Hand Expressing Breastmilk
I was afraid it would happen one day. It happened before, years ago, but Iíd been vigilant
this time. I had a routine this time. Still, it happened again. I forgot a crucial part of my
breast pump. I sat at my desk at school with only just the time necessary to pump the
milk I needed. I had my bottles, and my ice packs, the tubing, but Iíd forgotten the part of
the pump that actually attaches to the breast. And I hadnít heeded my own advice: have
a hand pump available just in case. At first I panicked. Then, I considered the effects of
not pumping. Going my five hour work day without pumping wouldnít be so bad, would
it? I imagined the engorgement, and the lost momentum Iíd barely gained in getting
enough milk for the baby I donate Bearís extras to. Then, a mental image of my mother,
squeezing her milk by hand into my sisterís baby bottle came into mind. She never had a
pump. Granted, she rarely left her nurslings with a sitter, but when push came to shove
and she needed to do it, she always hand expressed. Then I remembered her
expressing her milk over dried baby oatmeal every morning. I donít remember her using
water. She always squirted her milk. It was such a common sight for me and my siblings
to see, Iíd nearly forgotten it because it was just so normal. I can hand express! I thought
to myself, excitedly. All hope was not lost. I grabbed one of the bottles, exposed a
breast, and began pinching and squeezing until milk came out. But I was also making
that tender flesh raw and bruised. This didnít even last a minute until I Googled how to
hand express. Yes, there is a correct method for doing it, and it shouldnít hurt.
How to hand express breastmilk?
I did a quick Internet search and found that Medelabreastfeedingus.com has a great
tutorial on hand expression with illustrations.
Basically, instead of squeezing or pinching
the breast, you cup your hand like a ďCĒ around the areola, push the breast back against
your chest, and roll downward towards the nipple. Your hands shouldnít slide across the
skin, they should stay put and your skin will slide across the milk ducts. Once I got this
motion down, the best way I can describe it is that itís like a massageófirm, but gentle.
The more you do it, the more youíll get used to the way your breast feels and youíll even
be able to differentiate full milk ducts from empty ones and reposition your hand
At first, you might not get anything (and you may need a little nipple stimulation to get
things rolling) but with some patience, the milk will start flowing. Beware, your milk will
come out of your nipple in all directions. You may want to express into a bowl or a wide≠
mouth container rather than a bottle as I did. I basically had to stick my nipple inside the
neck of the bottle for all the milk to be collected inside. Now, Iím also somewhat of a
visual learner so I braved YouTube (I say ďbravedĒ because you never know what kind of
things youíll find when you search for a video tutorial that involves an exposed breast)
and found a nice tutorial immediately. It was helpful. Iíll share it here so you donít have
to filter through anything inappropriate:
Hand Expressing Breastmilk Video Demonstration
I found that, though I followed the technique illustrated and demonstrated on both of these
sites, my movements werenít exactly the same as theirs. Thankfully, through these
demonstrations I was able to find a comfortable way to hand express, that didnít involved
pinching or bruising. Once I got the rhythm and motion down, I was delightfully surprised
to discover that the milk came just as quickly this way as it did with my pump. However,
as my hands were unaccustomed to this type of repetitive motion, the muscles cramped
rather quickly making it difficult to produce as much milk on my first try as I normally do
with a pump. Typically, I pump twice during my time at work and get 12≠15 ounces after
two, ten minute sessions. I hand expressed for about 30≠35 minutes all together and got
5 ounces, not because my breast wasnít producing but because my hand was just so
This whole experience gave me a new resolution: Iím going to hand express more often.
This method of milk production requires no batteries, wires, or fancy equipment and it is
available to me with very little preparation on my part. The only problem is when my
muscles arenít toned enough to keep up the work. If I can work on building up those
muscles a by hand expressing a couple of times a week, I wonít face the panic that
assailed me last week when I realized Iíd forgotten pieces of my pump.
For me, the best thing about hand expression is that it requires no set up. As I mentioned
earlier, I donate extra breastmilk (though Human Milk for Human Babies on Facebook)
and since Iíve started doing that, Iíve been working hard to actually have extra milk on
purpose. I wish I could pump at home but it takes a good 15 minutes out of the precious
time I have at home with my babiesótime I can be playing with them, or time I need to be
getting things done when theyíre asleep, so I rarely pump. But hand expression is
actually manageable and something I can commit to doing. There are a few moments in
the morning, or at the beginning of naptime I can carve out to do it if I really want to. The
best part is that when Iím done, I just have to screw the cap on the bottle. I wonít have to
wash and sterilize all those parts! Also, having the skill of hand expression means I can
more easily express milk for bad diaper rashes and eczema spots, and to water down the
people food he just started eating. Basically, itís a skill that Iíve decided is absolutely
necessary as a working and breastfeeding mother. Honestly, I think it would be even
more necessary if I didnít work and didnít have the need to regularly use a breast pump.
I canít believe I didnít decide this sooner: Iím committing to hand expressing. Now that
Iíve actually learned the skill, thereís no reason not to use. It.
Becca Date 2/3/2014
The dashes are missing between the numbers.
Maggie Martin Date 2/4/2014
Great info! Thanks for posting!
Daniele D Date 2/4/2014
I haven't considered this as an option or to possibly solve problems, thank you for writing this.
Kim Date 2/4/2014
Here is the Medela link http://www.medelabreastfeedingus.com/tips-and-solutions/130/how-to-manually-express-breastmilk---the-marmet-technique
Thanks for sharing!
Suzanne Williams Date 2/5/2014
I have had to hand pump before it was tough, I can't imagine having to hand express a whole bottle! Thanks for the info!
Mary Date 2/5/2014
It's been really slow going and difficult every time I've tried to hand express.
Samantha Yoder Date 2/5/2014
Washing dishes is my all time least favorite thing to do, so if there is any way to avoid washing pump parts I'm all for it! I used hand expressing a lot in the beginning when I was dealing with engorgement and it's come in handy a few times since then as well!
Jess Date 2/5/2014
I guess it's dumb, but I hadn't thought about hand expressing.Thank you! I'm so anxious about breastfeeding. Hoping my body can do something right. :/
Jessica H Date 2/6/2014
Thank you for posting. Great info!
Kim H Date 2/6/2014
Thank you so much for this! I don't pump much & only own a manual hand pump, but this would have been handy in the early engorgement days! Something new to learn!
Jennifer Date 2/6/2014
Really interesting article. I wouldn't have thought about needing to work at it regularly to strengthen your hands.
Julie Date 2/6/2014
I would have loved to have seen this in my breastfeeding days. Passing it on to my daughter this summer sure!
Ciara Date 2/7/2014
How interesting! I've never even though about doing this, thanks!
Ashley Date 2/8/2014
Thanks for posting this! I am due any day now with number two and my LC recommended hand expression to help get baby to latch (something I struggled with with my first) and I was afraid I would forget the motions she taught. Now this is book marked on my phone. :)
Amanda Date 2/9/2014
I find hand expressing thats a liitle more effort to trigger the letdown, but once things get going I can collect almost as much milk as with the medela symphony breast pump
Melissa McCarty Date 2/15/2014
I've had to explain how to hand express to a couple of people who just had their babies. They said "like a cow?!" haha it really helped them get their supply up when a pump wasn't doing the job.
Jessica Goodman Date 2/16/2014
Rita Topper Date 3/21/2014
I'll have to give this a go. It would be very convenient!
Terri Hutchinson Date 4/12/2014
Thank you so much! I was actually trying to figure out how to do this yesterday because my 9 month old has an ear infection and I was instructed to "just squirt a little milk in his ear" so here I am holding his head down as lil man looks at me in confusion opening his mouth as if to say "mama, what is wrong with you?!? That's *not* my mouth!" lol and I can't even get a few drops to come out... Thanks to you, he now has milk in his ear ...and his hair...and his eye... and on his cheek, lol... but at least he should be feeling better soon :)Thank you!
Chelsea Date 5/16/2014
This is great info! Thank you so much! I have been doing it wrong for sure! I have been in that situation where I had to decide wether I wanted engorged boobs or bruised ones! But now I know I don't have to have either! Thank you so much!
Tara Lynn Coy Date 10/24/2014
Hand expressing can be so helpful in a pinch! We drive two hours south every few weeks and spend the weekend with the inlaws and for the most part I only nurse of demand but when I need to go somewhere without the little one I hand express and it's not as hard as some think!