Hand expressing

It can be easier to express milk by hand in the first few days. Find out how to express by hand here.

Expressing milk by hand

For the first few days after your baby is born, it can be easier to express colostrum (your first milk) by hand. Expressing milk by hand stimulates the hormone oxytocin, which helps to trigger the let-down reflex. This means that hand expressing can be useful if you:

  • Have just given birth and can only express a small amount of colostrum
  • Need to increase your milk supply
  • Have blocked milk ducts
  • Have engorged breasts (when your breasts become overly full and feel hard and painful)
  • Have been separated from your baby
  • Will be only expressing, or expressing for a long period of time.

A midwife or neonatal nurse should show you how to express by hand. We have more information about how often to express and the let-down reflex on this page. We have also included some tips below. UNICEF has a useful video which explains how to express by hand.

You may also want to try expressing with a breast pump.

You can feed expressed milk to your baby using a bottle, which is a great way for partners to be more involved in caring for their baby.

We have some more information about how to store your breast milk at the bottom of this page.

Getting ready to hand express

To reduce the risk of infection to your baby, wash your hands thoroughly before getting ready to express. Have a clean towel ready to catch any spills. A syringe can be used at first to make sure you catch every drop of milk. When you have more milk, using a wide-mouthed container is useful.

Make sure that you are as relaxed and comfortable as possible before hand expressing, as this can help improve milk flow. Taking some deep breaths and concentrating on your breathing can help with this. Expressing after skin-to-skin or spending time with your baby can help stimulate the hormone oxytocin. A sturdy chair with arms can make expressing more comfortable. Try to sit with your back straight or leaning slightly forward.

Partners can help by helping you to feel relaxed, and ensuring that you have something to eat or drink nearby. Some parents find that having a photo or something that smells of of their baby close by or listening to relaxing music can help with milk flow, so partners can help to organise this before expressing.

How to hand express

  1. Start with a very gentle breast massage for a few minutes before expressing to encourage the let-down reflex.
  2. Cup your breast in a ‘C’ shape and feel back from the base of the nipple to around 2 to 3 cm, or to where the texture of your breast feels different. Gently squeeze your thumb and index finger together in this area and then release. This should not hurt.
  3. Release the gentle press and release motion again and again, building up a rhythm. Avoid sliding your fingers over the skin. Milk may start to flow. If this does not happen, try moving your fingers slightly forward or back and try again. When the flow slows down, change the position of your index finger and thumb clockwise to express another area of your breast.
  4. When you have expressed one breast, repeat on the other. Keep changing the breasts until the milk stops or drips very slowly. Changing from one breast to another can help to stimulate the milk ejection reflex.
  5. Continue until the milk flow stops.

You may find that one breast produces more milk, or that milk from one breast flows faster. This is normal.