How to Use a Breast Pump

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 02, 2021

A breast pump is a tool that helps remove milk from your breasts. You can store the breast milk in a refrigerator or freezer for later use. This can be especially helpful when you’re preparing to be away from your baby or when someone else will be feeding your baby.

Breast pumps are available as a manual pump or an automatic pump that uses batteries or electricity. Your doctor can help you determine which pump is best for you.

Where to Get a Breast Pump

You can get a breast pump at retail stores, your local hospital, through your private insurance or Medicaid, or through federal programs like The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Never buy a previously used breast pump. Pumps sold secondhand may expose you to contamination.

When to Use a Breast Pump

Always talk to your doctor before you start using a breast pump. Many people start pumping soon after their baby is born.

If you know you're going to be away from your baby to go back to work or school, for instance, it's recommended to start pumping two weeks before you go back. Try to pump as often as your baby feeds (every three to four hours for 15 minutes at a time).

How to Use a Breast Pump

Read the instructions in your breast pump kit. Not all breast pumps work the same way. Typically, you'll follow these steps:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before you handle the breast pump.
  • Find a room that is safe, clean, and private where you can relax. 
  • Put the pump together, double-check to make sure all the parts are clean. 
  • To help improve the milk letdown, try holding your baby or looking at a picture of your baby. 
  • Put the breast shield over your breast (your nipple should be in the middle of the shield). 
  • Start pumping with a low level of suction and gradually increase the level of suction as the milk begins to flow. 
  • Pump each breast until they are empty. 
  • After you’re done, each of your breasts should feel soft. 
  • Put the milk in the refrigerator or freezer right away. 
  • Take the pump apart, wash it thoroughly, and let the parts air dry.  

How Store Breast Milk

After you're done pumping, you'll need a way to store your milk and keep it safe. You can use a cooler, plastic bags, and plastic or glass bottles to store your breast milk. Many drug stores and grocery stores sell these items; make sure to buy products made specifically for breast milk storage.

A few other considerations to keep in mind include:

  • Write the date on the breast milk container.
  • If you're leaving your baby with someone else, also write the baby's name on the container.
  • Put only the amount of milk needed for one feeding in each container (two to four ounces of breastmilk). 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Breast Pump

Breast pumps help mothers remove and store breast milk but come with pros and cons. Advantages of using a breast pump include:

  • Saved time. Using a breast pump gives you more control over the timing of feedings for your baby. You can create a schedule that works for you and pump at those times. 
  • Shared duties. When breast milk is pumped and stored, it’s easier for others to help with baby care and feed the baby. This can be especially helpful when mothers are recovering from childbirth or during the many nighttime wakings to feed the baby. 
  • Increase supply. Pumping can help mothers increase their breast milk supply. It can also help create an extra supply of milk that can be kept in the freezer if needed.
  • Breaks. Because mothers can store an extra supply of breast milk, it gives them more flexibility. They have more freedom to leave the house for a few hours, take a vacation, and enjoy a break knowing that their baby will still have access to healthy breast milk. Donor milk. When a woman cannot produce milk, pumped milk from a donor is better for your baby than formula. Pumped milk is sometimes the only way a baby can get breast milk. 

Disadvantages include: 

  • Fewer immune system benefits. Using a breast pump is preferable to formula but may not be tailored to the baby's needs at the moment. It doesn’t offer the same benefits to the baby's immune system as breastfeeding does. 
  • Extra expense. Buying a breast pump and the supplies needed may cost extra money. This could include milk storage bras, bottles, milk storage bags, and breast pump equipment. 
  • Privacy concerns. Some women find it challenging to use a breast pump in public places or at work. It can be hard to find a private place to pump, and sometimes the breast pump equipment is loud. 
  • Storage. Finding ways to store and keep track of pumped milk can be challenging. Even frozen breast milk can expire and must be tracked carefully. 

Show Sources


March of Dimes: “Using a Breast Pump.”

Medical News Today: “Should you pump or breastfeed?”

UNC School of Medicine: “Ovulation Predictor Test Instructions.” 

WIC Breastfeeding Support: “Finding a Breast Pump.”

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