What is a breast pump?

A breast pump is a device that can pump milk out of a woman’s breasts. If a woman is going to be away from her baby when it is time to breastfeed, she can instead pump milk from her breasts using a pump. The breast milk can be collected, stored, and fed to her baby later.

A woman can use a breast pump to start her milk flow or keep her milk supply up when she wants to breastfeed but can’t because:

  • Her baby needs to stay in the hospital after birth because it was born too early or is sick
  • She can’t be with her baby all the time because of work, travel, or other reasons

Are there different types of breast pumps?
Yes. The right breast pump for you will depend on why you need it and how often you plan to use it.

The different types of breast pumps include:

  • Electric pumps that are used in hospitals – These breast pumps are powerful and collect breast milk the fastest. They are often used by women whose babies need to stay in the hospital after birth. Women can also rent these types of pumps to use at home.
  • Personal electric pumps – These breast pumps are smaller than hospital electric pumps. They can collect breast milk fast, but usually not as fast as hospital pumps. Personal pumps can come in a carrying case. They can be good for women who pump at work.
  • Single-sided pumps – These breast pumps collect milk slower than hospital and personal electric pumps. They can be powered by hand, batteries, or electricity. They can be good for women who need to pump breast milk only once in a while.

How do I use a breast pump?
Each breast pump will have its own directions. But for all breast pumps, it’s important to:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before pumping. You do not have to wash your breasts or nipples.
  • Make sure that the pump pieces and the containers for storing breast milk are clean.
  • Make sure that the cone-shaped pieces that fit over the breasts are the right size. Your nipples should not rub against the tunnel part of these pieces.

Before a breast pump can collect your breast milk, your breasts need to “let down” the milk. Let-down is when the milk flows from the milk glands into the milk ducts. Usually, let-down happens soon after you start pumping. But if it doesn’t, you can try the following things:

  • Massage your breasts gently before you pump
  • Put a warm wet cloth on your breasts before you pump
  • Pump in a dark and quiet room
  • Look at a picture of your baby when you start pumping

How should I store pumped breast milk?
You can store pumped breast milk in different places and for different amounts of time. Breast milk can be stored:

  • At room temperature for up to 4 hours
  • In the refrigerator for up to 3 days
  • In the freezer for up to 3 months

You can store breast milk in clean glass or plastic bottles, or in plastic bags. It can be helpful to store breast milk in small amounts. You should also write the date that the milk was pumped on the container. That way, you can use the oldest milk first.

How do I warm up stored breast milk?
Make sure to warm up breast milk from the freezer or refrigerator slowly. Do not thaw or warm up breast milk by putting it in the microwave. Instead, fill a pot or container with warm water and put the bottle in it. Do not let the whole bottle go under water.

Be sure to test the temperature of the milk before you feed it to your baby. The milk should be a little bit warm or at room temperature.

How do I pump at work?
Talk with the people you work with about when and where you can pump. By law, your work needs to give you breaks so that you can pump. Your work also needs to give you a private place where you can pump.

What if I have questions?
If you have any questions about breast pumps, ask your doctor or nurse. Some women also find it helpful to work with a breastfeeding expert called a “lactation consultant.”