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Hand Expressing Colostrum or Breastmilk

Knowing how to express milk can be helpful. Expressing helps:

  • get baby interested in latching

  • increase the milk supply

  • soften the nipple and areola to make it easier for baby to latch

  • relieve fullness of the breasts

  • provide colostrum and breast milk if mom is separated from baby

  • provide drops of milk to place on nipples to prevent and decrease soreness

What is Colostrum?

Colostrum is mother's first milk. It is all that baby needs in the first few days after birth. It is thick, yellow in colour and is easily digested by baby. It is high in calories and lines the baby's stomach, protecting their gut. It has antibodies that help keep baby healthy. Mothers will produce only a small amount of colostrum (drops) as that is all baby needs as their stomach is just the size of a cherry.

Getting Ready to Hand Express Breastmilk

Before beginning, be sure to wash hands well with soap and water. If baby is healthy, expressed breastmilk can be collected in a clean glass or hard plastic (BPA free) container or special breastmilk bag. Be sure to clean containers first by washing in hot, soapy water, rinsing well with hot water, and allowing them to air dry on a surface away from where food is made.

Mothers should find a quiet, comfortable spot to sit where they can look at their baby or a photo of their baby. Place a warm towel on each breast for a few minutes and gently massage all areas of the breast starting from the chest and moving towards the nipple area. Lean forward and gently shake each breast and roll the nipple gently between thumb and finger.

How to Hand Express

Hand expression takes time to learn and gets easier with practice. Mothers should place their thumb and fingers on either side of the breast, about two to four centimetres from the base of the nipple. Gently press the breast straight back towards the chest. Lightly compress the breast using thumb and fingers and roll towards the nipple. Relax for a few seconds, then repeat the process until flow slows and then switch to other breast. Try switching hands or moving thumb and fingers into different places around the nipple. The amount of milk expressed does not show how much milk is being made by the mother. Baby's sucking removes milk much better.

To learn more about hand expressing breastmilk, contact the Health Unit toll-free at 1-866-888-4577 and speak with a Family Health Nurse.

Additional Resources:

Hand Expression - video - UNICEF

Hand Expression and Storing Breastmilk - Fact Sheet - Best Start