Breast pumps are a modern day miracle, but hand expression can definitely come in handy. In the first few days of breastfeeding, hand expression is often the easiest way for moms to express colostrum. Even when their milk "comes in," some mothers find hand expression more efficient and comfortable than pumping: It makes them feel more control over the process, and many find it more relaxing than being hooked up to a machine.
Hand expression can also help in cases of engorgement and plugged ducts or mastitis. And combining hand expression with pumping has even been shown to increase the volume of milk that a mom pumps. And what about those times when you forgot your pump, your pump is malfunctioning, or your power has gone out? Hand expression to the rescue!
The best part? It's easier than you think to get started. Here's what to do:
There is breast milk pooling throughout your breasts, and you want to get it flowing. Warm up your hands, then massage your breasts. Start from the armpits, and work your way toward the nipple. You can gently squeeze, knead, sweep your fingers in a circular motion, or walk your knuckles along your breasts.
Place Your Fingers in a "C" Shape Around Your Nipple
Credit: Lucy Knisley
This usually works best with your thumb on top and forefinger/middle finger on bottom. Place the fingers about an inch or so from the base of the nipple, pad sides down. The exact location of finger placement varies from mother to mother, so experiment with where on the areola or breast tissue your "sweet spot" is.
Once your fingers are in place, you are ready to express. Gently push your fingers toward your chest wall (you might notice the base of your nipple protruding now, with your fingers pushing your breast tissue back).
Next, roll your top and bottom fingers toward each other. At this point, you should see a drop or two of milk (that's how you know you're doing it right!).
Once you see milk coming out, keep going, and you will start to get into a rhythm. Change the placement of your fingers every now and then, so that you empty all the different areas of your breasts. And make sure you have an open bowl ready! After you're done expressing, you can then transfer the milk to a bottle, spoon, or syringe for feeding, or to a storage bag.
Try experimenting with different finger placements and massage techniques to find what works best for your body. And remember: as long as drops of milk appear, you're doing it perfectly.