Hand Expressing Breast Milk

Hand Expressing Breast Milk

Learning how to express breast milk is important for all mothers.

Why express breast milk?

  • Your breasts are too hard (engorged) for your baby to latch on 
  • You want your baby to have breast milk when you are away from your baby
  • You need to increase your breast milk supply

How do I express breast milk by hand?

For a healthy baby, use a clean glass or plastic container in which to express your breast milk. Put the breast milk in the refrigerator if you will not use it within 6 to 8 hours. For a premature or sick baby use a sterile container and refrigerate milk within 1 hour of expressing.

Hand Expressing Breast Milk 
Visual Step Instructions
hands rinsing under a tap

1. Wash your hands with soap and water.

measuring cup and bowl

2. Label container with date before expressing milk. "Clean" means to wash in hot soapy water, rinse well with hot water and leave to air dry.

woman applying warm wet towel to breasts 3. To help breast milk flow, apply a warm wet towel to your breasts for a couple of minutes or take a shower. Massage your breasts for a few minutes then...
thumb and finger places around the nipple of a breast

4. Place your thumb and first 2 fingers about 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 - 3.75 cm) away from nipple.

hands pushing breast towards the chest

5. Push your thumb and 2 fingers straight back toward your chest.

thumb and two fingers rolling together on breast 6. Roll your thumb and 2 fingers together.


  • Continue to repeat steps 4, 5 and 6 until the flow of milk slows down, then switch to the other breast. It will probably take 10-15 minutes to remove most of the milk from each breast.
  • Continue to switch breasts whenever the flow of milk slows down. Be sure to move your thumb and 2 fingers along all areas around the nipple.
  • Many mothers find it easier to express in the morning when their breasts feel fullest or after breastfeeding the baby.
  • You may only get a few drops when first learning to express. Expressing breast milk will get better and easier with practice.

How to feed expressed breast milk

  • Avoid using bottles to feed your baby in the first 4 to 6 weeks of life, or until your baby is breastfeeding well. 
  • Instead of using a bottle, you can feed expressed breast milk to your baby from a cup or spoon.

Do you have more questions about parenting?

  • Connect with a registered nurse from Health811 for free, secure, and confidential health advice. Service is available 24/7 in English and French, with translation support also offered in other languages. Call 8-1-1 or visit Health811.ontario.ca.
  • Connect with a Community Navigator from 2-1-1 for information about community programs and resources across Eastern Ontario. Helpline service is available 24/7 and in many different languages. Call 2-1-1 or visit 211ontario.ca.
  • Connect with other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.
  • There are a variety of services to make it easier for your child to grow up healthy in Ottawa.
  • You can update your child's immunization record using either the CANImmunize App or the Immunization Connect Ontario (ICON) Tool
  • If you have received a message from Ottawa Public Health such as a letter or a call regarding immunization, an infectious disease, or infection control lapse, please call 613-580-6744 and listen to the menu options carefully.

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