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Expressing breastmilk

There are lots of reasons why you might want to express your breast milk. These might include:

  • If your baby is premature, or unable to feed from you for another reason
  • To overcome a breastfeeding difficulty – maybe you need relief from full (engorged) breasts, avoiding blocked ducts or mastitis.
  • You plan to leave your baby with your partner or other carer who will need to feed them
  • Your supply is slowing down and you need to increase production
  • You are returning to work or study, but still want your baby to have your breast milk

Baby looking over at milk in a bottle

You can either express using your hands, or with a manual or electric breast pump. Whichever option you go for, make sure you thoroughly wash your hands and sterilise any containers or pump parts first, especially if your baby’s less than six months old.

When you’re expressing, encourage your milk flow by:

  • Gently massaging your breasts
  • Having a warm bath or shower, or applying warm flannels to your breasts
  • Having your baby (or something that reminds you of them) close by
  • Making sure you’re relaxed and are somewhere quiet, private and warm

Breast Pumps

There are two main types of breast pump available, hand or electric/battery. Many women find that hand expression works well for them.

If you are using a hand pump, place it in position on the first breast and express until the milk flow slows to a drip. You can then swap over to the other breast – you may need to massage it a little to get the milk going.

You can continue to swap between breasts until you’ve expressed the amount of milk you need, or until your breasts feel softer. Some electric pumps have two collection sets which means you can express from both breasts at once. This not only saves time, but can stimulate your breasts to produce more milk.

You can find out more about expressing and the answers to some commonly asked questions here.

Useful links

National breastfeeding helpline

Page last reviewed: 19-01-2021

Next review due: 19-01-2024