October 14, 2019

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Maybe you’re pregnant, or maybe you’ve just had your baby, and you are opening the box with you spanking new breast pump for the very first time. You are ready to rock and roll, because how hard can it be?


Why does it have so many parts?! And what needs to be boiled? You can’t even use it right away...? Why is the instruction manual so long? Why does it even have different settings? And how on earth am I supposed to know what setting to use?

Ok. Calm down. I’ve been there, and I’m here to help. By the end of this guide, you’ll be an expert on all things breast pump related!

Do you even need a breast pump?

A breast pump is an important part of any new moms arsenal if you are planning to feed your baby breast milk. Unless you plan to be by your baby’s side for the next 6-12 months, you’re going to want to have a way to feed your baby from a bottle.

Here are the some reasons why you might need a breast pump:
  • you are going back to work
  • dad or other family member wants to feed your baby
  • you need to increase your milk supply
  • you need to relieve engorgement
  • you have to be away from your baby for more than a few minutes
  • you have a clogged duct
  • you want a freezer stash just in case
  • baby is too small/weak/sick to nurse well
  • baby is in the NICU and needs your milk via syringe
  • Either you or baby has thrush
  • You don’t want to get stuck having to feed your baby formula

Since a lot of these reasons may be outside of your control, it’s wise to invest in a pump early on - preferably while your are still pregnant!

Benefits of breastfeeding

You might be wondering what’s the big deal, right? No need to spend hundreds of dollars on a pump (or get a free one through insurance) when you can just pick up some formula and be done with it!

Not so fast, mama.

While formula is basically scientists’ best guess as to what your baby needs to survive and grow, breastmilk is a live biological compound full of awesome custom-made goodness just for your baby!

Benefits for your baby:
  • less likely to die from SIDS
  • More likely to fight off illnesses and infections
  • Less likely to develop diabetes later in life
  • Less likely to be overweight later in life
  • Higher IQ
  • Reduces stress
  • Helps baby to sleep better
  • Less likely to have gastrointestinal problems
  • More likely to thrive
  • So much more!
Benefits for You
  • Faster more thorough uterine contractions (lose that pregnancy pooch faster and lower risk of hemorrhaging)
  • Burns more calories (help lose pregnancy weight)
  • Releases endorphins to relax and soothe
  • Lower risk of depression
  • Reduced risk of uterine and breast cancers
  • Less frequent (or delayed) menstruation (Goodbye Aunt Flow! No one misses you!)
  • Saves you money! (No need to spend $2000+/year on formula!)

I can’t even make this stuff up. Breast milk is some amazing stuff! Comparing breastmilk to formula is kind of like comparing a Prada dress to a dress off the clearance rack at H&M. In short, there’s no comparison.

How do breast pumps work

Breast pumps have come a long way in recent years.

The first iteration was a particularly bulky bit of machinery designed in the 1920s in an effort to save the lives of babies that were to sick or weak to nurse well.

Since then, technology has advanced to create smaller more optimized versions. In the 1990s, electric breast pumps were finally making their way out of hospitals and into people’s homes.

While there are a ton of varieties, they all work basically the same way. Every electric pump will have a motor, tubes, a diaphragm, and a flange. Manual pumps tend to only have a flange and either a lever or bulb to apply suction.

Since manual pumps are so simple, I’ll only explain how electric pumps work for now.

  • Motor

The motor will/should have several options or cycle speeds. Your baby will suck at different rates (faster at first to encourage your let-down reflex, and then slower and stronger while she drinks). The motor of your pump is going to try to replicate this process as closely as possible. Most pumps have a let-down mode as well as a regular pumping mode.

  • Tubes

The tubes connect motor to the diaphragm. These are generally soft and flexible and can be enclosed within the system (as in the Willow and Elvie pumps) or exposed (like in the Spectra pumps). In a closed circuit system (we’ll get to this in a minute), milk and moisture are not able to enter the tubes.

  • Diaphragm

This is a soft silicone or rubber piece that flexes back and forth as suction is applied. In a closed circuit pump, it protects the tubes and motor from coming in contact with milk. It’s the flexing of this part that creates the suction to extract milk.

  • Flange

You can actually get these in different sizes depending on the size of your breasts. The flange looks a lot like a funnel that you’d keep in the kitchen. The cone shaped part goes over your breast in order to form a seal, and your nipple goes into the tunnel in the middle.

How it all works together

As the motor cycles, it pulls air through the tubes and stretches the diaphragm back and forth. This creates a vacuum in the chamber and will pull your nipple into the tunnel, compressing your areola as it does so. This compression helps to release milk which travels down the tunnel and out into either a collection tube, bottle, or bag.

Quick note: it looks super weird to see your nipple get pulled out like it does when you pump, but it's totally normal. Your body was made to do this!

What types of breast pumps are there?

There are three main things to consider when choosing your pump.

Electric, manual, or both?

Electric pumps essentially do the work for you. They are great at extracting milk quickly and efficiently. They are also more expensive ($100-$500+)

Manual pumps take quite a bit of work to use and can have a steep learning curve - unless you are using a Hakaa (my personal favorite, and stupid easy to use). Manual pumps won’t really be able to extract as much as quickly as an electric pump, but they can be picked up cheaply (many are priced under $50 in the $20-30 range).

If you are able to get a high quality electric pump free through your insurance, then you might want to consider purchasing a manual pump to keep with you just in case. Then, you’ll have the best of both worlds!

Do you want an open or closed circuit pump?

I’ll be honest here. There is no reason to buy an open circuit pump. Open circuit pumps allow milk and moisture to enter the tubes and therefore the pump. This isn’t desirable of course, but in this system the diaphragm is not present or positioned in such a way as to prevent exposing the tubes to milk.

The problem with this is that bacteria and mold can grow within the tubes and pump systems and then contaminate your expressed milk! Yuk!

With so many amazing pumps on the market - like the Spectra S1 & S2 and the Willow - there’s no need to purchase an open system at the same price point.

Closed systems are safer, cleaner, and guess what? You can always try to sell your (gently used) closed system pump when you are done with it because it’s never been exposed to your milk. Yay!!

Battery powered, corded, or both?

Electric pumps that need to be plugged into an outlet tend to be what most insurance will cover. You can expect to have to sit next to the machine for 10-15 minutes every time you need to pump, which can be a bit dreary.

These corded pumps tend to get great suction though! Because of the ample flow of power, you never have to worry about reduced suction strength or recharging issues. It’s always primed and ready to go when you are.

My favorite corded breast pump is the Spectra S2, in case you were wondering.

Battery powered pumps are all the rage right now. Being able to pump on the go, discreetly at work, and even while you sleep is the newest luxury in the breastfeeding world.

The major drawbacks to battery powered pumps is that the majority of them fail to deliver the same high level of suction that their corded counterparts do. In fact, some are downright terrible.

I can only truly recommend the Willow breast pump - which is absolutely incredible by the way. It is light years ahead of the competition and on the bleeding edge of breast pump technology. It's fully automated and even has an app that records how much you pumped!

Why settle for one when you can have both? Some breast pumps allow you to plug them into a wall outlet or take them on the go. You get the best of both worlds with these amazing machines.

Personally, I love the Spectra S1 when it comes to pumps that are both battery powered and corded. Excellent suction level and speeds, closed system, and whisper quiet. What else could you want?

How to choose the right breast pump for you

You’re going to want to plan ahead some here in order to get an idea of what you really need. Really, you need to ask yourself why you are pumping in the first place.

  • Pumping for a stash

If you just want to pump in order to build up a nice little stockpile of frozen milk “just in case”, I suggest picking up a free pump through your insurance. Most insurances will cover pumps like the Spectra S2 at 100%, and it's an awesome little machine that will help you build a stash quickly and efficiently.

  • Just need to relieve engorgement once in a while, or to catch extra milk flow

If you don’t really plan to pump much and just want to have an option to collect some milk when you got extra to spare (or when every drop counts), get yourself a Haakaa. This tiny inexpensive manual pump has changed the lives of so many moms. It literally latches onto your breast and can collect milk without you having to do hardly a thing. Pretty awesome!

  • Pumping at work, maintaining supply

If you plan to be mobile, or possibly interrupted while pumping, you’ll want to have a powerful battery powered option. Something like the Willow or Spectra S1 would be great for this. I love the Willow especially for working moms, because it's super discreet. It just slides into your bra - no cords, tubes or anything showing to give you away!

  • Need something inexpensive

Maybe you don’t have insurance and you need to pick up an inexpensive breast pump. Keep in mind that you do get what you pay for when it comes to pumps, and an inexpensive one may not provide the results you need to maintain your milk supply. You can try to finance a good one or pick up a closed system pump second hand. Just make sure to ask the seller how often it was used and for how long. Heavily used pumps may not perform very well as they are really only intended for one user. If you can snag one that was used less than 5 times a week, it's probably still got a ton of life left in it! If you purchase second hand though, make sure to get all new accessories. That’s going to be non-negotiable and is for the safety of your child.

When should you start pumping?

While many moms advocate pumping right away, I’m going to go against the grain here and tell you to wait. I go into more detail in How To Build a Milk Stash, but the point is that your milk changes rapidly those first couple weeks.

You’ll start to produce colostrum in the first few days postpartum and then slowly over the next two weeks or so this will transition into mature milk.

Colostrum is made in tiny quantities (less than an ounce or two is all most moms can extract). This liquid gold is full of immunity boosting goodness for your baby. It is also very sensitive and deteriorates quickly once expressed from your breast.

There is zero point in pumping this stuff (unless your baby is unable to nurse). It won’t do your baby any good a month or two from now, so just let her get all those good bioactive compounds straight from the tap.

Once your milk supply has matured, it will be full of milk sugars, proteins, fat, and nutrients. This mature milk is what you want when you pump.

It’s still changing on a regular basis depending on your baby’s needs, but it’s going to be a lot more consistent day to day than your colostrum and transitional milk was.

Mature milk is formulated to help your baby grow and put on weight. Colostrum is only mean to boost your baby’s immune system.

Pumping colostrum also does nothing for your milk supply. Only by removing mature milk will your body adapt and start to produce more and more.

So, you might as well spend those first two weeks focusing on bonding with your new baby and learning how to breastfeed. You’ll have plenty of time to pump once your mature milk has settled in.

How to set up a new breast pump

I love new stuff! Especially new stuff that’s designed to make my life easier. I bet you are just itching to get your new breast pump out of the box and set up. Here’s how to go about doing just that!

1. Don’t wait until baby is born!

It’s really recommended to go ahead and order your pump while you are still pregnant so it can come in before your baby is due. This is especially handy in case baby is born early or you need it right away (if baby has to go to the NICU, for example). Even for term and healthy babies, just getting familiar with your pump ahead of time will be a lot less stressful than doing it while caring for a hungry crying newborn.

2. Read the instruction manual!

While that may seem obvious, you’d be surprised at how many people toss that little booklet to the side and just try to wing it. Don’t do that! Every pump is unique, so even if you’ve seen one used before doesn’t mean that yours will be the same.

Read your instruction manual carefully. Note what parts need to be sterilized and how that can be done safely. Learn how things are meant to fit together, and read the troubleshooting section just to know what it goes over. Some pumps come with a warranty that you’ll need to register for, so make sure to do that as well. Then, store your manual somewhere safe so that you can refer back to it in case there’s any issues with your pump.

3. Get everything cleaned and sterilized

While you don’t need to sterilize everything after every pumping session, it’s important to do this at least once before you use your breast pump for the first time.

Remember how I said to read the instruction manual? It’ll tell you which parts need to be cleaned before use and the best way to do that.

For example, open system pumps require that you sterilize the tubes, though you won’t have to do this on a closed system pump. Some pumps, like the Medela brand ones, will come with a handy baggie that you throw everything into and then steam up to sterilize in the microwave. Others recommend boiling or using the dishwasher to sterilize the parts.

Once everything is clean, you’ll want to just set it aside to air dry. Wiping it down with a kitchen towel is a good way to reintroduce bacteria!

4. Set up a station

You can skip this if you have a battery powered pump and only plan to use it on the go.

Having a nice clean space to pump is SO important! You’re going to be stuck sitting there for 10-15 minutes pretty often so you may as well make it comfy.

At the very minimum, you’ll need a comfortable place to sit and a small table to set your pump on. I like to keep a little basket nearby with extra milk storage baggies, a sharpie (for writing the date and quantity on the bags), some bottled water, snacks, and a couple clean cloths to wipe up any drips or spills. I also recommend keeping a phone charger handy, because staring at a dead phone for 10 minutes is just torture.

5. Get everything fitted together and set up!

Yay! Now that everything is dry and ready to go, ahead and follow the instructions to assemble your pump. Make sure all the pieces fit together nice and tightly, and be sure to be gentle with any diaphragms or other soft pieces. Rough handling can tear or damage them and then you won’t be able to get enough (or any) suction!

6. Test it out!

You don’t actually want to start pumping your breasts while you are pregnant. Doing so can cause a spike in your hormones and some experts believe that to be a risk factor.

Instead, just check to see that the pump is working by turning it on. You should be able to hear it quietly working away and the buttons should change the cycle speed and strength. If you can see the diaphragm, it should be flexing back and forth.

With the pump off, check to make sure the flanges fit your breasts. You can do this by holding the flange on your breast with your nipple in the opening at the center.

If you are unable to make a good seal with the entire flange, then your flange is too big. If you are afraid your nipple with rub on the tube, or the majority of your breast is not even partially covered, your flange is too small. In case you need a new size, you can purchase some on Amazon, or see if your insurance will cover new parts by visiting Aeroflow Breastpumps.

How to use a breast pump

Alright! You are all set up! You’ve got the right pump for you, it’s cleaned, and it’s set up and ready to go. Now what? Well, now, let’s collect some milk!

Follow these simple steps to get the most out of your pump.

1. Get settled and ready

Depending on the type of pump you have, you may need to put on a special pumping bra. If you are pumping at work, you may need to go to a special room. Either way, make sure you have everything you need to get started, and your environment is peaceful and quiet. Stress can prevent you from extracting very much milk.

2. Make sure your flanges are centered properly

The last thing you want is a friction blister on your nipple. Ouch!! Make sure you center your nipple in the flange so that it won’t rub on the sides while you are pumping.

3. Begin with a let down mode

The let down mode on your pump is going to be a faster cycle speed with a low suction strength. This is meant to imitate baby’s “fluttery” sucking at the beginning of a nursing session. You should adjust the pump settings (if you can) to mimic your baby’s sucking as much as possible. Remember, your body is primed to react to your baby, not a machine. You’ll want to pump in the let-down mode for 1-3 minutes, or until you feel/hear/see milk starting to flow (or spray) out.

4. Switch to extraction mode

Extraction mode is the standard setting on most breast pumps. This phase of pumping involves a slow cycle with high suction strength, and is meant to mimic baby’s slow deep suck while drinking.

You don’t need a very high suction here! Setting the pump too high can break capillaries in your breast and cause blood to flow into your milk. Higher suction doesn’t mean more milk anyways. You just want to imitate your baby as close as possible.

I suggest closing your eyes and just feeling it. Then, adjust accordingly until it feels as closely as possible to your baby. This is the secret to extracting as much milk as quickly as possible.

Generally speaking, should pump for 10-15 minutes or until milk flow slows down noticeably. Check out Pumping Tips and Strategies For Every Mom for specific details on how to pump depending on your particular goal.

5. Turn off the pump and clean up!

All done! That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Now it’s time to turn off the pump. I sometimes like to hand express a bit if milk is still flowing, but that’s just a personal preference.

You’ll want to put the expressed milk either into a bottle to be used in the near future or into milk storage bags for longer term storage. Make sure to clean anything that came in contact with milk immediately with warm soapy water, and set out to air dry.

It’s way easier to clean pump parts right away than to wait until the milk has dried into all the little crevices. Trust me on that one!

Breast milk storage - best practices

Now that you’ve got the milk, you need to know how to properly store it. Milk that’s been stored improperly may not be safe for your baby to drink, or it could have been damaged and lose a lot of its massive health benefits.

Remember, breast milk contains a lot of live biological compounds that break down easily when exposed to air, temperature changes, and even light. Even something simple like shaking the container can damage these sensitive compounds!

Here are some rules to follow when storing breast milk according to the CDC:

1. Freshly pumped breast milk can stay at room temperature for up to 4 hours and in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

2. Frozen breastmilk should be used within 6 months. Though it is safe to use for up to 12 months, frozen breastmilk does deteriorate nutritionally over time.

3. Thawed (previously frozen) milk should be used within an hour or two of thawing. It can keep in the refrigerator for no more than a day.

4. Never refreeze previously frozen breastmilk!

5. Leftover breastmilk should be tossed out after 2 hours. This includes any milk that was fed to baby in a bottle and baby did not finish. Bacteria from your baby’s mouth can multiply rapidly in the nutrient dense milk. So even if she barely drank from a nearly full bottle, for your baby’s safety, it needs to go.

6. Bonus tip: when you store your breastmilk in the freezer, make sure to write the date, quantity, and time you pumped on the storage bag. I go into more detail on this and why writing the time down is so important in How to Build a Freezer Stash.

How often should you pump?

If you’ve done any searching around the web, you’ll notice a ton of different opinions on the matter. Some people suggest pumping after every feed, some think you should be pumping every hour or two. It really gets crazy!

To be honest, I don’t think there’s a single right way for everyone to do this. Every person is different and their needs are all different. That being said, here are some common scenarios and the pumping frequencies I recommend for them.

1. Building up a stash on maternity leave

I go into more details here, but you’ll want to just add in a pumping session once or twice a day. Preferably these sessions would be at least an hour after baby has been fed so you can maximize extraction.

2. Pumping at work

You’ll want to pump at least as often as your baby eats, likely every two hours or so. Set an alarm on your phone or smart watch to remind you. Skipping or delaying pumping in this situation could cause your supply to slowly decrease, so it’s very important to stick to your set schedule.

3. Pumping for a fresh supply for day or other caretaker

Add in a pumping session as needed. Typically, you should have more milk in the morning than at night, so it makes sense to just pump once a day in the morning and keep the fresh milk in the fridge until dad or whomever needs it.

4. Pumping to increase supply

This is the only situation where you really need to pump a lot, BUT you’ll only have to do so for a few days, if you do it right. The goal for the next few days is to keep your breasts empty as much as possible. Nurse first, then pump after.

Don’t be discouraged by low output! Baby already took most of the milk. You are just making sure your breasts are extra empty so that your body kicks into high gear and starts producing like crazy. Never pump before feeding baby though. You can learn more by reading The Ultimate Guide to Lactation - How to Increase Your Milk Supply.

How you can get a free breast pump

The Affordable Care Act has made it a requirement that all pregnant women be allowed to receive at least one breast pump that is covered by insurance. This is AWESOME!

While some ultra high end pumps may not be fully covered (oh Willow!) you may still be able to get at least part of it covered by insurance if you really want one of these amazing pumps. Otherwise, you still have access to a great assortment of different types and styles to choose from.

Ok ok… I’ll be honest here. I absolutely hate dealing with health insurance companies. There’s so much red tape and everything has to be done a certain way, and none of it is very user friendly. God forbid you do something not quite right, and then you get stuck footing the whole bill. Yikes!

I like to make my life easier, and I think maybe you do too. That’s why I highly recommend going through a provider like Aeroflow Breastpumps. They are 100% dedicated to helping moms like you get your breast pump for free through your insurance, and they know all the laws and your rights so they are best able to communicate with your insurance provider on your behalf.

This is what the form you need to fill out looks like on their website. Super simple!

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Once that’s done, you just pick your pump and Aeroflow takes care of the rest! They even have a team ready to answer the phones for you should you have any questions or concerns. They can also help you get replacement parts or accessories as needed (through your insurance if possible!).


Learning how to use a breast pump is a very useful skill and incredibly helpful for any breastfeeding mother. You will be better able to provide milk to your baby and also snag some valuable “me” time while dad or grandma feeds your baby.

If you found this content to be valuable, please click one of those pretty social share buttons on the screen and help to spread the love.

Are you feeling more confident about using your breast pump? What are your goals? Let me know in the comments!

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