Pumping or hand (manually) expressing breast milk

Pumping or collecting breast milk by hand (manual expression) allows you to feed your baby breast milk in a bottle. You may need to do this if you are going back to work, you will be away from your baby during a feeding time, or your baby cannot breast-feed. See instructions below.

Illustration of Pumping or hand (manually) expressing breast milk
Illustration of Pumping or hand (manually) expressing breast milk

Illustrations copyright 2000 by Nucleus Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. http://www.nucleusinc.com


Hand (manual) expression

Hand (manual) massage and expression of breast milk is the removal of milk from the breast using massage. Manual expression is simple and requires little equipment, but it does not empty the breasts as completely as breast-feeding or pumping.

To express milk manually:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Massage your breast with both hands, sliding your hands from the outer areas of your breast toward the nipple.
  • Grasp the dark circle (areola) with your thumb above and one or two fingers below. Push in toward your chest wall; then gently compress while rolling your fingers toward your nipple (but not on your nipple).
  • Rotate your fingers slightly around the areola and repeat the massage to drain the entire breast. Collect your breast milk in a clean container. Refrigerate or freeze the milk if you are not going to use it immediately.


Breast pumps help you empty your breasts completely. Pump whenever you would normally breast-feed. Empty your breasts every 2 to 4 hours (depending on your baby's schedule), because you need to stimulate and empty them often to continue producing enough milk for your baby. To stimulate let-down, relax and massage your breasts while looking at a picture of your baby.

You can buy or rent a pump, depending on how frequently and how long you need one. Be sure to wash and dry all parts of your pump thoroughly after each use. There are several different types of pumps, including:

  • Manual pumps, which are operated by hand. These are suitable for occasional or emergency use.
  • Battery-operated pumps, which are usually used for occasional pumping or when no electrical outlet is available. For more frequent pumping, you can use rechargeable batteries. However, these pumps aren't highly efficient and may not express enough milk if you are pumping most or all of your baby's milk supply.
  • Electric pumps, which more closely imitate the rhythm of a breast-feeding infant and therefore may be better for maintaining milk production if your baby cannot breast-feed or you need to be away from your baby for extended periods. Electric pumps remove milk from the breasts faster than manual or battery-operated pumps. Double electric pumps are available to pump both breasts at once. These models are a good choice for working mothers because they are faster than single-breast pumps.

Check with your local breast-feeding specialist to make sure the pump you have in mind is right for your needs.

Last Updated: June 10, 2009

Author: Sandy Jocoy, RN

Medical Review: Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

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