Incorporating hand expression into your pumping routine can be a great way for breastfeeding moms to increase the amount of milk that they are able to express from their breasts. Here’s how to do it!
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Why hand express?
Hand expression is a great skill to have – below are some reason to learn it.
As a backup
If you know how to hand express, you’ll always have a pump that works. You never have to worry about what you’ll do if your pump breaks, or if your power goes out, or if you are out of the house and forgot your breast shields.
This is so important for exclusive pumpers! I forgot my breast pump charger on a trip and had to go 15 hours without pumping until I could get a replacement. Knowing how to hand express would have saved me a lot of pain.
To express more milk
Additionally, some women also find that they are able to remove more milk by incorporating hand expression into their routine.
What this looks like may be different for different women. Some might find hand expressing before they start pumping helpful in getting a letdown.
Others might find it works best at the end, to finish emptying your breast as much as possible.
To express colostrum
Hand expression can be an effective way to express colostrum when you’re pregnant or shortly after birth, as an alternative to an electric breast pump.
Always ask your provider before trying to express milk when pregnant. More on this here.
Who should hand express?
If possible, I would recommend learning how to hand express just in case you ever need to do it.
When I forgot my charger, I tried to learn how to hand express from YouTube, but I was so stressed out and distracted that I really struggled. Practicing ahead of an potential emergency is a good idea.
Once you’ve learned how to do it, whether you want to do it regularly is up to you. As I said above, some women find that they get more milk (or can finish pumping faster) by incorporating hand expression along with pumping. Others may not – just see what works best for you.
How to hand express
Before you start, wash your hands and get a clean container that you can express into. (You might want to use a bowl or something with a wider opening than a bottle while you’re getting the hang of it.)
- Start by lightly massaging your breast and nipples, stretching the nipples a bit.
- Make a C-shape with your thumb and index finger, and place your thumb at the top of your areola and your index finger at the bottom.
- Pull your fingers back towards your chest, and then compress them together gently. Try not to slide your fingers on your skin.
- Try to aim the spray of breast milk into your container.
- Once the flow slows down, move to another spot on your breast and repeat
- When you’ve finished hand expressing the first breast, switch to the other side.
When to hand express?
Obviously, you can hand express whenever you need to pump but can’t because of an issue with your pump not working or for whatever reason.
If you are trying to see if you can get more milk via hand expression, here are a few different things to try, depending on what you are struggling with:
1. Letdowns are slow
If you find that it takes a long time for the milk to start spraying when you pump, try hand expressing at the beginning of your sessions.
Letdown (the process that releases milk from your breasts) is a conditioned response, and some women have a harder time triggering this reflex with a pump. You may find that you are able to get a letdown faster using hand expression; then, once your milk has let down, you can switch to pumping.
2. Getting a second letdown
If you struggle to get a second letdown (meaning your milk has slowed to a dribble and won’t start spraying again), you might try disconnecting from the pump and hand expressing until your milk lets down again.
Some women are able to get a second letdown using the letdown/massage mode on their pump, while others are not. Again, you kind of have to test out what works best for you
3. Finishing emptying
If you find it takes you a long time to pump, you can try hand expressing at the end of your session (say, when you have 5 or so minutes left to pump). Some women find that this helps them finish “emptying” their breasts faster.
(You can never fully empty your breasts because they are always making milk, which is why I put it in quotes.)
Have you tried hand expression? Has it helped you pump more milk? Share your experience in the comments!