How to express breast milk by hand

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Position of hand on breast, with top views showing how to push in and squeeze breast

Expressing milk by hand (manual expression) is one way to collect breast milk. But it takes a long time to empty a breast all the way. And it is rarely practical if you plan to return to work.

Expressing a small amount of milk from both breasts can help relieve a breast that is engorged and make it easier to breastfeed.

To express milk manually:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and warm water before you touch your breast.
  2. Gently massage your breast with both hands, sliding your hands from the outer areas of your breast toward the nipple.
  3. With your hand below your breast, position your thumb on one side of the dark circle (areola) and your fingers on the other side. Keep your thumb and fingers about an inch away from the areola.
  4. Push your thumb and fingers in toward your chest wall. Then gently squeeze the breast tissue. Don't slide your fingers over your skin.
  5. Repeatedly push in and squeeze until your milk begins to flow. Collect the milk in a clean container.
  6. Move your fingers slightly around the areola and repeat the massage to drain the entire breast.
  7. When the flow of milk slows, move to the other breast and repeat the steps above. Switch between breasts until you have emptied both breasts.

Current as of: July 10, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
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