I recently worked with a mother to show her how to use her hands to express breast milk. She was fresh from the delivery room and, unfortunately, her baby had some health challenges so we were using other means to let her body know that “it’s time to make the milk”! As I gently massaged her breasts and then began to demonstrate the technique, a tiny drop of colostrum appeared from her nipple. Her eyes grew wide and her confidence bloomed. “Did I do that? Did that come from me?” she said as she took over with her own hands. If she could have, she just might have skipped right down the hall.
While breast pumps are necessary for some moms and convenient for many more, using our hands (also known as the “pump we were born with”) can be highly effective as well. Here are some instructions on how to use hand expression to remove the milk from your breasts.
Hand Expression? How do I do it?
Much like many other things in our lives (breastfeeding, for example), hand expression takes a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it, it can be highly rewarding and effective. I often encourage mothers to practice first in the shower. It’s warm, private and if you are still getting the hang of your aim, you haven’t made a mess.
Before you get started, it is beneficial to let your breasts know that it’s time to get to work. Many mothers find that some gentle massage signals to their body to release the necessary hormones as well as the milk. Some also find that leaning forward is helpful.
PRESS: Make your thumb and forefinger into a “C” shape and place on the breast about an inch behind the nipple, with your thumb on the top. Press backwards, straight into the chest wall. Avoid tightening the aerola skin (the darker part around the nipple) and don’t spread your fingers when you push back as that can stretch the skin. PRESS straight back.
COMPRESS: Next, compress your thumb and forefinger together and roll them towards the nipple. You will soon see milk start to flow, in drops at first and later, for some women, in streams. Avoid sliding your fingers down towards the nipple as that could cause irritation to your skin. Instead, simply roll and COMPRESS.
RELEASE: Let up on the pressure and relax your hand. This gets you ready for the next PRESS/COMPRESS motion. Try not to simply maintain pressure and roll back and forth. Instead, RELEASE before starting again.
As you do these three steps, you’ll find a rhythm to the motion. After doing this several times, rotate your hand so you are stimulating a different part of the breast. You can also switch frequently between both breasts.
Don’t expect milk IMMEDIATELY! It will take a few minutes. Just like when a baby nurses, it takes a bit of time to stimulate the breast before the milk ejects. Keep going with your PRESS, COMPRESS, RELEASE action until the milk starts flowing.
Milk can be collected in whatever clean container works best for you. If your baby is brand new and you are collecting colostrum, a spoon works great. For an older baby and a larger volume of milk, many moms like to use a bowl, a coffee cup or a small mason jar. Hygeia also sells a fantastic container designed just for hand expression.
Why would I use my hands if I have a breast pump?
- Sometime we forget things.
- Sometimes things break.
- Sometimes the unexpected happens.
- And some women don’t need to express breast milk often enough to justify the purchase of a breast pump.
Hand expression gives us an opportunity to really get to know our own breasts. Many moms who use this technique quickly find that “magic spot” where the milk flows easily. With practice, we learn how our breasts feel, how they produce, and how they work best. This could have life-long impact…you do do your monthly breast self-exams, right?
Did you know that, according to one study, a group of mothers who used hand expression along with their breast pumps in the first days of their baby’s lives were able to remove almost 50% MORE milk…and the milk they expressed contained twice as much fat as the milk collected by electric breast pump only!
Hand expression is a great tool for breastfeeding mothers. It is simple, effective and can help us not only get to know how our bodies work but can increase our pump volume as well. So, get “hands on” with your breasts and give hand expression a try.