Hand Expressing Breastmilk
Before you start, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, and gently massage your breast. Cup your breast just behind your areola (the darker part of your breast). Squeeze gently, using your thumb and the rest of your fingers in a C shape.
There may be times when you need to be away from your baby whilst still breastfeeding or when it is useful to promote the flow of your milk around your usual feeds. One way to do this is by hand expressing breastmilk – a very useful skill which can be done easily by hand (or with a breast pump if you prefer).
This allows you to store breast milk to feed to your baby at another time and to regulate your milk production as well as helping to prevent milk stasis (when leftover milk remains in breast tissue) which can cause the infection Mastitis and engorged breasts (watch video tutorials at the end of this post).
What are the benefits of hand expressing breastmilk over using a breast pump?
Hand expressing is beneficial because it can be done anywhere, without the need for special equipment and allows you to target specific areas of the breast such as harder parts which may suggest the beginnings of Mastitis.
As with breastfeeding, expressing is a skill which takes practice and it is a good idea to get the hang of breastfeeding before attempting to express milk by hand.
Reasons why you may wish to hand express:
- If your baby is a little sleepy he may be encouraged to feed if you can hand express some colostrum from your nipple to tempt him.
- Some quite sleepy babies may not attach well to the breast but are able to lap expressed milk from the nipple.
- Sometimes it is necessary to hand express and give the colostrum to your baby for the first few feeds until he has the energy to attach to the breast and feed himself.
- Its a really good skill to have when your milk volume increases. If your breasts become a little too full you may need to soften the area your baby takes into his mouth by hand expressing before trying to get him to feed.
- It can be really reassuring just to see your milk
- If your baby has had to go to the neonatal unit.
How can I stimulate milk production?
It is much easier to express milk to store for later if the hormones which summon your milk are flowing . This is easy if you have just been feeding your baby or are spending time with them, as this closeness helps your milk to flow well.
If you are away from your baby, you can encourage your milk by gently massaging your breasts and stimulating in a way which feels nice. Do not worry about actually expressing lots of milk at first, just focus on finding pleasant sensations to help activate milk production. You can also think about your baby or look at a picture of them to help this process. Being relaxed and warm is a good way to get your milk flowing so the bath or shower can be a good place to try for the first time.
Once you feel that your milk is flowing, make a C shape with you thumb and forefinger and find a good spot, usually about 2 cm back from the nipple , where, if you squeeze, a drop of milk comes out. If there is an area of the breast where it feels particularly engorged, hard, lumpy or different in texture this can be a good place to start. Place the C of your fingers on your breast and gently bring the thumb and forefinger together, not in a hard pinch but a gentle squeeze and build up a steady rhythm. If it is working you will see, firstly drops and then squirts of milk emitting from the nipple which you can catch in a clean pot or bottle.
What if it is not working?
If it does not work at first, do not panic or think that there is no milk, simply try another spot, a slightly different hand formation or rhythm until it works for you. Keeping a playful, relaxed attitude is very important, don’t put too pressure on yourself to get it perfectly first time as this will only make it harder.
Once you have got the hang of it you can continue until the flow of milk slows naturally and then progress around the same breast. If you need more milk you can then repeat the same process on the other breast.