Expressing Your Milk

Work, school, or even a late-night movie can require you to be away from your baby. This doesn't mean you have to give up breastfeeding. You can transfer milk from your breast to a bottle (expression) and feed your baby breastmilk in a bottle. But remember, don’t give your baby bottles or pacifiers until he or she is at least 4 to 6 weeks old. This helps you both get a good start on breastfeeding. Your baby can get used to your natural nipple first.

Woman hand-expressing breast milk.

Woman sitting in chair expressing milk from both breasts with electric double breast pump.

Expressing by hand

Expressing with double pump


Always wash your hands before expressing milk from your breast to a bottle.

Stimulating letdown

  • Hold a washcloth under very warm water and wring it out.

  • Place one warm washcloth over each breast to warm them. 

  • Gently massage your breasts to stimulate the milk flow.

  • Start under the arm and move around the entire breast. 

  • Use the backs of your fingernails to gently scratch the skin of your breasts downward from the outside toward your nipples. 

  • If you’re away from your baby, looking at your baby’s picture can help your milk let down.

Expressing by hand or pump

Your lactation consultant can help you choose the best method for your needs. Here are some tips:

  • Expressing by hand reduces pressure in swollen or leaky breasts. It may be a good way to start a pumping session. If you need to give expressed milk to your baby in the first few days after delivery, hand expression can often help get more colostrum than using a pump. Ask your nurse or midwife to teach you how to hand express.

  • Start expressing within 6 hours of separation from your baby in the hospital.

  • When separated from your baby, it is best to express as often and as long as a baby would breastfeed. Newborns feed 8 to 12 times each 24 hours.

  • A pump gently pulls your nipple into the cup like a baby’s suck and can be the fastest way to express after your milk comes in. Pumps come in manual, battery-operated, and electric styles. To protect your breasts and the milk you pump, follow the instructions that come with your pump.

  • For sick or premature babies who aren't feeding at the breast, "hands-on pumping" is a special way to help be sure you make enough milk. Hands-on pumping involves a combination of both hand expression and an electrical pump. 

  • Hand expressing while using a pump can increase the amount of milk you can pump. It can also increase the fat content of the pumped milk.

  • You can usually buy or rent a pump from a drugstore or medical equipment store. Check with your hospital to find out where you can buy or rent a pump.

Working and breastfeeding

  • Breastfeed your baby all of the time during your maternity leave. This helps set up your milk supply for the whole year.

  • When your baby is about 2 weeks old, start pumping after you feed the baby. You can freeze this expressed milk. It will help you build a supply for going back to work. Nursing plus pumping will help your breasts make more milk. Talk with your family or childcare provider about timing bottle feedings while you are at work. It’s best if your baby is ready to breastfeed when you return from work.

  • Express milk during work breaks. This helps protect your milk supply. It also helps prevent engorged or leaking breasts.

  • Arrange to breastfeed at lunch if your childcare is nearby. If not, be sure to pump during your lunch break.

  • Breastfeed before you leave for work and soon after you return home. Your partner may be able to make dinner while you feed the baby.

  • Breastfeed at night and on weekends. This will keep up your milk supply. Your baby can have bottled breastmilk during the day while you are at work.

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