How to do Hand Expression of Breast Milk

How to do Hand Expression of Breast Milk

Hand expression is a valuable skill for breastfeeding moms. It takes a little practice but once learned, many women may prefer it to using a pump. It is simple, no equipment required!

Hand expression can be useful:

  • to express a drop of milk onto the nipple to entice your baby to feed.
  • noname-2to soften the breast if you are overly full. Softening the breast by moving the swelling away from the nipple and areola may also be useful. Please see below *.
  • to express milk to store for later use. You can learn about how to safely store breast milk here.
  • to relieve breast fullness or to obtain milk when you are separated from your baby.
  • in combination with pumping to increase your milk supply. At the breast, a baby uses both suction and compression. Pumping provides suction only and hand expression provides compression. Combining the two methods more effectively stimulates milk supply than using one or the other.

How to do hand express (scroll down to see a video demonstration):

1.  Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
2.  Stimulate your letdown by massaging the breasts, stroking the breasts or rolling your nipple.
3.  Place your thumb and first finger on either side of the nipple about 1½ inches (4 cm) from the base of the nipple.

4.  Push your thumb and finger straight back toward the chest wall.
5.  Roll your thumb toward the nipple like you are making a thumbprint. Try to avoid sliding your fingers along your skin as you may become sore.
6.  Continue this motion, rotating your hand position around the breast to express milk from all areas.

7.  Some women will need to have their fingers closer or farther from the base of the nipple, depending on the anatomy of their breast. It may take a bit to discover the best position for your fingers to obtain milk.

8.  If you are collecting the milk you express by hand, you will want to express into a wide mouth container. Your milk may flow from more than one pore at a time, creating a spray.

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Moving swelling away from the nipple and areola

If you are having difficulty latching in the early days due to fullness, softening the brown area around the nipple (areola) with counter pressure can make latching easier. You do not need to soften the whole breast, just the area where the baby is going to latch.

  • Imagine where the baby’s lips will be when feeding; this will determine the placement for your thumb and first finger. For example, if you will be feeding in the football position, your baby’s lips will be horizontal across your breast. If you feed in a cross cradle position, your baby’s lips will be in a vertical position on your breast.
  • Push straight back towards the chest wall and count to 10. This will temporarily move the swelling away from the nipple.


  • Expand the area you are softening by moving your fingers slightly to each side and repeating the process until just the area where the baby latches is softened.

References and More Information:

  1. Hand Expressing Milk.” American Academy of Pediatrics, 21 Nov. 2015. Web.
  2. Hand Expression.” The Baby Friendly Initiative. Unicef UK, n.d. Web.
  3. Newman, Jack, MD, FRCPC, and Edith Kernerman, IBCLC. “Expressing Breast Milk.” International Breastfeeding Centre, 2009. Web.


Related posts: Pumping Breast Milk – Everything You Need to Know! and Creating a Stash of Breast Milk.


thumbnail-cindy-and-janaCindy and Jana are Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who have assisted over 20,000 families.



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