Share on Pinterest

If you buy something through a link on this page, we may earn a small commission. How this works.

There are two main types of breast pump: electric and manual. And within those types, there’s a range of pumps to choose from.

While each pump may have its own quirks, the basic steps will be the same for each type. It’s a good idea to always read the instruction manual when using a pump for the first time so that you can identify any unique features.

Read on to learn the basic steps for using electric and hand breast pumps.

Make sure all your breast pump parts are clean and sterilized before use. Read the manual to familiarize yourself with the process.

When you’re ready to pump, find a quiet place with an outlet, if needed. Some electric pumps may work with batteries.

Then follow these general steps.

  1. Wash your hands to ensure they are clean.
  2. Assemble the breast shield, milk container, tubing, and breast pump.
  3. Position the breast shield over your breast. It should be fitted and not painful. The tunnel size should be 3 to 4 millimeters larger than your nipple. Center it and press gently to make a good seal.
  4. Think about your baby to stimulate the let-down reflex. Turn the pump on at a low intensity setting. You can increase the intensity slowly as long as it isn’t painful. Continue to adjust until milk flows.
  5. After each use, clean the breast shield and all parts that came into contact with the breast milk. Each breast pump will have different cleaning instructions as listed in the manual. Follow these carefully.

Does a higher speed help you pump more?

A higher or faster speed on a breast pump may help you produce more milk at a more efficient pace. But it’s important to remember other factors like your milk supply level and comfort are also important.

It may take time for your body to reach a full milk supply level. If you aren’t sure what settings to use on your breast pump, a lactation consultant can help.

Make sure all your breast pump parts are clean and sterilized before use. Read the manual to familiarize yourself with the process. Find a quiet place to pump. Then follow these general steps.

  1. Wash your hands to ensure they are clean.
  2. Start hand expressing by gently massaging each breast in a pumping motion, so that your squeezing and pulling the breast out, and then releasing as it falls back into place.
  3. Once you’ve stimulated your breasts, center one nipple inside the flange of pump and position it flat against your breast.
  4. Start to gently pump the pump handle with a rhythmical, smooth action that should imitate your baby’s sucking cycles.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 on the other breast. Move between breasts as many times as needed to help with milk flow.
  6. Finish by hand expressing.

A double electric pump is a smart investment if you’re planning to express regularly or know you will be away from your baby for long stretches of time.

Some of the pros of using a double pump are that it lets you express milk in half the time, and you can use it to express milk from both breasts at once.

Some of the cons are that you have to carry around more equipment. Most require an outlet or batteries.

A single manual or electric pump can be useful if you only need to pump occasionally, or want to breastfeed and pump at the same time. These pumps are usually smaller than double pumps, making them easier to transport.

If you’re using a manual pump, these are also silent and don’t require a power source. Manual pumps are not available as double pumps.

The main con for single pumping is that you won’t be expressing as much milk as you would if you were double pumping, and it will take longer to express.

Your breast shield tunnel should surround your nipple closely but leave enough space for it to move freely left to right without rubbing.

If your breast shield feels too small or large, check with the manufacturer about other sizing options. Most brands make a variety of sizes.

If you’re using a double pump, make sure you have two shields that fit comfortably.

The frequency of pumping is different for everyone, depending on your needs and your baby’s, but here are some general guidelines depending on your pumping goals.

If you’re pumping while away from baby to maintain supply, pump or hand express every three to five hours. You may need to pump closer to every three hours if you’re using a single or manual pump, and may be able to extend the time between pumping sessions closer to five hours apart when using a double pump.

If you’re pumping to increase milk production, breastfeed or pump at least 8 to 10 times in a 24-hour period. You can add an extra pump session in the morning or evening while increasing your supply, and can also pump immediately following a nursing session to fully empty your breasts.

If you’re exclusively pumping, try double pumping to get more milk and decrease time spent on each session.

If you’re trying to building up a milk stash to prepare for returning to work or so that other caregivers can help feed baby, start pumping at least two weeks before you know you’re going to be away from your baby or before you return to work.

Some women produce enough milk to fill several bottles in one pumping session while others require two to three pumping sessions to fill one bottle. Try to not focus on the amount of milk your pumping, as that can lead to unnecessary stress.

And if you’re pumping in preparation for returning to work, focus on just getting enough milk for 1 to 2 days of bottles, not months or weeks.

You’ll want to choose a breast pump that works best for your needs. If you are exclusively pumping or will be away from your baby eight or more hours a day, a double electric breast pump is a worthwhile investment. If you’re only planning to pump occasionally, a manual or single pump may be all you need.

Consider the make and model of the breast pump, too. Some are heavier or bulkier to carry around than others. Some electric pumps require an electric outlet while others require batteries.

If you live in the United States and have health insurance, your insurance policy should cover the cost of a breast pump. Check your policy to learn more about what they will cover.

Your insurance may cover a sterilized rental unit or the cost of a new breast pump you’ll keep. It may also cover a manual or electric pump, which you can pick up before or after giving birth, depending on your policy.

In addition to your breast pump, the following supplies, available for purchase online, may make pumping easier.

  • Pumping bra. These bras have special cutouts to allow for hands-free pumping. Some clip to your existing nursing bra or work with certain makes/models of breast pumps.
  • Disposable pump wipes. These disposable wipes are an easy way to clean your breast pump parts when you’re on the go.
  • Pumping bag. These bags are designed to hold your pump and all of your supplies. Some contain a built-in cooler to store breast milk after you pump.
  • Wet bag. If you aren’t able to wash your pump parts right away, you can store them in a wet bag to avoid getting breast milk elsewhere. Just make sure to wash the parts before your next pump session.
  • Insulated cooler bag. Having an insulated cooler bag on hand can help you to safely transport milk. You can also use these to store expressed milk if you don’t have access to a refrigerator, if you’re pumping on the go.

It’s also a good idea to have spare pumping parts on hand in case you lose or break a part. You can keep spare parts in your office or car so that you have a backup if you forget to bring all of your parts with you.

A breast pump may help induce labor by increasing the amount of oxytocin in the body. This may help you relax and start uterine contractions.

But studies are limited showing the efficacy of using a breast pump to induce labor. Always talk to your doctor before trying any induction techniques at home. Inducing labor may not be safe in certain circumstances.

It may take a while to get the hang of using a breast pump. Be sure to read the manual and follow all instructions carefully. If you’re having trouble pumping or using your breast pump, a lactation consultant can help.