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7 Misconceptions About Hand Expression

The MilkinMama tells the truth about milking ourselves.

7 Misconceptions About Hand Expression

I started hand expressing milk when I went back to work and was trying to keep up with my baby’s bottle intake. It was just an addendum to pumping then, and I never considered that it could be more than that. That is, until my very first trip without baby, when I forgot some of my pump parts.

This meant that if I didn’t want my milk supply to drop significantly during my trip, I would need to find another way to get the milk out. And so I did -- with my hands, and to my surprise, I got 29 ounces in the first 24 hours I was gone, which is, by anyone’s standards, some solid output.

That’s right -- hand expression can be an efficient, pain-free, and time-saving way of getting the milk your baby needs -- no pump needed. In fact, it can even make your life (parenting and otherwise) easier. But there are a lot of misconceptions about hand expression that stop new and seasoned nursing moms from realizing that, yes, their bodies are enough. From thinking that hand expression is too hard or too time consuming to believing, like I once did, that it’s only for emergencies, here are 7 myths about hand expression, debunked.

1. Hand expression takes too much time. “But doesn’t it take forever?,” people will ask me. If it took forever, I wouldn’t be telling you to give it a go. We’re busy parents who’ve just created and birthed humans from our bodies. Our time is so precious! A hand expression session can take anywhere from 2 to 30 minutes, longer if you take breaks. For many, it can be more efficient than pumping.

2. The pump is more efficient. Both electric and manual pumps rely on negative pressure, which is created when you pull away from an environment. But when a baby is nursing at the breast with a nice, wide latch, the nipple is pulled into their soft palate while the tongue presses into the breast tissue, creating a different kind of pressure that pushes into the breast. A baby uses both kinds of pressure, and this is why babies who have a good latch can remove far more milk than a pump can.

Hand expression allows a lactating parent to more closely replicate the action of a baby’s mouth: your hand grips your breast, and your fingers press into it. For many people, these two different motions together are more effective than the pump.

3. Hand expression is far more work than the pump. Once you get good at hand expression, it can be less work than the pump. After a hand expression session, there’s nothing to wash except bottles (or whatever clean vessel you used) and lids. Adding hand expression to your breast/chestfeeding toolbox also means having to pack less if you’re pumping at work or when traveling.

4. Hand expression is only for emergencies. This widespread misconception is likely due to the fact that hand expression is most commonly taught to parents whose babies aren’t latching, whose breasts are too full to be comfortable for baby and parent, or who are separated from their babies for some reason. This teaching is often done in the hospital by a lactation professional who puts their hands on the mother’s breast, either instructing her to press back into the chest wall and squeeze at the nipple, or just doing it for her.

But hand expression is another strategy to add to our menu of options for removing milk, and if we learn it outside of an emergency situation, we have a better chance of feeling comfortable with it to use it whenever we want or need to.

5. Hand expression is painful and tiresome. As a rule, hand expression should not be painful. Learning to massage and compress your breast or chest enough to remove milk, without causing pain, is a valuable skill that will serve you well. Worried about carpal tunnel, or a sore wrist or fingers? Focusing on your posture and using a method of compression that feels comfortable for you can prevent such problems.

6. Hand expression is impossible. I thought this too, and I hear it from almost every nursing parent I talk to. I get it. When I first watched the video of the women hand expressing after pumping, I thought, “There’s no way I could do that!” Others will say: “I tried and it didn’t work for me,” “my breasts are too small/large,” and “I can’t get more than a drop or two.” But there are a lot of different ways to massage and compress. So dabble, and see how it goes. Don’t give up -- find the way that works for you.

7. Hand expression is weird. Maybe it is, but I don’t really care. It makes my life easier. We sometimes have issues with touching our own bodies, and being in tune with them. Hand expression allows us to get to know this incredible part of our bodies that is making food for small humans.

Touching our breasts or chest with our hands creates oxytocin, the same hormone that helps us fall in love with our kids the moment we see them, further helping the milk flow. It’s also a breast self-exam every single time we hand express, which can help us take note of any changes in our breasts or chest. So is it weird? Maybe. But it’s also helpful for reasons that support us, and our families, in the short and long term.

Pumped to learn more? Check out Go Milk Yourself: You Have Power. Express It! by Francie Webb, available on Amazon Prime. Prefer to learn live? Looking for a video? Take an online workshop, book an event, or rent a video from Francie’s company, TheMilkinMama.

Francie Webb is a mom of two who lives in Harlem, NYC. As founder and CEO of TheMilkinMama, she is dedicated to helping parents have more power, more freedom, and less stress. Francie loved (almost) every minute of the fourteen years she spent teaching middle school, yet she discovered a new calling as a doula and lactation professional after her two transformative births. She is currently studying to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

Photo by Laura Vladimirova of NYC Doula Love.

Want more info on hand expression? Check out our interview with Francie Webb.

A very important letter for new mamas

Listen, mom-guilt is a dirty liar. Yes, it's your job to fill your little human's needs, but you matter too. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Hang out with friends, take a drive blaring 90's hip hop or shower without interruptions—trust me, you'll be a better person (and mom) because of it.

Dear new mom,

You will shave again someday. Today is not that day.

Set expectations low, my friend, and set your partner's lower—at least where body hair and overall hygiene are concerned.

That conversation could go something like this: “From now on let's not consider shaving a “standard," but more like a gift that happens on birthdays and the first day of summer."

Voila, you are a gift-giving genius. You know what else is a gift? Shaving the inch and a half of skin that is between your skinny jeans and your boots. You're welcome world.

You will not be perfect at parenting.

Boom.

I have yet to meet a perfect mother, but when I do, she's going to be a tiger who is insanely good at making up songs. (Daniel Tiger's mom, we salute you.)

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From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

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Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

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This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

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Wooden doll stroller

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Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

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Sand play set

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Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

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Water play set

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Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

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Mini golf set

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Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

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Vintage scooter balance bike

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Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

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Wooden rocking pegasus

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Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

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Croquet set

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Wooden digital camera

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Wooden bulldozer toy

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Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

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Pull-along hippo

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There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

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Baby forest fox ride-on

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Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

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A few years ago, while my wife's baby bump got bigger and my daddy reading list grew longer, I felt cautiously optimistic that this parenthood thing would, somehow, suddenly click one day. The baby would come, instincts would kick in, and the transition from established couple to a new family would be tiring but not baffling.

Boy was I wrong.

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