How to use a breast pump?

Using a breast pump is a skill that does take some time to master, but is worth its weight in gold. Even though you may not need to use the strange looking contraption known as a breast pump, it’s smart to have an idea of how it works to cover an odd night out. 

Many new mums, however, have to use a breast pump to express breast milk for feeding their babies as they struggle with the latch or have low breast milk.

It does feel weird at first- hooking up to a machine with breast shields, but it all feels worth it, when your baby gets to drink your milk instead of formula milk…

How does a breast pump work?

Breast pumps create suction pressure on the outside of the nipple, which “sucks” milk out of the breast, just like a baby would.

There are two types of breast pumps- manual and electric. 

Before I get to the nitty gritty of these, here are the similarities. All pumps are based on suction and release and one complete cycle causes milk ejection. 

Each breast pump is made of these parts-

  • Tubing – A clear plastic tube that connects the pump motor to the breast shields
  • Breast shields  – Also called flanges, they are the plastic, cone-shaped shields that fit over your nipple and areola
  • Storage bottles 

Manual pumps

These are the simplest kind of breast pump available in the market and also the least expensive. Here the suction is created by operating a lever or balloon with one hand. 

Here’s how you hook on the pump-

1. Sit comfortably and jiggle your breasts a bit so that they get primed to express milk or think about your baby; this will trigger the hormones that help release your milk.

2. Place the breast shield on your breast, making sure that it’s centred over the nipple.

3. Begin pumping slowly. Give it some time as it may take a couple of minutes for the milk to begin flowing.

4. Once the milk starts to flow, you can switch to a higher rate of pumping to make it rhythmic- similar to a baby's sucking motions. Make sure the pressure doesn’t hurt. If it does, go slow on the suction.

5. Switch breasts about once every five minutes. Don’t pump milk from each breast for more than 15 minutes. You can also breastfeed your baby at the other breast.

6. In the end, remove the shield, cap the bottle and then wash the parts of the pump and put them to dry.

It’s ok to keep the breast milk at room temperature for four to six hours but it can keep in a cooler for up to 24 hours. The Centers for Disease Control says it's safe to refrigerate breast milk for up to five days in the freezer.

Electric pumps

Most electric pumps are battery-operated and they come with the facility of regulating the pump’s suction strength. Some also pump at intervals to simulate the rhythmic sucking behaviour of a baby.

Many electric pumps can be used on both breasts at the same time and are quite a bit more expensive than manual pumps. 

Electric pumps are designed to meet the needs of breastfeeding mothers who need to pump daily, like working moms. These allow more milk to be expressed in a short amount of time especially if you use a model that offers double pumping.

With a double-electric pump, it can take about 10 to 15 minutes to pump the same amount of milk that your baby would have consumed during one session of nursing.

It will take you about 30 minutes to pump out the same amount of milk using a single manual pump.

Always buy a pump which offers various breast shield sizes and always use a shield that’s just a bit bigger than your nipple. The nipple should not touch the tunnel of the shield as this can cause bruising. 

When should you start pumping?

You can start pumping when your baby is about six weeks old when you have a good milk supply. Always pump at about the same time in the day. Pumping earlier to midday is usually better for milk volume. 

Be relaxed during pumping as stress or frustration can release adrenaline that blocks milk ejection. 

Do keep in mind that milk letdown is triggered by your hormones, not by pumping. Don’t get caught up in the myth that the stronger the suction setting, the more milk you’ll express. This is not true and overdoing the suction can damage your breasts.

Also do understand that excessive use of a breast pump, no matter how excellent it may be, can lead to lower milk production if the baby isn’t allowed to latch and breastfeed.  

About the Author

Shikha Gandhi