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Expressing Breast Milk – Methods

Preparing To Express Milk

  • Wash your hands and make sure any equipment needed is sterilised, such as a bottle, cup, pump
  • Make sure you are relaxed and comfortable. Some women find it helpful to drink water, listen to music, disable the telephone, think about their baby or even look at a picture of their baby before expressing their milk to encourage the ‘let-down’ reflex. This reflex is initiated by the suckling infant and triggers the milk to be released from the breast
  • Massaging your breasts before expressing will also encourage the ‘let-down’ reflex.

Hand Expressing

  • Trigger the let-down reflex. Start by massaging the top side of your breast and stroking towards the nipple in a circular motion. Then massage the underside and repeat several times to ensure the whole breast is massaged
  • Place your thumb and index finger at the edge of the areola on opposite sides of your nipple
  • Gently push into your breast tissue. Push your thumb and index fingers towards each other using a rolling action, a similar action to doing a finger print using an ink pad
  • When the stream of milk begins to flow freely, the let-down has occurred. The let-down lasts between 3 and 5 minutes
  • When the flow slows down, switch to your other breast. Follow the same steps for the second breast. A secondary let-down can occur during feeding or expressing
  • You may need to move back and forth from breast to breast, and repeat the massage steps to release as much of your milk as possible.

Expressing With A Pump

Types of pumps

  • Manual pumps involve squeezing a handle and allow you to control the cycle and suction. They can take practice to learn the best rhythm to trigger milk let-down and may also be tiring to use for long periods
  • Electric pumps have cycle speeds and suction levels to recreate a ‘feeling’ similar to your baby’s sucking. They may allow you to single or double pump

Using a pump

  • Whichever you choose be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before use
  • The pump should be clean and sterilised before use
  • Place the flat rim of the breast cup against your breast, so that the nipple is centred within the inner opening of the shield
  • If the pump is manual, gently work the pump’s cylinder to create a flow of milk from your breast. Continue working the pump until the breast is soft and you have collected half of the breast milk needed. Then change over to the other breast, repeating the process
  • If using an electric pump, start with a low suction and gradually increase to find the level that is comfortable and most effective for you. If you using a double pump you can express from both breasts at once. As with manual expression, you may find that you need to go back and forth from breast to breast until both are emptied.

For more about the types of breast pumps, see Choosing a Breast Pump.

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