Breast Pumps - How to Choose and How to Use

A baby’s natural way of feeding is directly at mother’s breast.  Sometimes, for various reasons, this is not possible.

In such situations, some mothers choose to use manual expression or a breast pump to express their milk.  Then they use a cup, spoon or bottle to feed the baby.

This way mothers can meet the baby’s need for food and still keep their own milk supply.

You may have questions about breast pumps, so we’ve answered some of the common ones below:

Please keep in mind that the information provided here is not a substitute for professional breastfeeding help.

When should I use a breast pump?

It’s natural for babies to feed from their mothers’ breasts. In certain situations, however, a mother might need to remove her milk to feed by spoon, cup, or bottle. Mothers may also pump to give more of their own milk at the breast. Some mothers choose to pump and bottle feed their breast milk long term. Those mothers are at risk of shorter term breast milk feeding and are encouraged to work with a breastfeeding helper. Mothers have been removing milk from their breasts for thousands of years. Many still express their milk by hand – the simplest, most economical, and popular method and a good skill for most mothers to learn.

Not everyone needs a pump, but you may choose to use one to:

  • speed up your milk coming in
  • increase or maintain your milk supply
  • feed breast milk to a baby to supplement a baby who is not feeding well
  • leave milk at home after your supply is well established (after about 4-6 weeks)
  • provide milk for an adopted baby
  • send milk to a milk bank

This site has good information about using a breast pump and feeding your expressed milk to babies: Nancy Morbacher: Breastfeeding Reporter

These videos help mothers learn how to hand express breast milk: Unicef – Hand Expression

And Stanford – Hand Expression of Breastmilk

It is not always good to use a pump when:

  • it is painful to feed from your breasts. It is often better to seek help by a lactation consultant to fix the root cause
  • breasts are engorged shortly after the “milk comes in”. In that case hand expression and reverse pressure softening before breastfeeding are more effective

If you are engorged this video may help you learn to soften the areola (the dark area around your nipple) so that your baby can latch: How to use reverse pressure softening during engorgement

How do I choose the right pump?

After your baby is born, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of pump you may want or need or decide you do not need one at all.  A lactation consultant can help you with this decision.  There are many factors to consider:

  • your breastfeeding goals
  • baby’s age and health
  • why you want or need to pump
  • what kind of pumps are available
  • cost
  • how fast the pump works
  • comfort
  • how easy it is to use, fix and clean
  • where you can get help
  • safety.

What kind of pumps are available?

There are two main types of pumps: pumps for use by one mother (also known as “personal pumps”); and pumps for use by many mothers (also known as multi-user pumps).

  • Personal pumps: These pumps should not be shared. There are three types: hand-operated, single electric, and double electric. Personal pumps can be used once milk supply is established for occasional use like a night out, or for regular use like returning to work or school. It might be helpful to speak to a breastfeeding professional before buying a pump.
  • Multi-user pumps (rental): These pumps have a closed motor system, so they are safe to be used by more than one mother. They are electric, allowing double pumping, and are often referred to as “hospital grade” because hospitals use these multi-user pumps. They are the only pumps available for rent. They are also the best choice if you have to remove milk on a regular basis or to build supply. Mothers of pre-term babies often use these pumps to build up their milk supply. They can be rented, but each mother must have her own personal milk collection kit. You can buy a kit from the place you rent a pump. Mothers who rent pumps are usually advised to work with a certified lactation consultant in order to better meet their milk production goals.

Where can I get a breast pump?

Please read this article on how to choose a breast pump (above) before purchasing one.

Pumps may be purchased from:

You may also rent a breast pump.

Note re Second-hand breast pumps: someone may offer to loan you a personal pump they have used. You may also see one for sale on the Internet or second hand. You and your baby risk getting an infection if you use a personal pump that has been used by someone else.

How can I use a breast pump effectively and safely?

It’s a good idea to get some expert advice if you are thinking about using a breast pump.

There is a lot to think about. A lactation consultant can save you time and money by exploring a suitable pump for you for your situation.

Some of the safety issues to think about include:

  • Breast pumps are not equally durable nor of equal quality. Some are only suitable for occasional use, others for heavier use.
  • One size does not fit all. Women’s nipples come in different sizes. The plastic flanges that fits over your breast should accommodate your nipples comfortably. A flange that is too small or too big may damage your nipples and could also affect the amount of milk you will be able to express. Different flange sizes are available at some pump rental locations – call first.
  • Using a breast pump shouldn’t hurt. If it does, lower the suction and reassess. If it still hurts, stop and get help. You might use hand expression until you can start pumping again.
  • Second-hand pumps-You or your baby might get an infection if you use a personal pump that someone else has used. If you don’t have access to a new or multi-user pump, it would be safer to use hand expression.

Are there any useful tips for effective pumping? 

It can take a while to become comfortable and successful at using a breast pump.  Here are some tips:

  • The pump comes with an enclosed booklet. It’s helpful to read it. If you have questions, call the manufacturer’s consumer line or lactation professional.
  • Wash your hands before pumping.
  • Before first use, clean all the parts you need according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Make sure the flange is the right size for your nipples. Pumping should not be painful.
  • To get more milk, use massage and hand expression for a couple of minutes before pumping. During pumping, use some breast compression or massage during pumping as best as you can. Finish with a couple of minutes of hand expression.
  • You might want to visit this website for more useful information: Maximizing Milk Production with Hands On Pumping
  • Use the lowest setting possible and slowly increase the speed according to flow and your comfort level. It should always be comfortable
  • Pump as often as needed, depending on why you are pumping. How often you pump is more important than the length of time you pump.
  • Pump after every feeding if you need to increase your milk supply. It can be 15 to 30 minutes after the feed
  • Once breastfeeding is established, just thinking about your baby can cause a milk letdown. Holding her/him or just looking at a picture can also help. You might also try warm compresses, breast massage, or gently stimulating your nipples or breasts.
  • If you are away from your baby during feeding times, the number of times you pump is the same as the number of feedings you are missing. You do not have to pump at the exact times your baby usually feeds.

Successful pumping has been called a “learned art”. Consulting a certified lactation consultant can help parents reach their goals safely and efficiently.