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HOW TO HAND EXPRESS BREAST MILK – AND WHY YOU SHOULD

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you have a fancy electric breast pump that you won’t benefit from being able to hand express your milk. Learning how to hand express breast milk is a valuable skill for every mother.

It’s true that breast pumps are readily available to most women. However, there are many benefits of hand expressing breast milk.

I’ll share not only how to hand express milk, but why it’s beneficial and when are the times you might want to consider hand expression.

woman with hand on her breast

HOW TO HAND EXPRESS BREAST MILK

I’ll cut right to the chase if you already know the benefits of hand expressing. I know that you are a busy mama.

These are the steps for how to properly hand express milk.

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water. You should wash for 20 seconds, which is how long it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice. If you don’t have access to soap and water, then use some hand sanitizer. I am a huge fan of EO French Lavender Organic Hand Sanitizer Spray.
  2. Have a clean container to express your milk into. You can express into a bowl or wide-mouth bottle. This device is intended to help you express into a bottle more easily.
  1. Rub your hands together to warm them up if they are cold.
  2. Take a moment to massage your breasts. Massage from the outer parts of the breast towards your nipple.
  3. Do some deep breathing to help you relax.
  4. Hold your breast using the C-hold.
illustration of C-hold for breast
  1. Keep your fingers off of your areola.
  2. Begin at the area of your breast that is furthest away from your nipple and areola. 
  1. First, you press your fingers and thumb back toward your chest.
  1. Then you press your fingers and thumbs towards each other in a forward motion.
  1. Don’t slide your fingers over your skin. You want to focus on compressing the breast tissue.
  2. Release the pressure.
  3. Repeat.
  4. Move you hand around your breast so that you are compressing all areas.
  5. This is known as the “press, compress, release” method.
  6. You can move your fingers closer to your areola but avoid pinching the base of your nipple. That will probably be painful and is ineffective in hand expressing milk.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER AS YOU LEARN HOW TO EXPRESS MILK MANUALLY

  • Be patient when you are learning how to hand express your breast milk. It usually takes 15 to 20 compressions before you start to see any milk. 
  • It can take even longer when you are expressing colostrum by hand. As you get more comfortable you will learn how to express milk by hand quickly.
  • Use enough pressure to be effective but it should never be painful. It definitely should not leave any bruises.
  • When you hand express colostrum, you will get drops. Using a spoon to collect the drops will help ensure you capture all of them.
  • When your milk is in you will probably be able to hand express a stream of milk
  • When the flow slows down try moving your fingers to another area.
  • If you are getting a stream and then it decreases to drops then start on the other breast.
  • Going back and forth between your breasts can help yield more milk.

TIPS FOR HAND EXPRESSING BREAST MILK

  • If your baby is not nearby try looking at a picture of her.
  • Some mothers find that smelling an item of clothing their baby wore or a blanket they used helps their milk flow.
  • Leaning forward may help because of gravity.
  • Try to get into a rhythm as you go through the press-compress-release pattern.
  • Some mamas find it helpful to say “press-compress-release” each time they do it.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Hand expression is something that gets easier with practice.

HOW TO HAND EXPRESS COLOSTRUM

Colostrum is thick and sticky. Hand expression is an excellent way to express colostrum .

When you use a breast pump for colostrum the end result is often that the colostrum ends up on the pump parts and there is not as much that you can actually feed to your baby.

If you have a sleepy baby or your baby is not able to breastfeed for another reason you will still want to use a breast pump in addition to hand expression. The stimulation from the suction is important. 

If you need the stimulation of a pump try to follow this routine.

  • Do hand expression for as long as you can express the colostrum.
  • Pump for 10-15 minutes.
  • Do a few more minutes of hand expression and see if you can get express any more colostrum.
  • You can rub the drops of colostrum on your baby’s gums.

It can take a little time of compressing before you start to see those liquid gold drops. Be patient.

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WHY HAND EXPRESS BREAST MILK

Electric breast pumps are great, but there may be times when it is actually easier to express milk by hand. There are also unexpected things that can happen to make hand expression a helpful skill to have learned.is also the possibility that your pump could suddenly stop working.

These are some possible scenarios when you might want to know how to get milk out without a pump:

  • Latching difficulty due to overfull breasts. In a situation like this, you want to express just enough milk to soften your breast so that your baby has an easier time latching. Hand expressing breast milk is often faster at times like these.
  • Some women prefer the low-tech high touch aspect of hand expression. 
  • Hand expression can help you target a clogged duct to help it resolve more quickly.
  • Knowing how to hand express can be a lifesaver if your power goes out.
  • Your pump could suddenly stop working.
  • When you need just a little of your breast milk to mix with some baby cereal, hand expression is a quick and easy way to get it, without the hassle of setting up a pump and having to wash the parts.
  • Hand expression means you don’t have pump parts to wash!
  • We’ve already talked about how hand expression is a more efficient way to collect colostrum.

BENEFITS OF HAND EXPRESSING BREAST MILK

  • Hand expression helps build an abundant milk supply.
  • You always have the necessary tools to hand express – breasts and hands!
  • Hand expression is free.
  • Hand expression is an effective way to collect colostrum during pregnancy.

Another study showed that when a baby was not breastfeeding, mothers who used only using hand expression had lower milk production compared to mothers who only pumped (Source). For this reason, I always advise the moms who I work with to do both hand expression in addition to using an electric pump.

Moms who exclusively pumped had more abundant milk supplies if they also did hand expression and hands-on pumping (Source). Another study showed that combining pumping and hand expression and hands-on pumping resulted in moms who produced milk that was higher in calories with greater fat content (Source).

  • One study showed looked at breastfeeding outcomes of mothers whose babies were having latching difficulties or sucking poorly. The study compared those moms who used a breast pump compared to moms who used a double electric pump to women who expressed colostrum by hand. More mamas in the hand expression group were breastfeeding at two months than those who used the electric pump (Source).

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Everything You Need to Know About Pumping Breast Milk

FINAL THOUGHTS ON EXPRESSING BREAST MILK BY HAND

Knowing how to hand express breast milk provides you with another tool to help you meet your breastfeeding goals.

You may only do it a few times, or you may find that you use hand expression regularly. Either way, you will be glad that you learned how to express breast milk by hand.

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