I admit it… I was scared of using a breast pump!
I may be in the minority of breastfeeding moms, but I was super intimidated by my breast pump. I purchased a double electric pump before the birth of my first baby, but just stuck it in a closet when it arrived.
My little one was born and wouldn’t latch at first, but hand expression worked fine with colostrum. Then, he began breastfeeding directly with the help of nipple shields, so the breast pump just stayed in the box. (Disclosure: this article contains affiliate links for products I personally use and recommend).
Eventually, I had to face my pumping fears…
My lactation consultant mentioned she was concerned my little one wasn’t getting enough milk with the nipple shields. She asked me to try pumping after a feed to try to see how well my son was draining my breasts.
I was nervous, but I hid my anxiety and opened up the breast pump for the first time. Things were certainly easier with the lactation consultant giving me guidance… but I still had some irrational fears that the pump was going to attach itself to my chest and just suck my boobs right off!
Obviously, my boobs stayed in place and I managed to pump out an ounce. However, after my lactation consultant left, I realized I still didn’t know how to really use the breast pump. What were those dials for? Why didn’t milk just flow from my breasts immediately when the pump was turned on? (Yes, letdown, or the milk ejection reflex, is one of those things I wish I’d known before I started breastfeeding)
How to Use your Breast Pump & Maximize Your Milk Supply
Follow these steps to effectively express milk with your breast pump
Step 1: Clean & sterilize the pump parts as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Definitely check the instructions on which parts to wash and how – some items can be steam sterilized, some should be boiled, some just use soap and water. It is a bit confusing at first, but make sure you’re clear so you don’t accidentally melt any pump parts.
Step 2: Assemble the pump and confirm it is in working order. Since I pump regularly, I often check to make sure none of the parts are worn. Make sure everything is assembled correctly before you start. One time I didn’t tighten the milk collection bottle and it fell off a few minutes in, spilling my precious milk!
Step 3: “Warm up” your breasts. Maybe this sounds silly, but it made a huge difference for me! Before fitting the pump to your breast(s), gently massage each breast. Imagine pushing the milk towards your nipples for easier expression. This will help your let down begin more quickly once you start pumping.
Step 4. Fit the flange to your breast (or breasts if double pumping). Your nipple should be centered so it can move freely in the flange tunnel during pumping. Take a minute to make sure the flanges are positioned properly so you don’t have any chafing while pumping. I recommend a hands-free pumping bra so you don’t have to just sit there holding the flanges.
Step 5: Turn on the pump (if electric), or begin squeezing the manual pump. Use the pre-set let down function or short low-mid suction pumps. When you start pumping, you need to trigger let down (milk ejection reflex) so you can express your milk. Some electric pumps have a present function for this. If not, adjust the settings to quick suckling with low-medium suction strength. With a manual pump, use fast compressions to trigger let down. This mimics how your baby starts a feeding with short, shallow sucks to stimulate let down.
Step 6: Think about your child, or visualize flowing milk. Another thing that might sound a little silly, but it really makes a difference! My personal preference is to watch videos of my son, although looking at pictures of your child is also really helpful. This always helps my milk start to flow faster.
Step 7: Once let down has begun, adjust the pump to slower suction with slightly higher strength. This mimics how your baby will take in milk – after stimulating let down, your baby switches to longer and deeper sucking to drink the milk. Electric pumps can mimic this, and you can adjust the settings for higher vacuum strength and slower sucking speed. If you are hand pumping, compress the pump as milk streams out, then release and compress again once the stream of milk has ended.
Step 8: Trigger another let down. You will often have 2-3 let downs per pumping session. Once you notice the flow of milk has slowed or stopped after the initial let down, repeat steps 5-7 to trigger a second let down and express more milk. This is key to expressing a lot of milk each time you pump!
Step 9: Complete the pumping session by turning off the pump (if necessary) and gently removing the flanges from your breasts. I’m always very careful at this point not to spill any milk as I set the bottle down. If you are using an electric pump, watch out for the tubing – it is easy to get caught and knock over a bottle.
Step 10: Store expressed milk and pump parts. Expressed breast milk can sit at room temperature for approximately 5 hours, can last in the fridge for about 5 days, and can be kept in the freezer for up to 5 months. If you will be pumping again within a few hours, you do not need to wash your pump parts – you can reuse them as breast milk is sterile and can spend several hours at room temperature. If you will not be pumping again that day, wash and dry all pump parts.
Step 11: Determine your pumping frequency. If away from your baby, pump as often as you would nurse (assuming each session yields enough milk for your child). If pumping to build supply, pump 1-2 hours after breastfeeding, or add an extra pumping session while your baby is playing or sleeping. Remember, breast milk production is based on supply and demand – if you want to boost your milk supply, you need to increase demand – so pump or breastfeed more often.
So there you have it! Before you know it, you’ll be pumping like a pro. Let me know about your success or any questions you have in the comments below.
Check out my pumping tips at work and lactation recipes: