Pump Basics

By Val Homanics, RN, IBCLC

What Kind of Pump Should I Get?

A double electric pump is recommended if you are planning to go back to work. Check with a lactation consultant on which pump would be best for your situation.

When Do I Begin Pumping?

If breastfeeding is going well, then you can wait to begin pumping until your baby is at least 3-4 weeks old. This allows time for you and baby to learn this new skill.

How Long Do I Pump?

If using a double pump, 15 minutes per pump session is typically recommended. Longer periods can contribute to sore nipples. You may have several milk ejection reflexes (“letdowns”) throughout the pumping sessions where milk may slow down and then speed up again.

How Do I Use an Electric Pump?

In the beginning, begin on the lowest vacuum setting, slowly increasing the setting levels until you find the maximum, comfortable setting for you. Suction that is too high can cause sore nipples in some mothers, and does not necessarily produce more milk. Instead, massage breasts while pumping to help with milk flow. Your nipple should move freely into the tunnel without rubbing or discomfort. You may have to purchase a different size flange, if the one that comes with your unit is too large or too small. The wrong size flange can contribute to sore nipples.

How Much Should I Expect to Pump?

The amount of milk pumped will depend upon your baby’s age and what time of day you pump. You might notice a greater milk supply in the morning when you are well rested and your hormone levels are at their highest.

In the beginning, PRACTICE AND PATIENCE yields the best milk supply. Don’t worry if you only get a small amount of milk the first few times you pump. This is considered normal.

If you are pumping in preparation to go back to work, you should pump after a feeding so that your breasts will be full for the baby for the next feeding. You will probably get a small amount of milk, since your baby has just finished nursing. This is normal. It may take several pumping sessions to get enough for a full bottle feeding. However, if you are just teaching your baby how to take a bottle, you only need a small amount, such as a ½ ounce to do this. Because of this, it may take several days or weeks to get the full amount that your baby will need on the first day back to work. Once you begin working, you will be pumping INSTEAD of feeding, and you will get more milk.

Babies often take more milk from a bottle than you may pump in one session. This does not mean your milk production is low. The flow from a bottle can be steadier and faster than the breast. Feeding amounts vary. During the first week, feedings may be between 1-2 ounces and by the 4th week, usually will increase and may remain between 3-4 ounces.

How Can I Pump Effectively?

  • You may find that gently massaging your breasts while pumping helps.
  • Make sure the pump flanges are comfortable.
  • Use your phone to watch video of your baby, or look at pictures. Listening to relaxing music can also help. By doing so, you can assist your body with the release of oxytocin, the hormone that helps your milk to letdown.
  • Don’t try to multitask if your milk output is low. RELAX and take a real break from work.
  • Remember to eat! Don’t pump instead of lunch.

How Do I Clean My Breast Pump?

Take a look at this excellent CDC resource page.

Val Homanics formerly worked at the Pleasant Hills office. She retired in 2023.