How to Pump Breast Milk

If you are returning to work or school after your baby is born, you will probably need to pump and store your breast milk for the times you are away from your baby. There are many options for obtaining a pump. If you have insurance, the cost of the pump may be covered by your insurance company. If you receive WIC benefits, you may get a pump from your WIC clinic for no cost after your baby is born.

How Often Do I Pump?

How long you are apart from you baby influences this decision. Ideally, you would pump as often as your baby would nurse. This may not be possible with your work/ school schedule. Most mothers find that pumping every 2-3 hours maintains their milk supply and does not cause them to become uncomfortably full.

For example, if a mother worked an 8 hour work day, she would nurse her child before coming to work, then pump mid-morning, at lunchtime and then mid-afternoon. She would nurse her baby when she returned home.

What Type of Breast Pump Do I Need?

You will have many choices for brands and styles of a pump. A single-sided electric pump allows you to pump one breast at a time. A double-sided electric pump has the ability to pump from both breasts simultaneously. A manual pump creates suction using a handle or other system that you operate, no electricity is required. If you have to choose, an electric pump will make it easier for you to pump out your milk without much effort.

How to Get Started

It is important to wash your hands before pumping and keep the parts of the pump clean. Sterilizing or boiling pump parts, bottles, and nipples are not required. To minimize your stress, start pumping or collecting milk using a clean bottle or milk storage bag as early as possible. Many working and breastfeeding moms worry about having enough milk for their return to work or school. If you start collecting milk several weeks before you need it, you can feel confident that you will have enough stored.

  • Find a quiet place where you are not likely to be interrupted. You may want to look around your work area before you go out on leave to find the best place. It does not have to be fancy, but it should be private. The restroom is not an acceptable place to be asked to pump. Be aware that there are laws in place in some countries to protect you.
  • Relaxing is important. Many mothers look at pictures of their babies, listen to music, drink water or have a snack.  Some use their phones to watch videos of their babies or face time the baby and caregiver.
  • Some mothers find that hand expressing for 1-2 minutes before using the pump gives them better results. The warmth of their hands and “Skin on skin” first provides good stimulation so that their milk is released better.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids so that you do not become overly thirsty. If you can snack as well as get a good meal break, this is helpful as well.
  • Invest in a hands free pumping bra. There are several on the market or you can make your own. If you make your own, simply use a sports bra and cut holes where the flanges will go through. You can use duct tape to seal the edges so they don’t fray.
  • Invest in a good pump. It will be cheaper than formula in the long run and it will be more comfortable for you. Most manufacturer’s have various sizes of flanges. Be sure your flange is not too tight, nor too loose.

Want to Know More?


Compiled from the following References: Hill, P., Aldag, J., Chatterton, R. (2001). Initiation and Frequency of Pumping and Milk Production in Mothers of Non-Nursing Preterm Infants. Journal of Human Lactation, Vol 17.

Retrieved from Aldag, J., Chatterton, R., Hill, P. (1996). The Effect of Sequential and Simultaneous Breast Pumping on

Milk Volume and Prolactin Levels: A Pilot Study. Journal of Human Lactation. Vol.12.

La Leche League International