How to express breast milk by hand

When most mothers think of expressing breast milk, they think of large electric breast pumps with lots of tubes and parts.

But one method that everybody forgets is hand expression of breast milk. It’s so simple and basic that it’s often overlooked.

You will want to learn how to milk your breasts by hand for three reasons.

1. Some types of breast milk cannot be pumped

After your baby is born, you will notice that your breasts make a darker, thicker kind of breast milk. This pre-milk is called colostrum and is meant to help a newborn baby gain weight rapidly and deliver essential nutrients within the first week of birth.

Unfortunately colostrum only comes in small amounts, drop by drop. This amount is too small to be pumped, even with a manual breast pump. The tiny amount of colostrum would only get lost in the valves and nooks of your pump.

Ideally you would want to feed the colostrum directly to your baby, but any mom will tell you that those baby book picture perfect descriptions of your first breastfeeding session do not always happen. Moms and babies will often have trouble latching on and a lot of newborns are too tired and sleepy to feed from the breast.

In these situations you can squeeze out the precious drops of colostrum from your breasts directly into a bottle and keep it stored in the fridge until your baby is ready to feed. Once your mature milk comes in, your body will stop producing colostrum, so don’t waste it!

2. Your breasts are full of milk, but you can’t feed your baby or don’t have access to a breast pump.

This will happen eventually, especially for moms who have just returned to work. Your body adjusts to your baby’s feeding schedule and will produce milk in response.

If you’re at work, but can’t find a private place to pump, then hand expressing breast milk is the only solution to painful achy breasts.

All you need is the privacy of a bathroom stall and a breast milk storage cup to collect the milk. I like using these cups since you can just screw on a teat and use it as a bottle. There’s no need to mess with pouring milk into another bottle. Manually expressing breast milk is tricky at first, so I would recommend that you do a couple trial runs at home first. Once you get the hang of controlling the spurt and direction of milk, you can completely empty all milk out of your breast in about 20 minutes with just your hands.

If you have access to a table (and privacy) at work, you can set up milk storage cups and milk both breasts at once.

The advantage of hand expression over pumps is that this method will work for all breast and nipple sizes, even large breasts and large nipples that don’t fit regular breast shields that come with pumps.

Another advantage of manually expressing is the lack of equipment. All you need to bring to work is a collection cup and bottle, lids, and a cooler. Not every working mother can find a discreet place at work where her co-workers won’t hear the hum of her electric breast pump. If you only plan to pump infrequently at work to relieve your engorged breasts, then manual expression is a simple low-cost solution.

How do you store and freeze breast milk?

3. You don’t pump often enough to justify the cost of a breast pump.

Even if you only breastfeed, there will be times when you will need to express milk, but your baby can’t feed. The most common situations are when you’re traveling (staying away from home, on an airplane), going back to work part-time, or visiting friends away from your baby.

Your breasts will still produce milk so you will need to hand express. If you find pure hand expressing difficult, then the next cheapest low-fuss solution is to use a manual breast pump.

In models like the Medela Harmony, you will squeeze a lever to create suction. There are also all-in-one silicone pumps where everything is one piece of silicone. These pumps are easy to clean and use and there are no complicated parts or different breast shield sizes to worry about. One size fits all and the body of the pump is also the part you squeeze to create a vacuum. All manual pumps are easy, if a bit tiring to use. It takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to completely drain one breast and you’ll need to pump both breasts so your hands will ache at the end.

OMG, this sounds horrible, why are you recommending hand pumps? Because squeezing a lever is easier than mastering a massage technique for those of use who lack hand-eye coordination!

There’s no batteries, motor, or tubes to worry about and manual breast pumps are dead silent. For moms who have to pump at work, but can’t get away from her nosy co-workers, then a manual pump is a godsend.

For frugal mamas who occasionally express, hand pumps are a great choice. They are a lot less expensive, costing only $10-$30 compared to double electric pumps that average around $200.

Here’s a video on how to manually express breast milk. (Finally!)

What you want to pay attention to in this video is how to massage the area around your nipples as well as how to use your fingers to squeeze out the milk. Notice that you are not pinching with your hands, but ‘stroking’ and ‘tugging’. You are basically going to mimic the sucking motion of your baby’s lips and tongue with your fingers.

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