Hand Expression 101

Hand Expression 101

May 13, 2021 2 Comments

You may have heard of heard of expression before but do you know just how handy it can be? There are several situations where hand expression can not only be convenient but also beneficial and help protect milk supply.

  • separation between mom and baby after birth
  • baby is not able to latch well
  • breast engorgement

The first milk the mammary glands produce during pregnancy is known as colostrum. This milk is rich in antibodies to help baby build a strong immune system, lay the foundation for healthy gut bacteria, and fight off infection and illness. Frequent hand expression, specifically during the first few days postpartum, has been found to be more effective at removing colostrum than a breast pump. To understand how and why this may be it's important to know the impact of two key hormones on the production and release of breastmilk: oxytocin and prolactin.

Oxytocin is activated by baby suckling at the breast, nipple stretching, and even by mom simply anticipating breastfeeding. These external cues activate the "feel good hormone" oxytocin, which then triggers important cells in the breast to contract and release the breastmilk. 

Prolactin plays an equally important role and is activated by nipple stimulation. It is the presence of prolactin that tells the body to produce more milk.  

It's for these reasons that skin to skin between mom and baby, baby suckling at breast, and hand expression can be optimal ways to trigger these hormones and the expression of breastmilk.


So how do you perform hand expression? 

First, you'll want to grab something to express your milk into. If you're a beginner, a large but lightweight bowl works great. As you practice you can work towards expressing into a bottle, cup, or even on a spoon (if expressing colostrum). If you're going to be giving baby the milk you express you'll want to make sure everything that the milk comes into contact with is very clean and dry.

Next, wash those hands :) We don't want any germs getting into the milk.

Find a comfy spot to sit or stand. If standing, you can place the bowl on a counter top. If sitting, simply place the bowl in your lap.

Then, you'll want to perform a light breast massage right down to your nipples. You can give them a little stretch as well to get the hormones flowing!

Next, place your index finger and thumb on the outer edge of your areola.

Press back into/towards your chest wall and then gently compress your index finger and thumb together. You'll repeat this (press back into chest back and compress thumb and index finger) rhythmically and at a rate of about one compression per second (to mimic the suckling of baby). You'll want to avoid sliding your fingers together on your skin. Just press, compress, and release!

Continue this until you notice the milk flow slows down. Then, rotate your fingers around your areola and repeat the process. You can continue this until milk flow stops and then perform hand expression on the opposite breast. 


Have questions about hand expressing?? Many insurance companies cover lactation visits, including prenatal! You can also find lactation consultants who accept private pay. So whether you're pregnant or postpartum don't miss out on the resources you have around you!



Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash


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May 18, 2022

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