Using a Breast Pump

Healthy habits when using a breast pump

Breastmilk has anti-infective properties that make it hard for bacteria to grow. However, breastmilk itself isn't sterile. Still, you don't want to introduce outside bacteria when getting ready to pump, during the actual pumping session, or when storing or transporting milk. To reduce the risk of infection, consider the following:

  • Always wash and rinse your hands thoroughly before handling pump parts, your breasts, or the milk collection bottles or containers.

  • Pump collection kit parts should be cleaned according to the instruction manual.

  • The collection bottles or containers that attach to the pump and are used to collect and store your milk should be clean.

Technical aspects

Read the instruction manual first. But you may have to try different methods and settings on the breast pump before you find ones that work best for you. Here are some general tips for using a breast pump:

  • Make sure the breast flange is correctly fitted. The flange is the funnel-shaped part that centers over the darker ring around your nipple (areola). If you have a question about the fit, ask your healthcare provider or lactation consultant.

  • Massage your breasts gently before you pump. This causes a faster let-down and milk with more fat.  

  • Try moistening the rim of the breast flange before pumping. This creates a better seal on the breast.

  • Try different ways of getting a seal on the breast. Some mothers prefer to center the breast flanges on the nipple and areola first. Then they turn on the pump. Others turn the pump on first, then place the flanges over the breasts.

  • Start the pump at the low or minimal suction setting. Then slowly move the setting to increase the suction. The level should be set so there is a strong tug on the nipple, but it stays completely comfortable. Decrease the suction and move the flange if it causes mild pain.

  • Suction can't be kept if the seal of the flange on the breast is broken. If you don't see a rhythmic pull and release of the nipple or areola within the flange, check the seal. Sometimes the tube can disconnect from the flange and needs to be reattached. Sometimes a part of your clothing is under the edge of the flange and needs to be removed.

  • Expect to pump for a few minutes before you see a steady flow of milk. Most pumping sessions will last 10 to 20 minutes. But you can pump as long as the milk is flowing and it's comfortable for you. Some women will have a second let-down. After the milk has stopped flowing, if they keep pumping, it will flow again. 

  • Don't fill collection bottles more than 2/3 full. This prevents any backflow or spilling of milk. It also leaves room for the milk to expand if it will be frozen. If you easily fill bottles, have additional collection bottles ready. Stop and change bottles as needed. You also might use bottles that hold more.

  • When you're ready to stop pumping, slide a clean finger under the rim of the flange. This should break the seal between the flange and the breast tissue. If milk has collected in a flange, tilt forward so that milk can drain into the collection bottle as you remove the flange.

  • Keep in mind that women can pump very different amounts of milk. Work with your healthcare provider or lactation consultant. They can help you to figure out how much milk you may be able to pump. Even a small amount of breastmilk is very good for you and your baby.

  • Correctly store your pumped milk. And correctly clean your pump parts after pumping. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Angela Morrison LPN IBCLC
Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Tennille Dozier RN BSN RDMS
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2024
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