Using a breast pump: pumping pointers

Using a breast pump: pumping pointers

As a new mom, there’s enough to think about without having to worry if you’re pumping properly. Are they sleeping enough, are they sleeping too much, does that poop smell right, why won’t they stop crying? You get the picture. And while a breast pump might initially seem like another thing to add to your list of ‘how the hell do I use that?’ they’re actually pretty easy to use, and a great way of providing the benefits of breast milk when you can’t be with your baby. 

Because we’re all about making mama’s lives as easy as possible, we’ve created a quick guide to help you with the basics of using a breast pump. Think of it as your breast pump cheat sheet. 

Electric vs Manual breast pump

It’s the breast-pumping equivalent of apples and oranges. Both are nice, but you’re probably going to prefer one over the other. Choosing between a manual and an electric breast pump is one of the first choices you’ll make on your pumping journey. 

Electric breast pumps do the hard work for you and allow you to express milk quickly, while manual breast pumps can be an ideal choice if you want to express milk for one feed a day or go for an occasional break. 

An electric pump lets you express at a pace that you preset – saving you from aching hands or hard-to-maintain rhythms, but with a manual pump, you’re able to control the rate of suction yourself – making the expression session feel natural and more like your baby’s sucking. That being said, with some manual pumps, regular squeezing is required to create a rhythmic vacuum that stimulates milk flow. From the cost to the convenience, there are a number of things you need to consider when deciding between a manual and electric breast pump, and if you’re not sure which to choose, your midwife, health visitor, or a specialist breastfeeding expert will be happy to help you.

Rady, set, pump! 

Before you get started, get yourself ready with these simple pointers. 

  • Read the instructions that come with your breast pump carefully. No skim-reading mama. 
  • Clean and sterilize your pump before its first use. 
  • Find a calm, comfortable and quiet place where you’ll feel relaxed when you’re pumping.
  • Some electric pumps need power outlets while others work with batteries.
  • Wash your hands before you begin to avoid accidentally contaminating the pump or your milk. 
  • Assemble your pump following the instructions. 

Quick guide: How to use an electric breast pump


  1. Place the assembled shields on your breast. You may need to try a few different sizes of breast shields to find the one that is right for you. Correct nipple positioning of the breast shield is key to comfort and performance.
  2. After you’ve started pumping, you can expect milk to start flowing within 2 minutes. Some electric pumps will automatically adjust the suction and speed. The Elvie Pump has two modes: Stimulation and Expression. It starts in Stimulation mode and switches to Expression mode when it detects milk has started to flow.
  3. When you feel as though you’ve finished – your breasts should feel soft with no lumps and milk production will have slowed – you can turn off the pump. 
  4. Carefully remove the breast shields.
  5. Unscrew the milk bottles and put the caps on them. Storing your breast milk is a great way to build up a supply and regain some of your independence. According to the NHS, “you can store milk in the fridge for up to 8 days at 4C or lower and for up to 6 months in a freezer if it’s 18C or lower”.
  6. You should thoroughly wash and dry each breast pump component after use, ideally on the top shelf of the dishwasher.

Hints and tips

  • Give yourself adequate time so that you’re not rushing or stressed out. In the beginning, pumping might take about 40 minutes. But once you’re used to it, pumping with an electric pump will usually only take 15-20 minutes. 
  • Pumping shouldn’t hurt, and if it does, try changing the size and/or position of the breast shield. Don’t just put up with it mama. 
  • The more you pump, the more milk you produce. So aim to pump at least every 3-4 hours to keep up or increase your milk supply.
  • Try to relax when you start the pumping process. Put something on the TV that requires no concentration and just concentrate on the task at hand (or boob). 
  • Moms tend to express more milk when they massage the breast as they pump, so give yourself a little self-massage while you go.
  • Drink plenty of water and try to avoid too much caffeine. Staying hydrated is essential. 
  • As with all health advice, avoid smoking. Smoking can reduce your milk supply, alter the taste and interfere with your baby’s sleep. 
  • Take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Reach out to breastfeeding support in your area or ask your midwife or health visitor. Never suffer in silence. 

Focus on the positives

When you’re pumping, try and remember why you’re doing it. One of the biggest positives of using a breast pump is it will allow your partner to do some of the night feeds and it also means you can get some of your independence back. You can leave your little one with your partner while you go out for lunch with friends and don’t need to worry about them going hungry. So make getting to grips with your breast pump a priority.