How to Express Breast Milk Manually

By Carolyn Robbins
Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Ideally, a newborn latches on quickly and nurses readily. Sometimes, however, babies struggle with feedings due to prematurity, low birth weight or other physical complications. Manual expression will allow you to build and maintain a supply of milk while you and your baby learn the art of breastfeeding. Expressing milk by hand is also useful if you will be separated from your baby. You can save milk without having to purchase or carry expensive equipment.


Step 1

Wash your hands in warm, soapy water.

Step 2

Wash a container with a wide-mouth opening, such as a bottle, to hold the expressed milk. Sterilizing the container isn't necessary, but you should wash it with hot, soapy water, according to Sutter Health.

Step 3

Apply warm compresses to your breasts for up to five minutes before you manually express milk. Usually, your baby crying and suckling stimulates the milk letdown reflex. Without your baby present, you'll have to artificially trigger the reflex. A washcloth soaked in warm water works well.

Step 4

Massage your breasts gently with your fingertips. Work your fingers from the sides of your breasts toward the nipple. Sutter Health recommends thinking about or looking at a picture of your baby while you massage.

Hand-Expressing Milk

Step 1

Hold the clean container under and in front of your nipple with one hand. You may have to adjust the position to catch the stream of milk. Place your thumb and forefinger 1 to 2 inches from the nipple with the thumb on top and the forefinger beneath the breast.

Step 2

Push your fingers into your chest. Roll your fingers forward while gently compressing the breast tissue. Squeezing, pulling or sliding your fingers may cause bruises, friction burns or tissue damage, so be sure to use the rolling motion.

Step 3

Reposition your fingers away from the nipple, press into the chest and roll forward. Rotate your fingers around the areola so you draw equally on all of your glands.

About the Author

Carolyn Robbins began writing in 2006. Her work appears on various websites and covers various topics including neuroscience, physiology, nutrition and fitness. Robbins graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology and theology from Saint Vincent College.