Using a Breast Pump

Health considerations when using a breast pump

Breast milk is not sterile and its anti-infective properties hinder the growth of bacteria. Still, you do not want to introduce "outside" bacteria unnecessarily when getting ready to pump, during the actual pumping session, or when storing milk or transporting milk. To minimize the risk of infection, consider the following:

  • Always wash and rinse your hands thoroughly before handling pump parts, your breasts, or the milk collection bottles or containers.

  • Pump collection kit parts should be cleaned, according to the instruction manual.

  • The collection bottles or containers that attach to the pump and are used to collect and store your milk should be sterile.

Read the instruction manual first, but you may have to experiment with different techniques and settings on the breast pump before you find ones that work best for you. Here are some general tips for using a breast pump:

  • Make sure the breast flange is properly fitted. The flange is the funnel-shaped part that centers over your areola, which is the pigmented ring around your nipple. If you have a question about the fit, ask your doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant.  

  • Some mothers moisten the rim of the breast flange (the cup or funnel that is centered over the breast) before pumping to create a better seal on the breast.

  • Try different techniques for obtaining a seal on the breast. Some mothers prefer to center the breast flanges on the nipple and areola first and then turn the pump on; others turn the pump on first and then place the flanges over the breasts.

  • Start the pump at the low or minimal suction setting and gradually move the setting to increase the level of suction. The level should be set as high as comfort allows. Decrease the suction if it causes discomfort.

  • Suction cannot be maintained if the seal of the flange on the breast is broken. If you do not see a rhythmic pull and release of the nipple or areola within the flange, check the seal. Sometimes the tube can disconnect from the flange and needs to be reattached. Sometimes a portion of your clothing is under the edge of the flange and needs to be removed.

  • Expect to pump for a few minutes before you see a steady flow of milk.

  • Do not fill collection bottles more than two-thirds full to avoid any back flow or spilling of milk and to allow for expansion if milk is to be frozen. If you easily fill bottles, have additional collection bottles ready. Stop and change bottles as needed. You also might use bottles that hold more.

  • When you are ready to stop pumping, slide a clean finger under the rim of the flange. This should break the seal between the flange and the breast tissue. If milk has pooled in a flange, tilt forward so that milk can drain into the collection bottle as you remove the flange.