Breast Pump

A breast pump is a medical device that removes milk from your breasts (chest). It allows you to maintain your milk supply when you’re away from your baby or your baby can’t breastfeed for a while. There are several types to choose from. Some pumps run on electricity or batteries and are more efficient than manual pumps.

What is a breast pump?

A breast pump is a device that removes breast milk (human milk) from your breasts (chest). You may decide to use a breast pump if you’re breastfeeding (chestfeeding) and need to:

  • Be away from your baby for several hours or longer while maintaining your milk supply.
  • Store milk that you’ve pumped (expressed milk) for another caregiver to feed your baby.
  • Prevent milk from building up and causing discomfort.
  • Pull out flat or inverted nipples to allow your baby to latch on for breastfeeding.
  • Maintain your milk supply during a period when your baby can’t breastfeed.
  • Increase your milk supply.

Removing (expressing) milk may become part of your daily routine. But that doesn’t mean it’s simple or that learning how to use a breast pump is intuitive. Be patient with yourself and know it might take a little time. Choosing the right pump for you can help make the process easier.

Types of breast pumps

There are several types of breast pumps that each work a little differently.

Manual breast pump

With this type of pump, you squeeze a lever to create suction that helps milk come out. A manual pump takes some more work on your part, and each pumping session can take a while. However, it allows you to control the pace and rhythm of pumping, and it’s low-cost. It also doesn’t require electricity or batteries to operate and can be easily transportable.

Most manual pumps are single pumps. This means you remove milk from one breast at a time.

Powered breast pump

Powered pumps, unlike manual ones, use a motor to create suction and remove milk. There are two types of powered pumps: electric breast pumps and battery-powered breast pumps.

You need to plug an electric pump into a wall outlet while you use it. With a battery-powered pump, you don’t have to be near an outlet and can pump on the go. It just requires a battery that you either replace or recharge.

Some powered pumps are double pumps, meaning you can remove milk from both breasts at once. This time-saving feature is a big plus for many parents.

Wearable breast pump

This is a specific type of powered pump that you tuck into your bra. Some wearables are more discreet than others. But the general idea is that you can pump while in public or on the go without people easily noticing. A wearable pump frees up your hands to do other things (you don’t have to hold the pump parts in place). So, you may like this type if you need to multitask while pumping.

Hands-free breast pump

This term sometimes refers to wearable pumps. But a hands-free pump can also attach to the front of your chest and stay in place while you do other things. They don’t necessarily fit inside your bra.

You may choose to get a hands-free pumping bra. This is a piece of clothing that supports the pump and makes you more comfortable as you go about your daily tasks.

Milk Collection devices

These are silicone devices that collect milk from one breast when your baby is breastfeeding on the other breast. Some use suction just like a pump to draw milk out. Some passively collect milk that would have otherwise dripped into your bra/nursing pad from letdown. If you have an oversupply of milk, speak to your provider before using.

What’s the best breast pump?

You might be wondering, what’s the best breast pump I can get? The answer is simple: there’s no one pump that’s best for everyone. That’s because everyone has different needs and preferences. And there’s a huge variety of pumps out there to choose from.

If you’re overwhelmed by all the options and don’t know where to start, talk to a lactation consultant. They’ll help you look at the features of different pumps and decide which pump is best for you. Some questions you might want to think about include:

  • How often will I be pumping?
  • Where will I need to use the pump?
  • Do I need to increase my milk supply?
  • Do I have limited time for each pumping session?
  • What’s my budget?
  • Which pump or pumps does my health insurance cover?

Your answers can help you and your lactation consultant find the best fit for your needs. For example, a powered pump may be preferable if you:

  • Plan to pump often (more than just a few times per week). Powered pumps are efficient and get the job done quickly, especially if you use a double pump.
  • Need to pump away from home or while doing other tasks.
  • Have low milk supply and need stronger suction.

On the other hand, a manual pump is a good option for some people and situations. Here are some points to consider:

  • Manual pumps are more affordable than powered pumps. So, they’re a budget-friendly option.
  • With a manual pump, you can control the rate and rhythm of pumping. This might be more comfortable for you than using a powered pump with a motor that revs up and goes to work on its own.
  • A manual pump gets the job done if you pump rarely, like a few times a week or less.
  • You may want a manual pump as a backup, even if you mostly use a powered pump. The manual pump could come in handy if you don’t have access to a power source or the power goes out. You could also keep a manual pump at a friend or relative’s house where you sometimes visit, in case you forget your usual pump.

Your lactation consultant will discuss all these factors with you and help you reach the best decision for your needs.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

What are the different parts of a breast pump?

Breast pump parts include:

  • Breast shield. You might hear people call this a breast pump flange. It’s a cone-shaped cup that looks a bit like a small megaphone. It fits over your nipple and areola. One challenge you might face is how to size the flange. Flanges come in different sizes, and many pumps will come with a standard “medium” size. If this doesn’t work for you, talk to your lactation consultant. They’ll help you find the proper flange size for your body. Your nipple should move freely in and out of the flange tunnel with a tiny amount of space around the nipple. If pumping is painful, it could be due to flanges that don’t fit properly.
  • Pump. The pump creates a vacuum that draws out milk. Depending on the specific type you choose, the pump may attach directly to the flange or have tubing that connects it to the flange.
  • Milk container. This is a reusable bottle or disposable bag that collects milk as it comes out. You use the milk container to store the milk so you can give it to your baby later.
  • Control panel. Powered pumps have a control panel that you use to operate the pump. You press certain buttons to turn the pump on or off, or to select different modes. For example, you may be able to adjust the pump’s suction level so it’s similar to your baby’s.
  • Lever. Manual pumps don’t have a control panel. Instead, they have a lever that you squeeze to get the suction going and start expressing milk.

These parts might look or feel a little different depending on the type of pump you have. It’s a good idea to look at and compare different pumps to get a sense of what’s out there, and what each one looks like. Your lactation consultant can also help you do this.

Breast pumps have many parts including a milk container and breast shield. Electric pumps have a control panel.

Breast pumps generally have a container for holding milk and a shield that fits onto your breast.

How do I use a breast pump?

If you’ve never used a pump, you’re probably wondering how to pump breast milk. The specific details depend on the pump you’re using. In general, you’ll follow these steps:

  1. Read the pump’s instruction manual. Don’t skip this step to save time. Learning exactly how your pump works can save you time down the road.
  2. Wash your hands. Dry them with a clean paper towel. Wash your chest if you’ve used a cream or ointment that requires removal. The product label should tell you if you need to clean it off before breastfeeding or pumping.
  3. Put together your pump. Follow the instruction manual’s steps.
  4. Find a comfortable place. It should be somewhere relaxing and free of distractions, if possible. Make sure you’re close to an outlet if you’re using an electric pump.
  5. Put the breast shield (flange) over your breast. Your nipple should be in the middle of the flange opening. The flange shouldn’t pinch, pull or feel like it’s irritating your breast. If it feels uncomfortable, you may need a different flange size.
  6. Start pumping. Your instruction manual will tell you how. You may press a button for a powered pump or start squeezing a lever for a manual pump. Start in letdown/stimulation mode.
  7. Continue pumping. Once milk starts flowing, switch to expression mode. The session can continue as long as you’re comfortable and milk is coming out. This is typically about 10 to 15 minutes per breast.
  8. Break the vacuum seal. The flange attaches tightly to your breast in order to suction out the milk. You need to break this seal when you’re done pumping. Do this by gently putting your finger between your breast and the flange.
  9. Remove the milk container (bottle or bag) from the pump. It’s important to use expressed milk while it’s fresh. So, label the container with the date and time before you stow it in the fridge or freezer. Add your baby’s name if you plan to send the milk with your baby to daycare or another group setting.

You can safely store expressed milk for up to four days in the fridge and up to twelve months in the freezer (though using it within six months is best).

As with any new device, you might need a little time to get used to your breast pump. But your lactation consultant, friends and family can help. Online communities of parents who breastfeed or pump can also offer practical and emotional support.

How to clean a breast pump

Cleaning your breast pump after each use is crucial for keeping you and your baby safe from infections. Your pump’s instruction manual will tell you exactly how to clean your pump.

General steps for washing by hand include:

  1. Use cool, running water to rinse every part that touches milk. Do this as soon as you can after pumping.
  2. Use dish liquid and warm water to wash each piece.
  3. Use hot water to rinse each piece for about 10 to 15 seconds.
  4. Dry each part with a clean paper towel, or place the parts on a clean drying rack so they can air dry. Drying with a dish towel isn’t a good idea because the towel can accidentally spread germs.

Your instruction manual will tell you if you can wash pump parts in the dishwasher.

Sanitizing your breast pump

In addition to washing the pump after each use, you should also sanitize it at least once a day. Sanitizing is an extra layer of protection from germs, beyond washing with soap and water. Sanitizing is crucial if your baby:

To sanitize the pump parts, follow the instruction manual’s guidelines. The manual may tell you to steam the parts in a microwave or boil them in water. Make sure you clean the pump parts first, following the steps above (never jump right to sanitizing after pumping).

You may be able to skip daily sanitizing as your baby gets older if they don’t have underlying health issues. When in doubt, ask your pediatrician about best practices.

Additional tips for keeping your pump clean

Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  • If any parts of your pump grow moldy, throw them out and get new ones.
  • If you use a dishpan or bowl to wash the pump parts, don’t use it to wash anything else (like dirty dishes). Set it aside only for the pump parts.
  • The bottom of your sink may contain germs (even if it looks clean). So, avoid setting the pump parts directly in the sink. Put them in a clean dishpan instead.
Advertisement

When is it too early to pump breast milk?

You can start pumping soon after your baby is born. But wait to give expressed milk to your baby in a bottle until they’ve gotten the hang of breastfeeding. For many babies, this takes about four to six weeks.

Giving your baby a bottle too soon can interfere with their ability to breastfeed. Healthcare providers call this “nipple confusion.” They may struggle to latch on or may turn away from your chest. Your lactation consultant can help you decide when to start pumping and when to begin bottle feeds.

Your breasts will refill with milk every time they’re emptied, so pumping can stimulate more milk production. Talk with your provider if you have any oversupply of milk.

Can I get a breast pump through insurance?

Contact your insurance provider to find out if your plan covers a breast pump. Questions you may want to ask include:

  • Does my plan cover the cost of a breast pump?
  • Will I rent the pump or keep it?
  • If it’s a rental, how long can I use it?
  • If I can keep the pump, should I buy it on my own and get reimbursed later? Or will you send the pump to me?
  • Will the pump be powered or manual?
  • Do I need a prescription or other paperwork from my healthcare provider?
  • Are there other breastfeeding benefits available to me through my plan?

If you have access to healthcare through the U.S. Health Insurance Marketplace, your plan is required to cover the cost of your breast pump. Your plan will describe specific details, including whether the pump is new or a rental, and whether it’s manual or powered.

Is it safe to share breast pumps?

It depends. There are two kinds of breast pumps:

  • Single-use, designed for just one user.
  • Multiple-use, designed for more than one user.

Most of the pumps you’ll buy at the store are single-use. That means they’re meant for you and you alone, and sharing can lead to infections. Never share a single-use pump, even with family or friends. And although you can find lots of treasures at garage sales, don’t buy a single-use breast pump secondhand. This isn’t safe for you or your baby.

You can safely rent or borrow a multi-use pump from an authorized provider, like a hospital or lactation consultant. These pumps are literally just that — pumps. They don’t come with all the other parts that touch breast milk (like milk containers and flanges). Your lactation consultant or healthcare provider can tell you which parts you’ll need to purchase to use with a shared pump.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

It’s good to have options, but sometimes an endless array of choices can be overwhelming. You might feel that way when choosing a breast pump. Advice from loved ones can help. But remember that the best breast pump for someone else might not be the best one for you.

That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to a lactation consultant. Tell them your plans for pumping and any special circumstances or needs (like low milk supply or flat or inverted nipples). They’ll look at the big picture as well as the little details to help you choose the right pump for you. They can also continue to support you throughout your pumping and breastfeeding journey.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/13/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Ad
Questions 216.444.2538