How do I use a breast pump? If pumping hurts or it takes more than 15 minutes to finish expressing milk, then you’re doing it wrong.

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The frustration of figuring out how to use a new pump is real. Your breasts are full and achy, you’re sleep deprived, and now you’re supposed to strap this contraption to your chest that makes you feel like a milk cow.


It’s a wonder any mother even bothers with pumping. But the reward of giving your baby the very best nourishment from your body even when you cannot nurse makes it all worthwhile.

Before you start, safety and hygiene first

  1. Make sure you know how to put your breast pump together. There’s the obvious parts like the breast shield that goes over your breasts, the collection bottle, and the tubes that hook up to the pump. But there’s also a lot of parts like connector rings, valves, membranes, and back flow filters that have to be assembled the right way. Forget one of these tiny, coin sized parts will leave your pump useless or leave you with a milky mess on your hands. Read the manual. Seriously. Or at least go watch a youtube video on how to put together your pump accessories.
  2. Clean everything with warm soapy water and then sterilize your pump accessories. Even though new parts look clean, they’ve been exposed to god knows what on some factory floor.
  3. Test out the settings on your pump before you attach the breast shields to your breasts. Set the pump to the lowest setting and the suction to about 60 beats per minute. This is the average suckling rate of most babies.
  4. Make sure you have the right size breast shield. This part goes over the front of your breast and the area around your nipples. The ‘barrel’ part of the shield is where your nipple goes and your nipple should be able to move freely inside this tube without rubbing against the plastic sides. If your nipple rubs against the sides, then your breast shield is too small. At the same time, only your nipple should get sucked into this tube. If the skin around your nipples ends up getting sucked in, then your breast shield is too large. Stop if you experience either of these problems. Pumping with the wrong size breast shield will cause pinching and will rub your skin raw.
  5. Wash your hands!

Here we go! Let’s start pumping the correct way.

  1. Are you in a warm, comfortable room? If not, grab a throw or towel and warm up first. Now, assuming that you have all the right parts and everything set up and your hands are clean, begin with a gentle breast massage. Massage your breasts in a circular motion and sweep from the outer edges of your breasts toward your nipple. End with some gentle nipple stimulation.
  2. One of the most common complains about breast pumps is poor suction. Wet the inside edges of your breast shield with some nipple cream or warm water so that the shield sticks to your skin and creates a tight vacuum. This should solve any suction problems caused by a poor fitting shield.
  3. Star the pump on let-down mode (if your pump has one), or with short, quick pumps. This mimics the actions of your baby when they root for your nipple and begin to nurse.
  4. Slowly increase the speed of the pump until it’s close to your baby’s usual suckling rate. If the suction of the pump is not strong enough, increase it gradually. Stop and decrease the setting by a notch if the suction is too strong and begins to feel uncomfortable.
  5. If you still have problems getting milk to come out, use reminders of your baby. It’s proven that a mother’s let-down reflex can be stimulated by cuddling their baby, looking at pictures of their baby, or breathing in their scent.
  6. Relax, relax, relax. If you’re lucky enough to be at home, go do whatever it is that you do to relax–watch a movie, read a book, relax and close your eyes. If you’re at work, try listening to music and visualizing a safe comfortable place behind closed eyes.

What if it hurts when I pump

You will need to diagnose why you are in pain when you try to pump. Your pain can be caused by something as innocuous as milk blisters, or a poorly fitted breast flange. It might also be something more serious. Do not force yourself to pump until this problem is resolved. You do not want to injure yourself or give yourself an infection by forcefully expressing.

Great. What do I do after I finish pumping?

  1. Cap the container of breast milk and get it into a cooler or refrigerator as soon as possible. Decant your milk if you’re going to stockpile it to build up a stash.
  2. Disassemble the pump parts (breast shield, valves, etc.) that have come into contact with milk. If you have access to a sink, rinse out the parts and wash them with warm soapy water before the milk dries and forms a crust of gunk. If you’re away from home, rinse the parts with water and wipe them down with Medela quick clean wipes (Amazon | buybuybaby). When you get home, be sure to wash and sterilize the parts before you use them again.

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