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    Hand Expressing Breast Milk: Everything You Need to Know

    Updated 14 April 2020 |
    Published 12 August 2019
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Marina Savchenko, MD, Pediatric Neurologist, Medical Consultant at Flo
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    Knowing how to hand express breast milk is a useful skill. Some mothers find that hand expressing breast milk is easier than using a pump. Read on to learn the basics of hand expression, the Marmet technique, and how breast massage is different from using breast pumps.

    Hand expressing breast milk: what is it?

    Hand expressing is using your hands to compress your breast rhythmically to express milk into a sterile container. Hand expressing milk is a great alternative to using an electric or manual breast pump. It helps encourage the flow of milk from a specific part of your breast. This technique can be particularly useful if there is a blockage in any of your milk ducts. 

    How to hand express breast milk: Marmet technique

    To express milk using the Marmet technique, first wash your hands and grab a sterile bowl. Then follow these steps:

    1. Place your thumb above your nipple and your first two fingers underneath it, making a letter C.

    There should be about 1 to 1.5 inches between your thumb and fingers. Your fingers will be above the reservoirs of milk. Don't cup your breast while expressing milk. 

    2. Push straight into your chest wall.

    Don't spread your fingers apart. If your breasts are large, first lift them up and then push your breast into your chest wall. 

    3. Roll your thumb and fingers forwards.

    This compresses and empties the milk reservoirs without injuring the sensitive tissue of your breast. Repeat this movement rhythmically to drain the reservoirs completely. If no milk drops appear, move your thumb and fingers slightly and repeat the process. Avoid placing them on the areola. 

    When the milk flow slows down, rotate your fingers and thumb to express milk from other reservoirs. When the milk flow slows down on one breast, repeat the process on your other breast. 

    Cautions when using the Marmet technique:

    • Squeezing your breast can result in bruising.
    • Sliding your hands over your breasts can cause chafing.
    • Pulling your nipple can cause tissue damage. 

    Hand expression vs. breast pumps: which is better?

    There are advantages and disadvantages to both options. Choose either of them (or use both!) according to your preference. 

    The advantages of hand expression are:

    • Hand expressing breast milk is free and requires no power source or special equipment. 
    • You can hand express breast milk anywhere and at any time. It is available even in emergency situations. 
    • Hand expression may increase the quantity of milk, as skin-to-skin touch can feel more natural. 
    • You don't have to clean the breast pump afterward. 

    The disadvantages of hand expression are:

    • It requires physical effort and may become tiring on your wrists and hands.
    • It might take more time to hand express from both breasts in comparison to using an electric double breast pump.
    • An electric breast pump can help you better establish the milk supply if your child hasn't yet started breastfeeding. 

    The advantages of a breast pump are:

    • Breast pumps are powered by electricity, and they perform physical work. As a result, they are less tiring than hand expression. 
    • Double breast pumps allow you to pump from both breasts simultaneously. Some pumps allow you to keep your hands free while pumping. This can save time and may even allow you to multi-task while pumping. 

    The disadvantages of a breast pump are:

    • It can take some time to learn how to use a breast pump.
    • Breast pumps can be expensive.
    • The parts of the pump can break or become lost.
    • It takes some time to clean the breast pump after use. 

    How to prepare for nipple massage

    Start by washing your hands with warm water and soap. Get a clean/sterile container with a wide mouth, like a cup. Try to find a quiet, private, and comfortable place where you can relax. Feeling relaxed while expressing milk can enhance your milk flow. 

    Before hand expressing, you may find it helpful to gently massage your breasts using your fingertips and hands, a warm towel, or soft brush. You can also lean slightly forwards while sitting to help gravity boost your milk flow. 

    Breast hand expressing: common misconceptions

    It's impossible!

    Hand expressing is easier if there's a full supply of milk. You will eventually be able to find the right spot where milk is stored in your breast. It feels a bit like a tiny string of pearls or row of peas. Once you're able to identify what this feels like, hand expressing will become easier. 

    It is weird.

    Hand expressing milk allows you to know your breasts better and also stimulates the production of oxytocin, which further enhances your milk flow. Regularly examining your breasts (which you're doing when you hand express) can also help you keep track of any abnormal changes. Hand expressing can be helpful for you and your newborn baby. 

    It's only good for emergencies.

    This is a widespread misconception that occurs because hand expression is usually taught as a technique to express milk if your breasts are too full, your baby isn’t latching, or you are separated from your baby. However, it's a good strategy to learn to express milk whenever you need or want to. 

    It's painful and time consuming.

    Hand expressing may hurt less than using a pump. Although it may take some time to learn, the process of hand expressing is usually faster than setting up, using, and washing a pump. 

    Breast pumps are more efficient.

    Hand expression can allow you to more closely mimic the action of your baby's mouth. Your hand holds your breast and your fingers press it. Together, these two motions are more efficient than a breast pump. 

    Many mothers find hand expressing breast milk a lot easier than using a breast pump. It involves rhythmically compressing your breasts with your hands to express milk. The Marmet technique is one famous way to hand express breast milk. There are several advantages and disadvantages of hand expression and breast pumps. Choose the one that's right for you, or use both! Hand expression is an effective alternative to breast pumps for women with blocked ducts, babies who don't latch, or breasts that feel too full. 

    History of updates

    Current version (14 April 2020)

    Reviewed by Marina Savchenko, MD, Pediatric Neurologist, Medical Consultant at Flo

    Published (12 August 2019)

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