First few days

Hand expressing

The staff in the unit where you give birth should offer to show you how to hand express your breastmilk before you go home. If this is not done, they should at the very least make sure you have a leaflet on how to hand express and make sure you understand why it is important for you to know how to do this and where you can get help with learning the skills should you need it.

A midwife teaches a mother hand expression

Watch a video showing a mother learning how to express her breastmilk.

Reasons why you may wish to hand express:

  • If your baby is a little sleepy he may be encouraged to feed if you can hand express some colostrum on to your nipple to tempt him.
  • Some quite sleepy babies may not attach to the breast but are able to lap expressed milk from the nipple.
  • Sometimes it is necessary to hand express and give the colostrum to your baby for the first few feeds until he has the energy to attach to the breast and feed himself.
  • Its a really good skill to have when your milk volume increases. If your breasts become a little too full you may need to soften the area your baby takes into his mouth by hand expressing before trying to get him to feed.
  • It can be really reassuring just to see your milk
  • If your baby has had to go to the neonatal unit.

Your community midwife will check that you have been shown this when she sees you for the first time at home.


Why don’t you just recommend using a breast-pump?

Although many mothers use a breast pump to express milk, it is also useful to know how to hand express – for the reasons listed above. Not everyone has a pump and therefore wouldn’t be able to deal straight away with a problem such as full or engorged breasts. If you do have a pump, you may still find hand expressing easier, particularly in the early days. It can also help to get the flow of milk started before using the pump.