Everything You Need to Know about Pumping Breast Milk

For many moms, pumping breast milk is a critical and helpful part of their breastfeeding experience. Pumping has some terrific benefits, more than just some time away from your baby. Today we’re exploring everything you need to know about pumping breast milk, from the logistics of pumping, to the reasons it may be a useful part of your breastfeeding journey.

What is a Breast Pump?

A breast pump is a device that allows you to express and collect your breast milk. It mimics the suckling of your baby at the breast to stimulate the flow of milk. The milk is collected in a bottle or bag and can be stored for use at a later time.

Types of Breast Pumps

Everything You Need to Know about Pumping Breast MilkBreast pumps come in manual and electric versions. Both use phalanges – funnel-like shields that suction onto your breasts. In a manual breast pump you will use your hand to squeeze or plunge a mechanism that simulates the tug of your baby at the breast. Electric pumps have a motor that does the work for you and you have the option of different strengths and settings. Hospital grade electric breast pumps are extremely strong and efficient.

If you only plan to pump occasionally or as an emergency back-up, a manual breast pump will probably suffice. If you will be pumping daily, you probably want to get an electric breast pump. Many insurance plans include a free electric breast pump so check with your provider before purchasing one. If you find you need to pump during your hospital stay and you don’t have a breast pump yet, you can easily rent a hospital grade pump on site.

Reasons for Pumping Breast Milk

Pumping breast milk is not just for moms who will be returning to work although that is definitely a reason to pump. Pumping can also be helpful if you need to spend some time away from your baby, perhaps for a little R&R, running errands or a date night with the hubs. Even if you’re not planning to be away from your baby, you may find it more convenient to pump and serve a bottle when you are away from home or simply have a stash of breast milk available in the freezer for a future outing.

Some mothers choose to exclusively pump rather than feed their babies at the breast. This may be because they want to know exactly how much breast milk their baby is getting or they may find it easier, especially if they are working and away from their babies often. Mothers who exclusively pump can create their own pumping schedule but may find it easier to pump around the same times that their baby takes a bottle.

If you experience low milk supply or an oversupply of milk, pumping can help with both of these extremes. The best way to boost your milk supply is by expressing milk more often and draining your breasts thoroughly, whether that is through breastfeeding or pumping. Also, engorgement is common in the early weeks and months of breastfeeding as your body tries to figure out exactly how much to produce for your growing baby. Pumping breast milk to relieve painful full breasts and prevent a plugged duct and potential infection is smart. Full breasts may also make it difficult for your baby to latch.

The Best Times to Pump Milk

If you’re going back to work, pumping around the same time that your baby eats will help you maintain your milk supply and ensure your milk is ready at the times your baby normally nurses (for weekends or days when you will be together). To build up a supply of extra milk, start pumping a few times a day several weeks before returning to work. This will also help you get the hang of pumping too.

The most efficient times to pump are after your morning feeding and before you go to bed. Usually this is when you’ll be able to express the most milk. Pre-bedtime pumping is great once your baby starts sleeping for longer stretches at night. You’ll be able to drain your breasts but have plenty of time to replenish before your she nurses again.

Also pump anytime your feel your breasts are too full and you need relief. This may mean you pump for only a short time before or after a feeding. If you need to boost your milk supply, pump after or in-between feedings to stimulate your milk production. You can even try cluster pumping where you pump every half an hour for several hours.

Tips for Pumping Breast Milk

Treat pumping like breastfeeding. It’s a sacred time of loving nourishment for your baby, even if she isn’t actually there. In a comfy spot, sit back, relax and think of your baby while pumping for the best results.

Pumping should not be painful. When using an electric pump, start on a low setting and increase the speed or force after your letdown occurs. You may need to massage your breasts or lean forward to help stimulate your breasts at the beginning of a pumping session.

Wearing a nursing bra or cami while pumping makes the process much easier, especially if you are pumping at work. Just like breastfeeding, you can simply unhook the nursing clasps or slide over the cups for easy access to your breasts.

Factors That Affect Pumping Output

Pumping is a great tool to ensure your baby has breast milk when you are separated however pumping will never truly replicate breastfeeding. Your baby will always be more efficient at your breast due to her natural suckling ability and your emotional connection. For that reason, you cannot judge how much breast milk your baby is getting by your pumping output. However, if you need to increase your pumping output, consider these factors:

  • Is your pump working properly? The motor on your electric pump may start to fade or some of the connecting pieces may wear out.
  • The emotional connection you have with your baby is almost as essential for breastfeeding as the physical stimulation. While pumping, look at photos or videos of your baby or simply think about her. This can increase your pumping output significantly.
  • Mothers who breastfeed full-time and then pump will yield less breast milk than mothers who pump in replacement of feedings.
  • Your baby may drink more during growth spurts or less when she starts solids, which will decrease or increase your pumping output.
  • Any changes to your hormones may alter your pumping output including your menstrual cycle and being on birth control.
  • Your mental, emotional and physical health, well-being and habits play a role as well. Eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep and managing stress appropriately are all essential to successful breastfeeding and pumping.
  • Any time your milk supply suffers, your pumping output will suffer as well. Be sure you’re doing everything necessary to maintain a healthy milk supply, most importantly breastfeeding or pumping frequently and draining your breasts completely.

How to Clean your Breast Pump

It’s probably impossible to sterilize your breast pump after each use but you should sanitize it. While you should consult your breast pump’s manual for specific instructions, most breast pumps can be sanitized with hot water and baby-safe dish soap. Disassemble the pump before washing so you can thoroughly soak every crevice. Wash it for at least 15 seconds and then lay it on a paper towel to dry. Never use a cloth that may harbor germs and bacteria. Always wash your hands with soap and water before handling your breast pump and try not to touch any parts that come in contact with your breast milk once the pump has been sanitized. Some pumps are dishwasher safe or compatible with microwaveable sanitizing bags.

Sources: BabyCenter, KellyMom, FDA and What to Expect


Loving Moments believes moms should have the knowledge, resources and power to make the healthiest choices for their babies, starting with breastfeeding. In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month in August, we are sharing Breastfeeding Basics, our educational blog series that we hope will empower you with information, encouragement and inspiration to meet your breastfeeding goals.