9 Steps to using a breast pump

The first thought you have upon looking at your breast pump is, ‘how in the heck do I use this thing? What attaches to what? You want me to put that where?’ Breast pumps may look a little odd, but with a review of the pump’s instructions and the steps outlined below, you can become a breast-pumping pro. The actual steps to using a breast pump differ based on whether you’re using an electric or manual breast pump. We plan to describe both which means you can hit the ground running.

Step 1: Read the instructions.

Thoroughly review the instructions packaged with the breast pump. This step may elicit a “duh” response from you mamas, but the steps provided here are general, and specific pumps may have varying features that require different steps. 

Step 2: Clean your hands and equipment. 

Cleanliness is a necessary step regardless of the type of breast pump—electric or manual—always wash before you pump! 

Step 3: Find a relaxing, calming space and state of mind.

Only in fantasy land can you fly off to spa retreat every time you need to pump. If you can find a private and relaxing space to pump, great! If you’re sequestered into a small room at work or other undesirable location, consider using music, reading material or even just deep breathing to help de-stress you into a calm mental state. Before you begin pumping, find a position that is comfortable and supports you physically. 

In your preparations for pumping, bring items with you so you don’t have to stop a session mid-flow. Think milk storage bags, a cloth for any drips—any necessary items that can keep the milk flowing and limit interruptions.


Step 4: Attach flange or breast shields, positioning the nipple at the center.

Pumping bras are available as a physical support, but if you do not have one, don’t forget to get hands-on and support your breast in a gentle manner. Attach the breast shields to one—or both of your breasts if using a double-pump—making sure to align the nipple in the center. The positioning of the nipple is key to avoid discomfort. 

Manual pumps also require positioning the nipple in the center of the flange, but first require a gentle massage and expressing of milk by hand before the flange is attached. 

Step 5: Turn on the machine. Make adjustments.

Once your breast shields are attached, you are ready to begin. Turn the machine on. Generally, you should notice the beginning flow of milk around the two-minute mark. Some electric pumps will adjust the speed and suction automatically, otherwise, adjust yourself to a point that is comfortable. You may feel a pressure sensation during pumping, but breast pumping should never be a painful process. Think about the rhythm of a baby’s sucking—this is the goal, not an intensely fast or sucking sensation that will make you never want to step near a breast pump again, let alone attach one to such a sensitive part of your body. 

For a manual pump, you are the “on” switch. To begin pumping using a manual style, start hand pumping in a tempo that mimics your baby’s sucking. Continue the manual pumping, switching breasts as the flow appears to stop.   

Step 6: Pump for around 10-20 minutes.

The general time spent pumping is between 10 and 20 minutes. You may want to stop midway to give the girls a break, and even a little massage. As you pump, pay attention to your body. 

Step 7: Turn off the pump.

Around a minute or two (again, pay attention to any discomfort) after the milk flow has stopped, turn off the pump.

Step 8: Detach and store milk right away. 

Remove the flanges or breast shields and store the milk right away in a refrigerator or freezer unit. 

Step 9: Clean the equipment.

We have now circled around back to step two. Clean all parts of the equipment, especially those that came into contact with the milk or your body. 

A few rounds of pumping can help you to get a feel for the process, making any changes to create a personalized experience. In no time you’ll see that confusing-looking contraption as a friend, not a foe. 

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