Hand expressing

Expressing your breast milk

Important: Before expressing milk, make sure you wash your hands. Babies who are premature or unwell have a higher risk of getting an infection. 

Breast massage

  • The first step is to massage your breast gently with your fingers.
  • Try cupping your breast with your hands and moving gently from side to side. Or, make a spiralling motion from the nipple back up the breast.
  • Be careful not to push or rub too hard. This might make you feel sore.
  • Make sure that you move your hands all around the breast, particularly on and around the nipple.

Finding the right spot

  • Use 2 fingers to measure from the base of the nipple. This is usually about 2cm to 3cm.
  • The edge of the finger furthest away from the nipple is where you will press. This is where your milk ducts are found.
  • Make a ‘C’ shape with your finger and thumb over the milk ducts.

Squeeze and release

  • Gently but firmly press your finger and thumb together without moving their position for about 2 seconds. 
  • Release the pressure and repeat, building up a rhythm.
  • Do not slide your fingers over the skin or nipple.

Move around the breast

  • When the milk flow slows or stops, move your fingers and thumb to a slightly different position. This should still be about 2cm to 3cm back from the nipple. Repeat the squeeze and release in this area.
  • Continue to move around the breast as the milk flow slows or stops.
  • If you do not see any milk, you might not be reaching your milk ducts. Change your hand position slightly and try again.

How to collect your breast milk

  • When you see the milk drops appear like small beads on the nipple, use a small syringe to collect them.
  • You can suck the milk into the syringe by pulling on the plunger. Or, you can remove the plunger, put a bung on the end of the syringe and use it as a scoop.
  • As you have more milk, you can collect it in a bottle.

You might find it helpful to watch UNICEF's video on hand expressing

How long to express for

There's no set length of time to express for. When you have worked your way around the breast and no longer see any milk drops (or they have slowed down a lot), move to the other breast. You can then repeat the process again.

Resource number: 4863
Last reviewed: December 2019
Next review: December 2022

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns about expressing breast milk, contact the team caring for your baby. 

Neonatal Unit

Phone: 020 7188 4045

Breastfeeding team (maternity)

Phone: 020 7188 7564

Postnatal Ward

Phone: 020 7188 5149

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Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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