How to Hand Express Breast Milk

How to Hand Express Breast Milk

Engorged breasts are a terrible feeling for any mom. Are you wondering what to do when your breasts are full and you don’t have a pump at hand? The answer is simple — hand express.

Hand expressing breast milk is a quick relief. Other than this, it also helps to stimulate your breasts to increase milk supply, and it’s a great technique to use even if you usually use a breast pump.

When to Hand Express Milk

Here are some situations when hand expressing could come into use:

  • For collecting colostrum  Colostrum is the first milk that comes in when you start breastfeeding your baby. It has plenty of nutrients and lasts for the first few days after your baby is born. Instead of using a pump, hand express breast milk in the first few days after delivering since there’s a limited amount of colostrum. Feeding it to your baby is extremely beneficial.
  • Your breasts feel uncomfortable – Situations may arise when you are away from your baby and you don’t have your breast pump with you. In these cases, hand pumping is the best solution.
  • Engorged and hard breasts – Expressing a bit of milk to soften your breasts before you feed your baby will make it easier for your baby to latch on.
  • No electricity – Most electric breast pumps run on electricity or batteries. If you do not have a manual pump and just rely only on your electric pump, hand expressing will do the trick when there is no electricity!

Tips for Making Hand Expressing Breast Milk Easier

Sometimes it takes a while for your milk to flow. Keep these tips in mind before you begin hand expressing.

  • Relaxing your mind and body will help to get your milk flowing easily. You need to be warm and comfortable for let-down to happen.
  • To help get yourself relaxed, try deep breathing and visualize your milk flowing. Look at your baby when you are hand expressing breast milk. If your baby is not near you, think about him or her. A photo or a recording will work well!
  • Smell your baby’s clothing to remind you of him or her.
  • Massage your breasts with your fingertips and hands to stimulate let-down.
  • Try bending forward with your breast suspended for gravity to work on it.
  • Experiment to see which technique works for you. While expressing, when you get a spray instead of just a few drops you know that it is working. Hand expressing should not feel uncomfortable.
  • It may take a couple of tries before you get it right. Stop and start again after a while. Remember that shorter sessions are better than long and infrequent ones.

How to Effectively Hand Express Breast Milk

To hand express breast milk, follow the technique described below.

  • Cup your hand in a C-shape around your breast, near the areola. Ideally, your fingers and thumb should be one to two inches behind the nipple.
  • With the other hand hold a clean cup or a spoon for milk collection directly below your breast.
  • Gently, but firmly, press your thumb and fingers backward toward your chest. Without lifting your fingers and thumb, compress the breast and move forward towards the nipple.
  • Release, but do not move your hands away from the breast.
  • Repeat the process and clear your milk ducts by compressing different areas around your breast.
  • When the milk flow stops on one side, switch to the other breast.

After you finish hand expressing, gently massage your breasts. They should feel softer. If hard knots or hard spots are present, massage the area well to release any ducts that are still full.

Remember to feed your baby freshly expressed milk. Otherwise, store it in a container or collection bag for later use.

Hand expressing breast milk can take about 20 to 30 minutes in total. Even if you do not use this technique often, it is important to master the skill in case the need arises. Practice makes perfect, so whenever you get the chance, practice to see what works best for you.

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