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How to hand express

Expressing breast milk involves squeezing milk from your breast so you can store it and feed it to your baby later. You can use a breast pump to express, or express by hand. There are lots of reasons why you might want to hand express. For example:

  • You’re going to be away from your baby for a period of time, for example if you’re going back to work
  • Your breasts are uncomfortably full (engorged)
  • Your baby isn’t breastfeeding well or is finding sucking difficult, but you still want to give them breast milk
  • Your partner is going to help feed your baby
  • You want to boost your milk supply or keep it going while you overcome breastfeeding difficulties

How to hand express your milk

  • Start by stimulating the release of milk by gently massaging the breast and nipples. You can also try applying warm face cloths to the breast. Having your baby close by or having something to remind you of baby, such as a photo, can help get your milk flowing- it might take a few minutes to get going.
  • Find the right spot to place your fingers- feel for a change in texture. Usually it’s about 2-3 cms away from the base of the nipple.
  • Cup the breast, making a ‘C’ shape with your thumb and fingers.
  • Gently squeeze and release in a steady rhythm. Avoid sliding your fingers along skin.
  • As milk flow slows down, move your fingers to another section of the breast and build up a rhythm.
  • When the flow of milk has slowed down, swap to the other breast and repeat the process. This should not hurt.

Remember, wash your hands before you start, and express into a sterilised container.

Storing your expressed breast milk

The breast milk you express by hand can be stored in a sterilised container or in specially designed breast milk storage bags which are sterile.

Breast milk can be kept:

  • in the fridge for up to 8 days at 4 degrees or lower, or use within 3 days if higher than 4 degrees C
  • for up to two weeks in the ice compartment of a fridge
  • for up to six months in a freezer

If you cool your breast milk in the fridge, you can transport it in a cool bag with ice blocks for up to 24 hours.

Storing your breast milk in small quantities will help you to avoid waste. If you’re putting containers in the freezer, make sure you label and date each one for future reference.

Defrosting frozen milk

Defrost it slowly in the fridge before giving it to your baby. Don’t use a microwave. If you need to defrost it quickly, place the bag of frozen milk in a jug of warm water or hold it under running warm water.

Once defrosted use within 1 hour, then discard.

Useful Links

National breastfeeding helpline

Page last reviewed: 22-09-2021

Next review due: 22-09-2024