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Learning how to hand express breast milk does require some practice, but it's a valuable skill to have. Once you're confident, you can express milk without a pump, which is ideal for life on the go. It can also help to increase your breast milk supply and promote a successful latch.
We've written this guide to help new parents understand how to hand express breast milk. So, read on for some key steps to follow, plus some handy tips to help ensure you have all the information you need to express with ease.
Expressing breast milk by hand involves delicately compressing your breast to release milk, which you can then collect into a sanitised container for storage or feeding your little one. It can be useful if you don't have a breast pump or want some quick relief from engorgement.
You can start expressing colostrum by hand before your baby arrives from around the 36th or 37th week of your pregnancy. It's common for some parents to only collect a small amount of breast milk at first, but practising hand expressing during pregnancy can be beneficial for when their milk supply fully comes in.
Although using an electric breast pump speeds up the process of expressing breast milk and can help you express more milk, some parents find that expressing breast milk by hand is also a convenient and comfortable option.
Let's run through the process step by step.
Before expressing or handling breast milk, it's important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. After washing, be sure to dry your hands with a clean towel.
Then, make sure you have a sterilised cup, bowl, or baby bottle to collect your expressed breast milk in.
Sit in a comfortable seat where you feel at ease and grab a drink. You might find it helpful to hand express while listening to a podcast or catching up on your favourite TV show.
Oxytocin is an essential lactation hormone that helps to release your breast milk. It can also help you to feel calm, and it's released when you gently massage your breasts or breastfeed your baby.
Position your finger and thumb opposite one another, with your thumb at 12 o'clock and finger at 6 o'clock on your breast. This is known as the C-hold.
Try to be patient and build up a rhythm that's comfortable for you. It might take a few minutes for your breast milk or colostrum to start to drip out.
After your milk starts flowing, try switching up your hand placement to express from a different area of your breast.
You can repeat the hand expression process as many times as feels comfortable. Once you have finished expressing milk from one breast, move on to the other side and then return to the first breast to ensure you've expressed all the milk possible.
Finally, you can feed your baby the expressed milk right away using a bottle or safely store it in the fridge or freezer to be used at a later date.
The amount of time it takes to hand express breast milk varies from person to person. The truth is, every experience is unique!
If you're looking to express milk for quick relief, hand expressing may take only five minutes per breast. However, expressing enough milk for a full feed could take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes per breast.
Hannah said that "during the last few weeks of pregnancy, [she] was diligent in expressing colostrum ready for [her] boy's planned arrival at 37 weeks. Even though [she] didn't get masses, [she] had enough frozen to use for those first few important feeds while [she] was recovering".
Natasha told us that "mastering the art of expressing was not easy - a manual pump was not working, and [she] found an electric pump worked on one breast but not the other. However, when [her] mother expressed for [her] using her hand it would always work".
Before we wrap up our discussion on hand expressing, let's run through some valuable tips that can help to make it as easy and effective as possible.
Some people produce more breast milk in the morning.
Warmth encourages breast milk flow.
Leaning forward while expressing can encourage the flow of more breast milk.
No one is going to complain here! Partners can massage breasts while you're hand expressing to encourage more breast milk to flow.
Try squeezing different places on the breast as some areas may push out more breast milk than others.
Expressing is hungry and thirsty work and it's important that you stay hydrated and energised. So, make sure you have a drink and a snack close by.
Expressing breast milk by hand can be a more reliable method for some people. It's less expensive, quieter and can sometimes offer more privacy.
However, the most important thing is that parents and babies both find an approach that works best for them. This can include a mix of hand expressing, pumping, and breastfeeding. Whatever works for you is best!
To help establish breast milk production if you're not breastfeeding a newborn, you should aim to hand express between eight and 12 times a day, including at least once through the night.