How to guide: expressing breast milk by hand

We look at how to express breast milk using your hands including an overview of how hand expressing milk works, tips on when to do it and more.

Hand expressing breastmilk

Now that you are relaxed and ready to start expressing breast milk by hand move on from stroking your breast to the next stage: 

  • Position your hands under your breast with your thumbs upwards. The exact position will differ from woman to woman, and you may or may not be touching your areola (the coloured skin around the nipple). The idea is to put pressure on the milk ducts; you may need to experiment to feel where they are. Try pushing in towards your ribcage before rolling your fingers inwards. Move round, so you affect different areas.
  • As you start to squeeze, milk will appear. It’s normal to get drips, and then spurts, as your milk begins to flow.
  • Work around each breast, releasing the milk from all parts of the breast.
  • Express from one breast until the milk flow slows down and then start massaging the other. You can switch from breast to breast until the milk flow stops completely.
  • At first you may not be able to produce much, but the more you express, and the more your body gets used to you doing it, the easier it usually becomes.
  • If you ever have to be away from your baby, for whatever reason, expressing as often as you’d be likely to feed helps maintain your supply.

How does hand expressing breast milk work?
The milk in your breasts reaches the nipple through many different ducts.

As you press and release the breast tissue, your fingers mimic the action of your baby’s tongue and mouth, squeezing milk from these ducts. 

'My breasts got engorged with my last baby, and it was very uncomfortable. I produced a lot of milk, all the time. Should I have expressed to get some relief?'

Very gentle expression when you feel the need – just enough to soften the breasts and to make it easier for your baby to latch on – can help in this situation. Some midwives feel one or two thorough expressions can help with severe engorgement. Ask your midwife or a breastfeeding counsellor if it happens next time.

'When’s the best time to express milk?'
If you are wondering when you should express milk you may find that one of the best times is after an early morning feed when your supply is often abundant. But you can do it before or after a feed, whenever it’s convenient. Or you can feed your baby from one side and express from the other side.

Further information

NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.

National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 021.

UK Association of Milk Banking has information on its network of milk banks across the UK.

Best Beginnings: view video footage online from 'bump to breastfeeding'.

Healthtalkonline.org
provides a comprehensive library of face-to-face interviews where parents share their experiences about breastfeeding, birth, parenting and many other issues.