Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Learning About Using a Breast Pump
Facebook Tweet Email Share

Main Content

Learning About Using a Breast Pump

What is a breast pump?

A breast pump is a device that allows you to remove milk from your breasts whenever you want to or need to. Then you can store the milk for later.

Why use a breast pump?

Using a breast pump is a good way to provide the benefits of breastmilk when you have to be away from your baby, or when you are unable to feed your baby directly from your breast (for example, if you have a premature infant, or problems with latching and positioning your baby). Pumping will help keep up your milk supply.

You can also use a breast pump to slowly reduce your milk supply if you choose to stop breastfeeding.

What types of breast pumps can you use?

There are different types of breast pumps to choose from.

Manual pumps.

These pumps are operated by hand. This type of pump works best when you need to pump occasionally, after your breastmilk volume is well established. They are easy to carry with you, don't require a power supply, and are less expensive than other types of pumps. But they are slower than electric or battery-operated pumps and can't be used hands-free.

Electric pumps.

These are designed to be used a lot. This type of pump works best when you need to pump regularly, plan to be pump dependent, or if you want to provide breastmilk and do not plan to breastfeed. Electric pumps are more efficient than manual pumps. They can help you maintain your milk production if you choose to offer a bottle of breast milk to your baby. They are fastest way to pump milk.

Battery-operated pumps.

These are convenient when you don't have an electrical outlet handy. Most battery-operated pumps use a rechargeable battery.

Most breast pumps are easy to use. But if you have any problems with pumping, ask for help. A lactation consultant or other breastfeeding expert can help you learn how to use a breast pump.

How do you use a breast pump?

Pumping milk with a breast pump will probably take 10 to 20 minutes for each breast. Some breast pumps allow you to pump both breasts at the same time, others pump one breast at a time. Try to pump 8 or more times every 24 hours.

  1. Get to know your pump.

    Read all the instructions that came with your pump. Be sure you know how to put it together and how often you'll need to clean and sanitize the parts. It's a good idea to have supplies and spare parts in all the places where you'll use the pump, such as at home and at work.

  2. Choose a good place to pump.

    Find a spot that's clean, comfortable, and private so you can relax. If you're pumping at work, you may feel more at ease in a room that has a door you can lock. Have water, food, and something to read with you, if you wish.

  3. Wash your hands before you touch the breast shield or your breast.

    Use soap, and scrub your hands for 10 to 15 seconds. Then rinse well in warm water. Use a clean paper towel to dry your hands.

  4. Put the pump together.

    As you put it together, check to see that all parts are clean, and that the pump is working properly.

  5. Get in the mood.

    Holding your baby may improve your milk letdown. If you aren't with your baby, try looking at a photo or sniffing a piece of clothing your baby has worn. Try applying moist heat, doing some deep breathing, or visualizing waterfalls of breastmilk.

  6. Massage your breasts.

    Massaging your breasts before you start pumping, will help your let down reflex.

  7. Position the breast shield over your breast.

    Your nipple should be right in the middle of the shield. You may need to try different sizes of breast shields to find one that fits you best. Ask a lactation consultant to help you find a good fitting breast shield if you experience discomfort when pumping. Some women use a special bra that holds the shield in place. This lets you have your hands free.

  8. Start pumping.

    Begin with a low level of suction. Increase suction as your milk starts to flow. Some pumps will do this for you. Stop pumping when the flow of milk begins to slow down. You will feel a tugging while pumping, but it shouldn't be painful. If it hurts, stop pumping. Change the position of the breast shield, or try a different size of breast shield.

  9. Remove milk from both breasts during each pumping session.

    If there are lumps in your breast, massage them towards your nipple while pumping.

After you finish pumping:

  • Put the milk in a refrigerator or cooler right away. It's best to use milk as soon as you can after you pump it. If you won't be using the milk within a few days, you can freeze it. Be sure you know how to store breast milk safely.
  • Take the pump apart, and wash any part that came in contact with your breast or breast milk. Let the parts air-dry.

What should you do if you have trouble pumping?

If you have problems using a breast pump, or if your milk supply is getting smaller, talk to a lactation consultant.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter B125 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Using a Breast Pump".

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.