With a little practice, you can become quite adept at expressing milk by hand. Hand expression can be as quick and easy as any other form of milk expression—perhaps even quicker, since you don’t need to assemble or clean equipment. All you need is a breast, a pair of hands, and a clean container (cup, bowl, or bottle) with a large opening.
Keep it simple by expressing your milk whenever your breasts feel full or whenever it is convenient. If your milk supply is low, you may want to express more often to increase milk production. In either case, here are some hand expression tips:
- Don’t expect a flood. Your first tries at hand expression may only produce enough milk to cover the bottom of the container. It often takes several days or weeks before you see an increase in the amount of milk obtained, so don’t panic! Hand expression, like any new task, takes practice.
- Baby can help. In the beginning, you may want to express and collect from one breast while your baby breastfeeds from the other. Your baby’s suckling will help to stimulate a let-down reflex and increase the flow of milk. After your baby finishes feeding on the first breast, you can still offer the “expressed” breast. While there may be less milk available, there will always be some milk present (enough to satisfy your baby), since milk is continually being produced. Regardless of how much milk your baby gets from the second breast, the added suckling will signal your body to produce more milk.
- Get ready. Choose a comfortable spot and gather your supplies (including a healthy snack and drink for yourself). Select a clean container with a wide opening, such as a cup, bowl, or bottle. Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
- Massage your breasts. It may take several minutes for your milk to flow. Think about your baby and relax. Feeling anxious or stressed can interfere with the let-down reflex. Roll your nipple between your thumb and forefinger. Gently massage your breasts in a circular pattern using the flat part of your fingers.
- Position your fingers away from the nipple. Place your thumb and first two fingers opposite each other on your breast, behind the nipple.
- Press. Compress. Press in towards your chest. Slowly bring your thumb and fingers together, compressing your breast between them. Do not squeeze or pinch, and do not compress the nipple itself.
- Change and repeat. Move your thumb and fingers around your breast clockwise and repeat the press/compress motions until all parts of the breast have been compressed and the flow of milk has slowed.
- Switch to second breast. Express each breast several times, until the desired amount of milk has been collected, the flow of milk slows down, or your breasts feel soft.
Hand expression is economical and convenient, but like any method of milk expression, there is a learning curve. Much like breastfeeding your baby, practice and patience are key to success.
Mothers who express with a breast pump are still urged to hand express. Dr. Jane Morton a neonatologist at Stanford University pioneered a method of hand expression that combines hand expression and pumping with remarkable results.