expressing Milk By Hand?

Observe the following precautions when you express breast milk by hand (3):

  • Massage gently: Massage the breasts very gently without stretching the skin. If your skin feels dry and stretched, then apply a drop of oil on your palms before beginning the massage.
  • Never compress or pull the nipple and areola: Apply pressure only around the areola, but never on it. Do not squeeze or pinch the nipples since it can cause discomfort and injury.
  • Do not stretch the areola: When releasing the pressure from the areola, do not stretch it. It can cause pain and increase the risk of cracked nipples.
  • Do not squeeze the breasts: Compress the breast when expressing milk but do not squeeze it. Squeezing the breast will not increase the milk flow or supply.

The above precautions make expressing milk by hand convenient and beneficial too.

What Are The Advantages Of Expressing Breast Milk By Hand?

Expressing milk by hand has several advantages, which makes the process worth learning (4) (5):

  • Express with no breast pump: When you do not have access to a breast pump, you can express milk by hand. Also, you do not need a power source to express with hands, which means you can do it anywhere.
  • Preparation and cleaning are easier: You need to disinfect and clean breast pumps before and after use. There is no such hassle when you express milk by hand. Just wash your hands thoroughly before expressing the milk and use a sterile cup/bottle to collect the milk.
  • Helps soften the breast before breastfeeding: Expressing some milk by hand softens the breasts and enables smooth flow of milk when the child starts feedingThis is especially important in the first days when your breastmilk has fully come in and your breasts are engorged. The baby can latch easier when you soften the breast with your hand.
  • Reduces breast engorgement: Knowing how to express milk with your hands lets you relieve the pressure in case of engorged breasts, especially when you have a milk duct infection such as mastitis. A breast pump may be rough on the sore breasts, and expressing with hands can be a gentler alternative.
  • May help prevent nipple soreness: Breast pumps are automatic, so you cannot always control how quickly or slowly they express milk. A breast pumping session can make your nipples severely sore. Hand expression of breast milk allows you to control the compression and also lets you take breaks as you like, reducing the chances of sore nipples.
  • Cost-effective: Expressing milk by hand is economical than buying or renting a breast pump.
  • Familiarizes with your breasts: Knowing how to hand express your breastmilk is also a good way to get familiar with your breasts and know when you may have a clogged duct or maybe something unfamiliar in your breasts that may need to be checked by a doctor.

Read on for more tips on how to express breast milk with hands.

Tips For Expressing Breast Milk By Hand

Expressing breast milk by hand can be tedious. Here are a few tips that can help make it less straining.

  • Take the help of a partner: If you have difficulty expressing milk by hand, take your partner’s help. Your partner can hold the bottle/cup to collect the milk while you can focus on the process of expressing.
  • Hand compression works anytime: There is no restriction on when you can compress by hand. You can do so in the middle of the night while sitting on the porch, or the first thing when you wake up in the morning.
  • Consult lactation expert when confused: If you find the process overwhelming or experience pain in the breasts, then consult a lactation expert for guidance.

Next, we answer a few commonly asked questions about expressing milk by hand.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I express milk by hand immediately after the baby is born?

Yes. You can express colostrum, which is the first batch of breast milk after the baby’s birth, by hand. You will probably get a teaspoon of colostrum, which is sufficient for a newborn.

2. Does expressing milk by hand yield less milk compared to pumping?

No. Experts state that there is no difference in the quantity of milk expressed, whether you use a pump or use your hands (6). Initially, you may not express much milk, but you will start producing an ounce (30 ml) of milk from the fourth day after delivery (7).

Breastfeeding holds innumerable benefits for the baby and the mother. However, several medical and non-medical reasons could make nursing non-viable. In such instances, hand expressing breast milk is a safe, economical, and effective way to keep your baby nourished. The process may seem difficult at first, but hand expression works faster than pumping as it gets better with practice and the right guidance. To ensure milk expressions go smoothly, massaging the breast gently and applying pressure only around the areola are a few necessary precautions to observe.


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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different... more

Briana Violand

Briana Violand, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and Certified Child Sleep Consultant (CSC), graduated from Tiffin University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and is a Certified Child Sleep Consultant (CSC) through the Family Sleep Institute. She has 8 years of breastfeeding, and countless hours of education and training. She enjoys helping people. Her goals are to educate,... more