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Hands on Pumping: How to express more breast milk

Knowing how to express breastmilk is an important skill for all breastfeeding mothers. If you and your breastfed baby are ever apart, or baby is unable to breastfeed efficiently, expressing breastmilk will help protect your milk supply and provide milk for your baby. Hands on pumping is a technique using massage, hands and a breast pump to maximise your milk production. It can significantly increase the amount of breastmilk you express and the fat content, by up to 50%. It usually takes around 20 - 30 minutes to express using this technique.

There are 3 key steps to Hands On Pumping:

  1. Breast Massage

  2. Electric breast pump whilst using your hands to press against the breast (breast compression)

  3. Hand Expression

Breast Massage

Gentle breast massage can increase blood flow to your breasts and help to trigger the milk ejection reflex, also known as a letdown. To begin, gently stroke your breasts from the outer areas (near armpit and collarbone) down towards your areola. Next, using two or three fingers, massage small circles across your breasts working your way in towards the nipple. Finally, you can try positioning your fingers around your breast, 1-2cm from the areola. Gently press back into your chest and then bring your fingers together.

Using a Breast Pump

A Breast Pump uses rhythmical pressure to mimic the sucking pattern of a breastfeeding baby. Modern electric breast pumps are able to adjust suction and speed to increase comfort and efficiency for the expressing mother. Using a double breast pump enables the mother to express both breasts at the same time. Whilst using the breast pump, continue gently massaging, squeezing and compressing breasts with your hands. Feel for firm areas where milk is sitting with the breast and gently focus your massage here.

When a letdown is triggered, you will see milk flowing from your nipple. Many women will have multiple letdowns from each breast when breastfeeding or expressing. Once the milk flow has slowed down, move on to hand expressing.

Hand Expressing

To hand express, place your fingers and thumb 2-3cm back from your areola in a 'C' shape. Gently press back into your chest, compress (squeeze) and release. Try to repeat this in a rhythmic pattern to mimic a baby's suck. Press, Compress, Release. Press, Compress, Release.

When to stop

When your breasts feel softer or lighter and the milk flow has slowed or stopped completely, it is time to stop expressing. Gently feel around your breasts, taking note of any firm or lumpy areas where milk may not have drained well.

Final Comments

On average, breastfeed or express 8-12 times per day is considered the minimum amount needed to protect your milk supply. Hands on pumping can help increase the amount and fat content of milk you collect in a single session and increase your milk supply overall.

Expressing breastmilk is a learnt skill, which takes time, practice and patience. If you are finding it difficult to express, an IBCLC is a breastfeeding and lactation specialist who can help you.

For help with expressing breastmilk, milk supply or breastfeeding concerns, contact IBCLC Beth Daniell.

Other Resources for Expressing Breastmilk

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