Using a breast pump

A breast pump helps you remove breast milk from your breasts. You can use the milk at a later time to feed your baby. Breast pumps can help you in lots of ways:

  • If you go back to work or school, you still can feed your baby breast milk.
  • Your partner or other caregiver can feed the baby breast milk so you can take a break.
  • Pumping helps keep your breast milk from building up in your breasts. This helps prevent discomfort and infection.

Breast milk that you pump from your breasts is called expressed milk.

Do all breastfeeding moms need a breast pump?

No. But if you’re going back to work or school, or if there are times you’ll be away from your baby, you probably need a breast pump. You may not know how often you’ll need to pump, so you may want to wait to get one after your baby is born.

What are the types of breast pumps?

All pumps have a part that covers your breast and a container that collects the milk. If you’re not sure which pump is best for you, ask your lactation consultant. This is a person who has special training to help women breastfeed. Check with your health insurance company to see if it helps pay for a pump.There are two kinds of breast pumps:  

1. Manual pump— This is a pump that you work by hand. You can use a manual pump anywhere because it doesn’t need electricity. This kind of pump is good if you don’t need to pump very often or if you don’t need a lot of milk at one time.

2. Electric pump— This pump uses a motor to pump your breasts. You can use a single pump that works on one breast at a time. You also can use a double pump that works on both breasts at the same time. Women who go back to work often like double pumps because they’re faster than single pumps. You can buy your own electric pump or you can rent a pump from a baby store, hospital or lactation consultant.

When can you start pumping?

In the first few weeks after your baby’s birth, it’s best to just breastfeed your baby unless you make more milk than your baby takes. Good times to pump are:

  • After your baby is finished eating. Pumping after he eats can help increase your milk supply. Your milk supply is the amount of breast milk you make for breastfeeding. If your baby breastfeeds from only one breast, pump the breast he doesn't eat from. Next time, start your baby on the breast that feels fuller.
  • Early in the morning or late in the evening
  • When your baby sleeps longer at a certain time of day

What if you’re going back to work or school?

Start pumping at least 2 weeks before you go back to work or school. Once there, pump a few times each day.

You need a private place to pump. Employers with more than 50 employees are required by law to give you time and space (that is not a bathroom) for pumping when you go back to work. Talk to your boss before you go back to work so he knows what you need.

Your child care provider can feed your baby your pumped breast milk. If you work or go to school near where your baby is, you may be able to stop by and breastfeed your baby during the day.

Can you store breast milk?

Yes. You need a few supplies to keep breast milk fresh and safe for your baby after pumping:

  • Bottles or bags — These are made just to store pumped breast milk. The bags are plastic, and the bottles are plastic or glass. You can buy them at most grocery stores, drug stores or baby stores.
  • Cooler — You may need a small cooler to keep your pumped milk cold until you get it home. This may be really important if you don’t have a refrigerator at your work or school. Your pump may come with a cooler.

After you pump, put your pumped breast milk in bottles or bags and store them in the refrigerator or freezer. Put just the amount of milk your baby needs for each feeding in each bottle or bag. Breast milk doesn’t last forever, so write the date on the bottle or bag before you store it.

How long can you store breast milk?

Use these guidelines for storing breast milk.

How do you thaw and warm breast milk once you’re ready to use it?

To thaw frozen milk, put the bottle or bag in the refrigerator or swirl it in a bowl of warm water. Make sure the bottle or bag is sealed so that water doesn’t get into the milk. Pour the amount of thawed milk you need for your baby into a bottle for feeding. Once the milk is thawed, use it within 24 hours.

To warm thawed or refrigerated milk, put the bottle or bag under running hot water or in a bowl of warm water. Never heat breast milk in the microwave. It kills nutrients in the milk. Also, the milk can heat unevenly and create hot spots that could burn your baby’s mouth.

Before you give the milk to your baby, shake the bottle or bag. Put a drop or two of milk on the back of your hand to test the temperature. If it’s too hot, let it cool.

Last reviewed: June, 2014