Hand expressing breast milk for your premature or ill baby

You will likely need to hand express for the first few days after the birth. Your midwife will show you how to hand express. It can help to have your partner or support person with you.

Start breast massage and expressing as soon as possible after birth. This helps you yield colostrum. Breast massage may feel a bit strange but it helps you to start making milk for your baby.

Midwife Rebecca O'Donovan shows how to hand express milk

Expressing within 1 to 2 hours after birth helps to produce more milk later on. You can express milk at your bedside or in the neonatal unit.

It can be difficult to make milk at first and the amount can be very small. Do not worry if there is very little or no milk the first few times you express. Keep trying and you will soon see an increase.

When you finish, write the date and time on the container or syringe labelled with your baby’s details. Then send the milk to your baby’s unit or place the container in the fridge.

A feeding syringe partly filled with yellow colostrum
Your colostrum can be stored in a syringe that's used to feed your baby by mouth

Every single drop of your milk is important for your baby. The tiny drops you make at this point are precious and will help your baby.

Some things can delay your milk coming in, including:

If you have any questions or concerns, ask your midwife or your nurse so they can help you.

How often to hand express milk

Hand express at least 8 to 10 times every 24 hours. This is every 2 to 3 hours. This is how often a newborn baby feeds in 24 hours.

Try to express at least 1 time between midnight and 6am. This is because prolactin (milk-making hormone) levels are higher at night. Expressing at night helps your breasts to make more milk. This is especially true in the early weeks after your baby’s birth.

Read a step by step guide to hand expressing breast milk

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 15 November 2021
Next review due: 15 November 2024