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Hand Expressing Breast Milk vs. Pumping - Essential Facts You Need To Know

kindest Cup | 23 August, 2021

            Hand Expressing Breast Milk vs. Pumping - Essential Facts You Need To Know

By Andrea Tran RN, BSN, MA, IBCLC

Breastfeeding mothers have been hand expressing breast milk since the beginning of time. 

With the proliferation of fancy electric breast pumps, some mamas may consider hand expressing a technique that is no longer needed. That couldn't be further than the truth.

In this article, we will take a look at hand expressing breast milk vs. pumping. This comparison will demonstrate how valuable it can be to use hand expression. 


You are expressing milk any time you remove milk from your breast without breastfeeding your baby. When you use your hands to get the milk out, it is called hand expression.

The alternative way of breast milk expression is by using a breast pump. There are manual pumps, electric breast pumps, and battery-powered pumps. 


It can be tempting to believe that a breast pump with the latest technology will be superior to hand expression. However, there are times when hand expression will be the better choice.

  • When expressing colostrum
  • Breast engorgement - hand expressing can provide targeted relief from engorged breasts.  
    • The swelling of the tissue around the milk ducts that happens with engorgement can interfere with milk flow and result in a breast pump being ineffective to get much milk out.
    • A study of 60 moms who experienced engorgement concluded that hand expression was more effective at relieving engorgement than using a manual breast pump (Source).
    • Another study showed that mothers appreciated being taught hand expression techniques as a tool to manage engorgement (Source).
  • Hand expressing can help you breastfeed for longer. A research study comparing hand expressing breast milk vs. pumping in 68 mothers whose babies were feeding poorly showed that the moms who hand expressed were more likely to be still breastfeeding at two months (Source).
  • You can use it to target a clogged duct.
  • Some moms find that breast pumps are not effective in stimulating a let-down and this results in the pump not being effective in expressing milk. Hand expression can prove much more effective for these women. 
  • Not every mama can affordand maintain a high-quality breast pump. 
    • A poor-quality electric breast pump can be worse than no pump at all. 
    • Bad pumps often result in low milk output and can make expressing a painful ordeal.
    • To keep a pump in good working order certain parts need to be replaced on a regular basis
  • Knowing how to hand express can be useful in emergencies.
    • Electricity goes out
    • Pump quits working
    • You are stuck in traffic, and you don't know when you are going to get home.
    • You get stuck in a blizzard and have to spend the night at a hotel, and you don't have a pump. This actually happened to a lactation client of mine.


Colostrum tends to be thick and sticky. When pumping this liquid gold, much of this precious early milk clings to the pump parts and bottles, and very little can be fed to the baby.  

Hand expressing before your milk comes in allows you to collect more colostrum that can then be fed to your baby. Expressing onto a spoon or kindestCup is ideal. The colostrum can immediately be given to your baby. 

If you want to save what you hand express, you can draw it up into a syringe for use later.

You can also express your colostrum directly into the baby's mouth.


There are several benefits when comparing hand expressing breast milk vs. pumping.

You always have the equipment you need to hand express your milk. 

Cleaning involves washing your hands with soap and water. You can use hand sanitizer if you don't have access to running water. 

Soap and running water are needed to clean all the individual breast pumpparts adequately.

 The CDC recommends sanitizing pump parts once a day for extra germ protection. These are some situations when sanitizing is prudent:

  • Baby is younger than 3 months
  • Baby was born prematurely
  • Baby who has a weakened immune system

Daily sanitizing is not necessary when pump parts are cleaned thoroughly after each use for a baby older than 3 months who is healthy (Source).

All breast pumps have parts that need to be replaced on a regular basis. If this is not done, it can result in lower milk production. This won't happen when you express with your hands. They will never wear out. 

Using an electric pump requires access to electricity. 




You can start hand expressing during the last month of pregnancy. Women who want to avoid formula have collected colostrum while pregnant to have on hand in case their baby needs to be supplemented.


As previously mentioned, you can hand express onto a spoon when expressing colostrum. You will need something that can hold more volume once your milk comes in. kindestCup is an excellent device to collect both, colostrum or mature milk. It was designed with hand expression in mind.

A bottle is not the best choice. Milk typically sprays in different directions, which can make trying to hand express into a bottle an exercise in frustration. A bottle's narrow opening makes it hard to aim correctly consistently.

Expressing into a bowl is an option. However, some women find that leaning over a bowl is not comfortable.


Mothers of premature babies who used hand expression techniques before, during, or after using an electric pump were found to have more milk (Source) and milk that was higher in calories (Source).

Using hand expression during pumping is referred to as hands-on pumping.


I encourage all nursing moms to learn how to hand express their breast milk. It is a valuable skill on its own or in combination with a pump. 

Hand expression may take a few sessions to become effective at it and feel comfortable with it. It will be well worth it.

Even if you plan to mostly use a pump, you will be glad you have mastered this skill if an unexpected event comes up.