We’ll take you through how to hand express milk and when and why it might be a good idea to do so. Read on for the details.
The option to hand express milk can have all sorts of benefits for both you and your baby.
Hand expression involves squeezing milk from your breasts with your hands.
This simple act can assist with everything from relieving pressure from milk build-up to helping you prepare for time away from your baby.
We’ll take you through the whys and hows — kicking off with a few frequently asked questions.
In this article: 📝
- Is it OK to hand express breast milk?
- Does hand expressing milk increase supply?
- Is it better to hand express milk?
- How to manually hand express breast milk
Is it OK to hand express breast milk?
Absolutely! Hand expression allows you to store and save your milk for later.
If you don’t have a pump available or need to express more often, hand expression is a great option.
The other serious plus? You have all the tools you need for this task at your fingertips.
You don’t need an electrical source (as you would for a power-supplied pump).
And, for some new mamas, getting used to hand expression can be less of a journey than figuring out how to pump.
Does hand expressing milk increase supply?
Yes. Breast milk works on a supply and demand basis.
So basically, expressing milk sends signals to your body to make more.
The more you express, the faster this process happens.
Two important hormones, called prolactin and oxytocin, are driving this operation.
Prolactin is responsible for milk production.
And oxytocin helps with the “letdown reflex,” which helps milk flow from you to your baby.
Basically, our bodies are pretty smart regarding milk generation.
Sometimes, they just need a signal from us that we’re ready for them to kick into gear.
Other benefits of hand expression include:
Help with breast engorgement
Engorgement is when your breasts get overfilled with milk and become firm and swollen.
It can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful — so letting some of the pressure out through hand expression can bring some welcome relief.
Latching and sucking issues
While humans have been doing it for eons, breastfeeding is not always smooth sailing.
Engorgement is one possibility.
And releasing milk through hand expression can help out here.
We know — breastfeeding challenges can be super stressful.
Know that you don’t have to struggle through them alone.
Speak to your doctor about your options.
They may refer you to a lactation expert who can guide you through your breastfeeding journey.
And if you need support along the way, your Peanut community is here for you.
You’ll be away from your baby for a bit
There are many reasons why you might be separated from your baby for periods of time.
Whether you’re going back to work, have to attend to personal matters, or your baby needs specific medical care, having a store of your magic milk can be super useful.
A partner or caregiver is helping out with feeds
Hand expression and pumping can be a lifesaver when it comes to sharing the feeding load with someone else.
It means your baby can still get all the benefits of breast milk while you can get some rest, have your dinner, or be able to fit in a shower.
Is it better to hand express milk?
Like most things mamahood, there’s no one way to express milk.
You can either hand express, pump, or do a combination of the two.
Pumping can be incredibly useful.
As this study explains, some experts believe that pumping removes more milk than hand expression, making it a seemingly more efficient option.
But there’s also evidence that hand expression straight after birth may result in larger milk volumes.
Knowing how to hand express colostrum — the nutrient-packed liquid gold that is the very first milk you produce for your little one — appears to go a long way to help with your breastfeeding journey.
So rather than one method being better than the other, it’s about figuring out what’s best for you.
You may also start producing colostrum as soon as the first trimester of pregnancy.
Hand expressing while you’re still pregnant can help you practice for it down the line.
And if for any reason your milk production is late coming in — which could happen if you have a health condition like diabetes or if you have a cesarean birth — hand expressing early on can help.
You may even be able to store some for use when your baby is born.
There are some concerns that hand expression while you’re pregnant may result in premature labor.
The thinking behind this is that the extra oxytocin could spur contractions — but this is not a significant risk.
As this study tells us, the only kind of nipple stimulation that might lead to early labor involves using a hospital-grade pump for an extended period of time.
But if you’re concerned, it’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider to see what methods will work best for you.
We all have unique stories and needs.
How to manually hand express breast milk
Ready to get going? We’ll take you through the steps, by Dr. Jane Morton from the Stanford Children’s Hospital takes you through the steps.:
- Get a container ready to collect your milk. (If you’re going to be storing the milk for later use, make sure the container is clean and sterilized.)
- Wash your hands well with soap and water.
- Breathe deeply. Relax. Get comfy. (Seriously, this step goes a long way. Don’t skip it.)
- Massage your breast for a few minutes.
- Some mamas find it can help to have their babies nearby. This bond is a miracle worker when it comes to getting milk flowing. And if your baby isn’t close, a picture or even a thought of them can help.
- You may want to bend forward so that gravity can help you with some of the work.
- With one hand, cup your breast in a C-shape. You should be close to your nipple but not touching it.
- Gently squeeze your finger and thumb together. This shouldn’t hurt. If it does, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider.
- Release and repeat a few times.
- Your milk should start flowing. And if it doesn’t, don’t stress. Try moving the position of your finger and thumb around to see if that helps, being careful to avoid squeezing your nipple itself.
- Once the flow slows, switch over to your other breast.
- Repeat until your milk flow slows down a lot or stops.
And if you’d like to go the breast pump route, or combine methods, here’s our complete guide.
All the best, mama!
If you need help along the way, reach out to your healthcare provider, friends, and Peanut community.
It’s totally normal to have an adjustment period.
And you don’t have to struggle through it alone.