• Be patient
  • Express in the morning, when your breasts feel fullest or after breastfeeding your baby
  • You may only get a few drops when first learning to express. Expressing breast milk will get better and easier with practice
  • Switch breasts whenever the flow of breast milk slows down
  • Move your thumb and fingers in different positions around your areola to ensure that all breast milk ducts are emptied
  • Most women are able to express breast milk by hand; however you can also express breast milk using a breast pump

Hand expression takes time to learn by will become easier and faster as you practice. It involves no cost, is always available and can be done anytime, anywhere.

wash hands with soap and water
Step 1
Wash your hands with soap and water.


clean containers
Step 2
If you baby is healthy use a “clean” glass or hard plastic container (BPA free) to collect your expressed breast milk.
“Clean” means to wash in hot soapy water, rinse well with hot water and leave to air dry on a clean surface away from where food is made.


woman using wet warm towel to conver breast
Step 3
To help breast milk begin to drip, try any of the following:
  • Place a warm towel on your breast for a few minutes
  • Gently massage your breast towards the nipples
  • Gently roll your nipple between your thumb and finger


thumb and first two fingers along the outer edge of areola
Step 4
Place your thumb and first 2 fingers along the outer edge of the dark area (areola).


thumb and two fingers on breast and push toward chest

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


compress breast with thumb and fingers
Step 6
Gently compress your breast using your thumb and fingers and roll fingers towards your nipple; then relax your fingers.


Repeat steps 4, 5 and 6 until the flow of breast milk slows down then switch to the other breast.

There are different types of breast pumps, and each type works well for different situations.

  • Manual hand pumps (for purchase)
  • Single electric pumps (for purchase)
  • Double electric pumps (for purchase)
  • Hospital-grade double electric pump (for rent)

Note: There are many sizes of breast shields. The shields come with your breast pump may not fit you properly. A poor fit may cause nipple or breast damage. If you have any questions, visit our breastfeeding services for additional support.

Before Expressing

  • Wash your hands with soap and water
  • To store breast milk use clean, air-dried, glass or hard plastic containers
  • Moisten your breast(s) with water before putting the breast shield over the nipple to help make a better seal
  • The breast shield must be centered over the nipple
  • For electric breast pumps, set the pump to the lowest setting before turning it on

During Expressing

  • Slowly increase the setting while pumping to a level that is comfortable for you
  • The suction from the breast pump should pull your nipple into the breast shield tunnel easily
  • If pumping one breast at a time switch breasts whenever the flow of breast milk slows down
  • Change containers when it is ¾ full so that the breast milk does not back up into the pump
  • When finished remove the breast shield slowly and carefully from your breast


  • Your breast pump should be cleaned according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Cover parts with a clean towel when not in use. Avoid storing wet or damp parts

Video: Hand Expressing Breastmilk (Transcript)

Disclaimer: To feed your baby with a cup or spoon, please speak to your health care provider or visit a breastfeeding clinic.

Reproduced with permission from the Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Health and Perinatal Services BC