Breast Pumping Handbook: The ultimate guide to expressing milk

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expressing breast milk

Breast Pumping Handbook: The ultimate guide to expressing milk

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Breast Pumping Handbook: The ultimate guide to expressing milk

Are you thinking about starting breast pumping for the first time? Have you decided to feed your baby expressed milk but don’t know where to start? Have you experienced some breast pumping challenges and need some help overcoming them? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions then this Breast Pumping Handbook is going to be your new best friend.

Anyone who’s ever had any experience with breast pumping knows it isn’t always easy. As with many aspects of parenting, breast pumping can present a variety of challenges for everyone in the family, and this can sometimes be pretty discouraging, especially if mum has had breastfeeding challenges too.

But it’s oh so worth it to power through and conquer any breast pumping challenges that crop up because it’s great for mum and it enables Bub to experience all the benefits of drinking breast milk even when direct-latch breastfeeding isn’t on the table. That’s why we created this breast pumping handbook as an ultimate guide to expressing milk — we want to help your baby get all the benefits of breast milk even when you can’t direct-latch breastfeed some or all of the time.

a mum is thinking about how she expresses breastmilk when she’s at work and on the go

Topics covered in this guide

As this is an ultimate guide to breast pumping, we’ve covered a lot in this post. So, to help you find the information you’re looking for as and when you need it, here’s a table of contents:

And just before you dive into your topic of choice, please note that the information included in this blog post is for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as medical advice.

Also, the references for this blog post are provided as in-text links for your convenience.

Why you might choose to express breast milk

Exclusively direct-latch breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed a baby. That’s how we humans are built to do things. But not all mums want to and/or are able to feed their baby that way for any number of emotional and physical reasons Plus, some mums want to direct-latch breastfeed sometimes but not all the time. The important thing is that your baby is fed — as the saying goes, fed is best!

Two mums feeding their babies — one is direct-latch breastfeeding and the other is bottle-feeding

Because there are so many benefits associated with breast milk, you might want you and your baby to be able to experience those benefits even when you're not direct-latch breastfeeding. And that’s where breast pumping comes in. Once you can successfully express your breast milk and safely store and transport it, the sky’s the limit when it comes to options for feeding your baby breast milk.

Breastfeeding and pumping help Mum with a lowered risk of hypertension, breast cancer, heart attacks and type 2 diabetes. Breastmilk helps Bub with resistance to necrotising enterocolitis, middle ear infections, gastrointestinal infections, severe lower respiratory infections, leukaemia, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, childhood obesity.

With this in mind, you might choose to express breast milk in any of the following situations:

  • Separation — you currently direct-latch breastfeed and want to pump so that others can feed your baby breast milk when you can’t be with Bub or you just need a break (including when Bub is starting daycare and/or you’re returning to work)
  • Bonding with other caregivers — you direct-latch breastfeed and want your partner and/or other family members to be able to feed Bub with breast milk some of the time
  • Sleep deprivation — you’re not getting enough sleep and you want another caregiver to be able to feed your baby for at least some of the night-time feeds
  • Top-up feeding — your baby’s doctor has recommended that you give your baby top-up feeds, perhaps because Bub isn’t gaining weight at the expected rate
  • Direct-latch breastfeeding difficulties — you and/or your baby have been having trouble direct-latch breastfeeding so are switching to bottle feeding, and you want Bub to drink breast milk whenever possible (this could be as a result of a physiological impediment to direct-latch breastfeeding, such as a tongue-tie, or it might be a psychological impediment, such as an association between breastfeeding and a trauma; or, if your baby’s like Rebecca’s Bub, he or she might have developed an aversion to breastfeeding)
  • Personal choice — you don’t want to direct-latch breastfeed some or all of the time
  • Premature birth — your baby was born prematurely and as a result, is unable to direct-latch breastfeed at the moment, so you’re pumping so that Bub can still drink your milk and to stimulate your breasts to produce a good supply
  • Maintain milk supply — if you have to temporarily stop breastfeeding, you might want to pump so your milk supply doesn’t suffer
  • Increase milk supply — you might want to pump after each feed to boost your milk supply
  • Milk donation — you might be one of those extra special mothers who choose to express milk in order to donate it to other babies in need

No matter what your reason for breast pumping is, this ultimate guide can help you get off to a great start or overcome any breast pumping challenges you might already be experiencing.

Breast pumping concerns

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to express milk, let’s take a look at some of the concerns you might be feeling. By addressing these first, we hope to help you learn to love breast pumping without being plagued by niggling doubts.

What will others think of me?

It’s great that so many organisations are supporting and promoting breastfeeding. But sometimes we mums can feel a lot of pressure to direct-latch breastfeed even if it’s just not for us or our family. So, if you’re like many mums, you might be worried about what others will think of your decision to express some or all of the time.

When this worry rears its ugly head, go back to basics and remember that ‘fed is best’ and that you’re doing what’s best for you and your baby.

A mum and baby hug plus the words: so even when it seems easy to throw in the towel, just hang on. Things are a thousand times brighter on the other side, and your children will be better for it. — Minbie

How do I breast pump if I need to go out?

It’s really common for mums to worry about how they’re going to pump when they’re not at home. Maybe you’re planning a girl’s day out or returning to work and you’re not sure how you’re going to express enough milk to feed Bub.

If this is a concern for you, know that plenty of mums breast pump when they’re not at home, particularly when they return to work. It just takes a bit of planning and preparation.

Unless you’re going to express by hand, the most important thing is to choose a pump that’s portable. And even then, it’s a good idea to know how to hand express just in case you need to unexpectedly.

Other things that may help you are below.

Breast pumping away from home — your rights

First things first. You have every right to breast pump in public, just as you have every right to breastfeed in public. The only exception is if it is unsafe to do so (so not in a chemistry lab or in the middle of an active work site for example).

In Australia, your right to breastfeed is protected by the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which states that it’s illegal to discriminate against a woman in any way because she is breastfeeding or breast pumping. This means, for instance, that you cannot be refused a service because you choose to breastfeed or express your milk. Similarly, you cannot be forced to abide by a workplace condition that disadvantages breastfeeding and breast pumping women.

Some people worry that this law only protects direct-latch breastfeeding mums. But this law absolutely protects mothers who express milk to give to their baby at a later time.

A mum is breast pumping on the beach plus the words: YES, you an breast pump in public

The States and Territories have also implemented legislation that further protects the rights of breastfeeding women.

It’s also worth noting that it may constitute discrimination and/or a breach of work health and safety laws if a workplace does not provide adequate facilities and breaks to enable employees to breastfeed or express milk. The Fair Work Ombudsman can provide advice and assistance if you believe your workplace is not meeting its legal obligations in regard to breastfeeding in the workplace.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association has a useful page about your legal right to breastfeed should you want further information on this topic.

Breast pumping when returning to work

Breast pumping when returning to work is definitely doable. It takes a bit more planning and investment than ad hoc expressing when you’re on the go, but many mums find they’re able to fit it into their normal work routine with a bit of perseverance and practice.

It’s a big topic though, so we’ve produced a whole article just on breastfeeding and breast pumping when returning to work. You can read it on our blog.

Dealing with embarrassing situations

Being a parent introduces all sorts of new ways to be embarrassed (the embarrassment can even start even before birth). And breast pumping comes with its own set of potentially embarrassing occurrences. Here are some of the most common things that might happen to you when you’re a breast pumping mum and how you can deal with them.

When you spring a leak

a woman looking embarrassed and covering her breasts with her hands because they’ve leaked breastmilk

Pretty much all breastfeeding or breast pumping mums will experience a leaking breast at least once, but it’s especially common in the first few weeks after your milk comes in and when you’re weaning your baby. When this happens at home it’s not usually an issue (unless you’ve run out of clean tops!) but when it happens away from home, it can be really embarrassing.

The best thing to do if you’re experiencing breast leakage is to always pop a couple of breast pads into your bra. They’ll soak up any milk that leaks and prevent wet spots on your tops. You can buy disposable ones or you can buy or make reusable versions.

If you’re going out for more than a couple of hours, you might want to take some spares in case you leak a lot. And if you're going out for a whole day, you might also want to take a spare top just in case. A spare top can also come in handy if your baby spits up on you, so I highly recommend it if you've got room in your bag or pram.

Rude or insensitive strangers/coworkers

You’re probably aware of highly publicised incidents where mums have been harassed or judged because they were breastfeeding in public. Unfortunately, the same thing can happen to breast pumping mums, though in some respects it can be worse if you’re breast pumping because you may also get unnecessary, awkward or hurtful comments from people who don’t understand why mums express milk.

To help prevent these situations, you may prefer to breast pump in the privacy of a parents’ room in a shopping centre or an empty room at work. If you’ve got a sensitive employer, you may even have access to a dedicated breastfeeding room. But remember that the law supports your right to breast pump in public so don’t ever feel obligated to seek privacy if you don’t want to or it’s not convenient. And that’s an important point to remember if you ever are subjected to rude or insensitive comments.

Here’s some wording you may wish to keep in mind should you ever feel the need to respond to rude or insensitive comments:

I’m breast pumping because breast milk is best for my baby and the law supports my right to do so in public.

a badge with the words: breastmilk is best for my baby — The law supports my right to breast pump in public — Minbie

Such a simple, non-confrontational response is usually enough to diffuse such situations.

If you’re ever in a situation where you’re subjected to criticism or abuse because you’re breast pumping, you may start to lose confidence. If this does happen, please consider:

If you’re ever threatened verbally or physically please:

  • don’t respond to the aggressive behaviour as doing so could escalate the situation and put you in danger
  • do contact the police to report the incident when it’s safe to do so

Nipple confusion

Many mums have heard about nipple confusion and worry that introducing a bottle of expressed milk will result in their baby rejecting their breast. Thankfully, specially designed teats substantially reduce this risk by supporting a baby’s natural breastfeeding latch and suckling motion. You can learn more about preventing nipple confusion on our blog.

When to start pumping and storing milk

Now that we’ve got those concerns out of the way, we can really start getting into the nuts and bolts of how and when to express milk. And the first question you might ask is ‘when should I start pumping and storing milk?’

The short answer is: you can start breast pumping any time after your baby is born. In fact, you can start expressing colostrum before the birth (for instance, some mothers with diabetes may be directed by their doctor to express colostrum just beforethey’re due to give birth) and sometimes you can even express milk if you haven’t given birth (as in re-lactation and lactation induction). If you are considering breast pumping while pregnant, be sure to consult your medical team first as there are some circumstances in which expressing while pregnant may lead to health or safety concerns.

The long answer is a little more complicated though. Most experts recommend you wait till you have established a breastfeeding routine before pumping. The theory being that allowing Bub to direct-latch breastfeed first will ensure you produce the right amount of milk for your baby’s needs. Of course, if you’re not direct-latch breastfeeding, that advice isn’t very helpful.

The occurrence of certain medical conditions may also prompt your doctor to recommend you start breast pumping at a particular time.

So, a good general rule of thumb is, if you haven’t received specific advice from your doctor, start breast pumping when you’re ready for someone to feed Bub your milk in a bottle or cup. If, however, you’re returning to work or need someone else to regularly feed your baby when you’re not available, then it’s a good idea to start expressing milk and using your chosen feeding method at least three weeks before you’re not going to be available. That way you’ve got time to get used to pumping and Bub has time to come to terms with a different way of feeding.

How to safely store and transport breast milk

The other thing you really need to know before you start breast pumping is how to safely store your breast milk. After all, you don’t want all your effort to be wasted if you express milk and then can’t use it because it goes off or is contaminated. I recommend you print off the below guide and stick it on your fridge or in your breast pumping bag so you’ve always got it handy when you need it.

Breast milk storage times (printable guide)

breast milk can be stored for not more than 72h at 5ºC at the back of the fridge, up to 2 weeks in the freezer compartment of a fridge at -15ºC, up to 3 months at -18ºC in the freezer section of fridge that has a separate door for the freezer, 6-12 months at -20ºC in a deep freezer e.g. chest freezer or 6-8h at room temperature at 26ºC or lower. Thawed breast milk should not be re-frozen but it can be stored in the fridge at 5ºC or lower for no more than 4h (for instance until the next feed). Unused milk should be discarded because it will have been contaminated with microorganisms from Bub’s mouth during a feed.

Now, safely storing and transporting breast milk is about more than just what temperature you store it at and how you thaw it. You also need to ensure you use sterile storage containers and clean hands when you express it. Check out one of our previous blog posts for a full guide to safely storing and transporting breast milk.

How to express breast milk

Now you know how and when to start breast pumping, it’s time to learn how to actually express milk. And there are two options:

  • breast pumping by hand
  • expressing using a pump

Important steps before pumping

No matter which method you choose, there are a few things you must always do before you start a pumping session:

  1. Sterilise your collection container and, if you’re expressing using a pump, the parts of the pump that will come into contact with your milk — Milk provides a great environment for harmful bacteria to grow in so you want to reduce the chance that your breast milk might become contaminated at any stage.
  2. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water — You wash your hands before preparing food and you should wash your hands before expressing milk to feed your baby for exactly the same reasons.
  3. Relax — It’ll be much easier to express milk if you’re relaxed.

You might also find it helpful to gently massage your breast before you begin pumping to help stimulate your let down. Similarly, holding or thinking of your baby can help stimulate let down in some mothers.

4 steps to make breast pumping easier: sterilise all equipment that will come into contact with milk, wash your hands, massage your breasts if they’re tender or engorged, relax

How breastfeeding and pumping works

Whether you’re breastfeeding, expressing by hand or expressing using a breast pump, there are a few aspects of extracting breast milk that are universally relevant. This is the process:

  1. Your nipples contain a large number of nerve endings, which makes them quite sensitive. When suction is applied to your nipple, either by your baby sucking or a pump applying suction (and when you massage your breast if you’re expressing by hand), the nerves detect that sensation and signal your breasts to produce a variety of hormones that flow into your bloodstream and trigger some important responses.
    • Prolactin, one of these hormones, stimulates your breasts to produce more milk.
    • Oxytocin, another of these hormones, stimulates the ‘let-down’ reflex, which releases the milk your breasts have already produced and stored. (Sometimes other cues also cause oxytocin to be released, such as a baby crying - that’s why some women’s breasts leak when they hear a baby crying.) Anxiety can slow this process down so that’s why it’s important to remain calm and relaxed when you’re breastfeeding or pumping. If you’re anxious, your let-down will still occur, it will just take longer. As I noted above, holding, looking at or thinking about your baby can stimulate your let-down reflex. So, if you can’t be near Bub when you’re expressing, you might find it helpful to think about your baby or look at a photo of Bub.
  2. Your milk can then either be drunk by Bub or collected.
  3. The milk that your breasts release early during a feed or breast pumping session is lower in fat. This milk is good for quenching your baby’s thirst.
  4. As a feed or pumping session continues, the fat content of your milk increases. This milk, also called the ‘hindmilk’, is good for satisfying your baby’s hunger. It’s important that you collect the early milk and the hindmilk when breast pumping so that all your baby’s milk needs are met.

a summary of the text, which describes how your boy produces breast milk: your nipples contain a large number of nerve endings, suction or massage of your nipples signals hormones that flow into your bloodstream, prolactin stimulates milk production, oxytocin stimulates the let-down reflect, foremilk from early in a feed is thinner for Bub’s hydration, milk gets fattier during a feed and the hindmilk at the very end is for nourishing Bub and helping him or her feel content between feeds, early milk + hindmilk = pumping to meet your baby’s needs

The aspects of breast pumping that vary depending on the method you use are detailed below.

How to express milk by hand

Being able to hand-express milk is a useful skill for all breastfeeding and expressing mums to have, especially because hand expressing can help you clear a blocked milk duct if you ever have one. Many experts also recommend that you don’t use a pump until your milk has come in. Here’s how to hand express milk:

  1. Massage your breast. When expressing by hand, you can’t apply suction to your breast. So instead, you start the process by massaging your breasts with the flat of your hands. When doing this, start close to your chest and work out towards each nipple. To avoid soreness, be careful not to rub or pull your skin.
  2. Prepare your nipple and position your hand. When you’re ready, gently roll and stretch your nipple between your thumb and index finger. Then position your hand with those fingers at the edge of your areola (the darker area around your nipple); put your thumb above your nipple and your first finger below it so your hand forms a ‘c’ shape.
  3. Start the pumping action. Once you’re in position, gently press your fingers towards your chest (this moves your fingers towards the back of the milk ducts) and then squeeze your breast, moving your fingers back towards their starting position (this pushes the milk down the ducts towards your nipple). Make sure your skin moves with your fingers — don’t rub your fingers across your skin as that could quickly make your skin sore.
  4. Repeat. Do this pumping action a few times until you start to see drops of milk appearing on your nipple. Rub these first drops into your nipple in order to further stimulate your let-down and help your milk flow better. Once you’ve done that, continue pumping and begin collecting your milk in your chosen vessel.
  5. Reposition your hand. As the flow of your milk reduces to just a few drops, move your fingers onto another area around the edge of your areola so you can gather milk from other ducts. It’s a good idea to switch hands regularly, perhaps every time you need to reposition your hand, so that your hand doesn’t get too tired or sore.
  6. Continue until you’ve collected the milk you need. Depending on your circumstances, you might continue pumping until you can’t extract any more milk from your breast. If you’re going to express from both breasts, you may wish to have a break in between breasts to give your hands a rest, especially if you’re not used to expressing by hand. With practice, many women find they can express both breasts in about half an hour.

You may find it helpful to print out the below illustration to refer to the first few times you hand express. You may also find it useful to watch this video that describes how to express milk by hand.

How to use a manual breast pump

If you want to express breast milk using a manual breast pump, start by assembling the pump according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once you’re all set up, you can then begin your pumping sessions in the same way as you would if you were expressing by hand as you’ll need to stimulate your let-down reflex by hand before the pump can extract any milk (see the instructions for hand expressing above).

Once your milk is flowing well, you can then position the pump. To do this, position the breast cup over your nipple and areola and press it gently but firmly against your breast.

the cup is positioned over the nipple so the areola is contained within the cup

Once it’s in position, you simply squeeze and release the pump handle rhythmically. Your milk should soon begin to flow into the bottle attached to your pump.

If you experience any pain or discomfort, you might need to adjust the suction level, reducing it until expressing becomes comfortable.

Many mothers like to finish expressing by hand as they find it helps them remove extra drops of the rich hindmilk.

How to use an electric breast pump

If you choose to express using an electric pump, start by assembling your pump according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can then position the cup over your nipple and press it gently but firmly against your breast. If you’re using a double breast pump, position both cups.

Once the cup/s is/are in position, follow the manufacturer’s directions for safe use. (If you’ve got a Minbie double, electric breast pump, you should have received a manual with your purchase. If not or you’ve misplaced it, get in touch and we’ll happily provide an electronic copy.) Usually, there’ll be one suction cycle designed to stimulate your let-down reflex and then another cycle that’s designed to express your milk. Make sure you’re using the correct cycle at the right time.

If you experience any pain or discomfort, you might need to adjust the suction level, reducing it until expressing becomes comfortable.

Even when using an electric pump, many mothers like to finish expressing by hand to remove extra drops of the rich hindmilk.

Top tips for saving time when pumping

  • Be organised — even if you only pump at home, having a dedicated pumping bag is a great way of keeping everything organised so you don’t have to waste time finding accessories and supplies
  • Put your pump accessories in the fridge — this may sound strange, but if you’re pumping multiple times a day to produce milk that will be fed to your baby in the very near future, then you can save a massive amount of time by only washing and sterilising the components that come into contact with milk once per day. Once you’ve done this, you can place the components in the fridge in a clean, sterilised container in between each breast pumping session and the residual milk on the components will be kept safe in the same way as your expressed milk is when you store it in the fridge.
  • If you direct-latch breastfeed, you can pump and nurse at the same time (pump from one breast while breastfeeding from the other)
  • Use a double pump
  • Invest in a high-quality hospital-grade pump (they’re faster and more efficient than cheaper pumps and pumping by hand)
  • Pump hands-free while you do other things (a hands-free breast pumping bra is so useful for this)

Breast pumping time saving tips: be organised, put your pump accessories in the fridge, pump and nurse at the same time, use a double pump, pump hands-free with a hands-free breast pumping bra

Breast pump buying guide

Regardless of whether you’re interested in buying a manual or electric breast pump, there are a few characteristics you’ll want to look out for. (And yes you should buy a new pump rather than buying a second-hand one as using a second-hand one can expose you to harmful bacteria. The exception is if you buy or hire a hospital-grade pump that’s designed to be used by more than one mum. If you use one of these, you should purchase your own accessories.) A good pump should be:

  • Safe to use — no pump should risk damaging your nipples or areolas, nor should a pump cause muscle strain
  • Effective — if you find lots of reviews of a specific pump that claim that the pump isn’t actually very good at extracting milk, then that model is unlikely to be worth your while
  • Easy to use — if a pump is too hard to use you’ll just end up looking for another one, switching to expressing by hand or giving up on expressing entirely, so make sure the model you choose has good, easy-to-follow instructions
  • Good value — this doesn’t mean it needs to be the cheapest model that will do the job but the price of the model you choose should make sense in the context of how much you’ll be using it (more on this below) and the quality and features of the pump should make it a worthwhile investment (there’s no point buying the cheapest model if its lack of power makes it next to useless, but at the same time, it doesn’t make much sense to buy a top-of-the-line, full-featured model if you're only expressing enough milk to store for emergencies)
  • Efficient — you want a pump that will quickly extract the maximum amount of milk so you’re not wasting precious time waiting unnecessarily
  • Quiet — if you’re pumping when Bub is asleep, a quiet model is critical and if you’re pumping in public, at work, for example, you’ll feel much more comfortable if you’ve got a quiet pump (trust me, having a loud pump can be really embarrassing if you’re pumping at work!)
  • A closed system — closed systems prevent milk from backing up into the pump parts or tubing (when this happens in an open system it means a lot of extra cleaning or even replacing parts!)

top things to look for in a breast pump: safe to use, a closed system so milk can’t get into the tubing, easy to use, good value, efficient, quiet — exactly what Minbie’s hospital-grade double breast pump is

If you’re interested in buying or hiring an electric breast pump, it’s also a good idea to choose a model that has adjustable suction. If the suction is too high, it won’t extract any extra milk, pumping may be painful and it could cause damage to your breast. Plus, adjustable suction enables you to slowly increase the suction throughout a pumping session as needed.

Also, pay careful attention to the breast cup that comes with each pump, as using a cup that doesn’t fit well can make pumping practically impossible and can even damage your nipples. There are two types of cup available:

  • Rigid, plastic breast cup. If you choose a pump with a plastic breast cup, it’s important that the pump either comes with multiple cup sizes or that additional cups can be purchased separately. This will give you the greatest chance of being able to find a breast cup that matches the size of your nipples and areola when you purchase your pump and later on if the size of your nipples and/or areola changes.
  • Flexible, silicone breast cup. Some pumps come with a one-size-fits-all flexible cup that can stretch and mould to fit any nipple and areola size and shape. These cups will fit the shape of your nipple and areola from the beginning of your breast pumping journey to the end and they’re often more comfortable than rigid, plastic breast cups. Minbie’s double, electric breast pump features a soft, silicone inner flange, which is attached to the outer rim of a harder, plastic shield.

If you’ve got your heart set on an electric breast pump, I highly recommend you choose one that has a battery or has the option of running off mains power or a battery. You don’t want to buy a mains-powered breast pump only to find that you can’t plug it in when you sit down to express in your favourite spot.

If you’re wondering how the Minbie hospital grade double breast pump fits into this, it has all these features and more.

Types of breast pumps

There are four main types of breast pump:

  • manual breast pumps
  • battery-operated breast pumps
  • mains-powered electric pumps (there are budget, mid-range and top-of-the-line options and you can choose between a single or double pump)
  • hospital-grade electric pumps (these can be either single or double pumps)

How to choose the best breast pump for your needs

Choosing the right breast pump for you mostly depends on how often you’ll be pumping and for how long. Here’s a good rule of thumb:

Mums that are exclusively breast pumping or expressing milk multiple times a day for at least a few months: If this is you, I highly recommend you invest in a hospital-grade, double electric breast pump as this is going to provide you with the greatest value for your investment. These pumps are the most expensive option but they’re fast, effective and can drain both breasts at the same time. This kind of pump is able to express the greatest volume of milk and it will really save you time. And trust me, if you’re exclusively or frequently breast pumping, then you’ll want to do everything you can to save precious time throughout your day. Minbie’s breast pump is a double, hospital-grade pump.

Mums that pump regularly for a shorter period of time: If you’re going to pump regularly but only for a couple of months, you’ll probably be best served with a top-of-the-line, mains-powered electric breast pump. These are a step down from a hospital grade pump but they can still pump quickly. A double pump will be more expensive but you may find the time saving worth it. If saving time is your top priority though, then I’d stick with a double hospital-grade pump.

Mums that pump once a day: If you’re only pumping once a day, especially if it’s not going to be for a prolonged period of time, you might prefer a mid-range electric pump. These take longer to extract milk and aren’t as efficient but this often isn’t a problem if you’re only pumping once a day. If you’re planning on pumping once a day for an extended period of time (especially if you’re going to pump for more than 12 months) or you’re planning on pumping with more than one child, then you might find a more expensive pump is worth it.

Mums that pump occasionally: If you only need a pump for emergencies or the occasional separation from your baby then you’ll probably prefer to either purchase a manual pump or stick with hand-pumping. Some mums are tempted to purchase a budget electric pump, but most mums who do so end up getting frustrated by the lack of power offered by such models.

Mums that need an extra-quiet pump: If you need an extra-quiet pump for any reason, go with a manual pump as these are generally the quietest. They can be really tiring and time-consuming though, so if you need something quiet but need to pump regularly, a hospital-grade electric pump is the next-quietest option and is probably preferable because the time-saving benefits will likely outweigh any slight increase in volume.

Mums that need to pump when there’s no access to mains power: If you know you're going to need to regularly express milk when you don’t have access to mains power (perhaps the secluded spot at work doesn’t have a power point or you go camping regularly) then get either a manual pump or a battery-powered electric pump. If you’re using a pump while camping, you’ll definitely want a portable pump.

Mums that regularly pump away from home: If you regularly pump away from home, at work for instance, then make sure whichever pump you choose is portable. Trust me, if you need to lug your pump back and forth from work over a few months, you do not want a big, bulky or heavy model that’s a pain to move.

Also, don’t be afraid to invest in a couple of breast pumps if you need to for different situations. Many mums purchase a manual pump and an electronic pump.

breast pump buying guide decision tree

Breast pumping tips to help you express milk faster, easier, better

What is the best time of day for breast pumping?

The short answer is ‘whenever you need to’. However, most mums find they can express the most milk in the morning (because Bub feeds less at night and prolactin levels are highest between midnight and 4 am so breasts are fullest in the morning).

Choose a comfortable breast cup

The breast cup is the conical breast pumping accessory that fits over your nipple and areola. Make sure the cup that comes with your pump is comfortable or you’ll hate every minute of each pumping session.

How do you know whether the cup will be comfortable? The key is to look for a cup that works in a similar way to the way your baby would latch if you were direct-latch breastfeeding.

When babies latch on and start suckling, they mould and stretch Mum’s nipple and areola with their mouth. That means silicon breast cups are generally more comfortable than rigid plastic cups because they’re flexible and mould to the skin to some extent. (Minbie’s breast pump cups are like this if you’re wondering.)

As an added bonus, the flexibility of silicone breast cups makes it easier to create suction in the right area of the breast when pumping.

If you ever experience a pinching pain when pumping, the discomfort may be caused by your skin sticking to the side of the breast cup and then being pulled when your pump applies suction. Flexible cups reduce the incidence of this because they can move with the suction as well, to some extent. Or a little medical-grade lanolin, a baby-safe balm or some good old olive oil are all safe ways to stop your skin from sticking to the cup be it silicone, plastic or some other material.

Get the right breast cup size

If your pump’s breast cup is the wrong size, it can cause pain and damage during pumping and it can also make it really hard to express milk. So it’s well worth making sure you get the right size (or choose a pump that has a flexible, silicone breast cup).

You’ll also want to check your sizing periodically as your nipple and areola can change size and shape over time.

Commonly asked breast pumping questions

How often should I pump?

It depends on how old your baby is and how much milk he or she is drinking, but as a general guide, aim to either direct-latch breastfeed or express at least every 3-4 hours during the day and every 5-6 hours during the night. You’ll need to express at least once overnight during the first few months to avoid engorged breasts as engorged breasts can be uncomfortable and both difficult to express from and hard to latch on to if Bub is direct-latch breastfeeding some of the time.

If you’re pumping for a newborn, you may need to pump more often than that. As an example, both my babies fed every hour for weeks after birth!

How do I pump to get hindmilk?

In the ‘How breastfeeding and pumping works’ section of this guide I mentioned that the fat content of your breastmilk will vary. Early during a feed or breast pumping session, breastmilk is lower in fat and the fat content increases as a feed progresses. We’re designed to produce milk this way so we can address our baby’s thirst and hunger as needed.

When a direct-latch breastfed baby is thirsty, Bub will latch onto a breast and have a quick drink to quench that thirst. The initial ‘foremilk’ is lower in fat so that Bub doesn’t have to load up on energy-dense fat if he or she isn’t hungry. But when a baby is hungry, Bub will breastfeed for much longer in an effort to get more of that filling fat, and this signals the body to increase the fat content of the milk to match that need. We call the fattier milk right at the end of a feed, ‘hindmilk’.

The fat content of breastmilk also tends to vary throughout the day. In the morning, breastmilk is usually less fatty, and it generally gets fattier later in the day.

Exclusively direct-latch breastfeeding mums often only hear the term hindmilk when someone is concerned that their baby isn’t putting on enough weight. In these circumstances, a mother will often be told to make sure that her baby is getting enough hindmilk before she switches breasts. In truth, a direct-latch breastfed baby is only likely to have trouble getting the right balance of foremilk and hindmilk if Mum is producing too much milk or if she’s feeding Bub on a timed schedule rather than ‘on demand’ whenever Bub needs a feed.

But what happens when you’re expressing breastmilk? Do you have to worry about pumping hindmilk?

In general, if you pump until no more milk is released from your breast, you will collect both foremilk and hindmilk. If your baby is healthy and gaining weight at the expected rate, that’s all you need to do.

Some mums who use a breast pump, like to finish each pumping session by hand expressing as this can extract a little more hindmilk than what a pump can extract. If you’re particularly worried about expressing hindmilk, then you too may find that hand pumping at the end of every breast pumping session is the right choice for you and your baby.

It’s important that you don’t stop pumping when milk is still flowing from your breast. If you do that frequently or every time you express milk, you won’t end up collecting the hindmilk and your baby may struggle to get enough fat. It could also decrease your milk supply as it will be a signal to your body that your baby doesn’t need all the milk you’re producing.

If your baby needs more fat for any reason, you can pump more frequently to increase your milk supply, separate your foremilk and hindmilk and then feed your baby more of the fattier hindmilk. If you are already producing more milk than your baby needs, you may also need to separate out your fore- and hindmilk.

Be sure to check with your baby’s medical team before feeding your baby more or only hindmilk. This is especially important because it’s possible for a baby to gain too much weight and become overweight or obese, which can lead to lots of health problems later in life.

How to separate your foremilk and hindmilk

Here’s how to separate your breastmilk:

  1. Get yourself set up for your pumping session but have a few extra breastmilk storage containers ready. Make sure you can see a clock.
  2. Start breast pumping.
  3. Once your milk starts to flow steadily, check the time.
  4. After two minutes, stop pumping (turn off your pump if you’re using one) and label the milk you’ve collected so far as ‘foremilk’. If you’ve previously established a breast pumping routine, the amount of milk you collect during this step should be about one-third of the amount that you usually collect during a pumping session.
  5. Set up your next breastmilk storage container and start pumping again.
  6. Keep pumping until your milk stops flowing and then for an extra two minutes.
  7. Label the milk you collect during these steps as ‘hindmilk’.

If you’re direct-latch breastfeeding some of the time, you can also pump at the end of a breastfeed and collect any milk that Bub hasn’t drunk. Label this milk as hindmilk and you can feed it to Bub when he or she is extra hungry.

My baby feeds every 1-2 hours. When should I pump so that I don’t affect my baby’s feeds but I still express enough milk to store?

Both my children fed every 1-2 hours during the day for a long time (sometimes even more frequently than that). And at some points, they fed every 1-2 hours at night too (in fact my nearly one-year-old just went through another phase of feeding every 1-2 hours at night and has only just switched back to feeding every 3-4 hours). So I completely understand your concern.

Thankfully, it’s absolutely possible to express breastmilk in between frequent feeds in order to store milk for another time.

While many breastfeeding and pumping mums will wait at least an hour after a breastfeed for their breasts to refill before they start a pumping session, you won’t have that luxury. Instead, you’ve got a couple of options:

  1. If Bub doesn’t completely drain your breasts, you can pump immediately after your baby finishes direct-latch breastfeeding. The milk you collect will be fattier hindmilk, so even though it won’t seem like much milk, it’ll still help fill Bub up when you feed it to him or her.
  2. Alternatively, you can pump so that you finish your pumping session about halfway between your baby’s breastfeeds (at which point your breasts will have begun to refill). Your breasts may not have completely filled, but they’ll have produced a decent amount of milk. And then they’ll have time to produce a bit more by the time Bub is ready to direct-latch breastfeed again.

    So if your baby reliably feeds every two hours, you can probably start pumping about 40 mins after your baby finishes breastfeeding.

    If Bub’s feeds vary unpredictably, start pumping about 15 minutes after Bub finishes a breastfeed so you don’t accidentally express all your milk right before Bub gets thirsty or hungry. If Bub’s ready for a feed within the hour, you might need to switch breasts an extra time during that feed — at least until your body adjusts to pumping in between feeds.

If you’re expressing milk for short-term storage (so someone else can feed your baby during the night or the next day), and Bub is going to drink it instead of a direct-latch feed, pumping this way shouldn’t increase your milk supply overall though it will affect your milk production pattern.

If, however, you’re pumping to build up a stock of breastmilk or so you’ve got extra breastmilk to give as top-up feeds, both methods will result in you producing an increased amount of breastmilk. As such, when this routine is no longer necessary, if you stop pumping or direct-latch feeding abruptly, you may find your breasts get a little sore until your body adjusts to your baby’s reduced demand for milk.

To combat this, don’t stop pumping/breastfeeding all at once. Instead, either slowly reduce the length of your pumping sessions over a few days so your supply decreases gradually. Or stop breastfeeding and temporarily increase the number of pumping sessions to compensate. Then gradually reduce the number and length of pumping sessions until you’re only expressing the amount of milk you need.

How can I produce more milk?

So many mums struggle to build and maintain the right supply for their baby. If you’re finding your milk supply isn’t matching your baby's appetite and Bub isn’t gaining weight at the recommended rate, here are some things that may help:

  • Express regularly. The more often you pump, the more milk your body will produce. If you’re pumping every four hours (as an example) and your baby needs more milk, try pumping every three hours. Just make sure you allow time for your body to adjust to the new routine before you pump even more frequently or you might find yourself pumping every hour when you don’t need to.
  • Express at least once between midnight and 4 am as your prolactin levels will be highest during that period and expressing when prolactin is highest will help you build a better milk supply.
  • Pump first thing in the morning. Because your prolactin levels are highest between midnight and 4 am, you’ll usually have the most milk first thing in the morning. (Not expressing or breastfeeding as much overnight also contributes to that too.) By pumping first thing in the morning, you’ll be able to collect a good volume of milk and you’ll empty your breasts early in the day so they can start filling up sooner.
  • Look after yourself. Drink plenty of water and eat healthy food as and when you need to eat (don’t put off eating until you’re starving). Making milk is energy intensive so make sure your body has the fuel it needs to do the job well.
  • Lean forward when pumping. This isn’t going to make you produce more milk but leaning forward while pumping can allow gravity to give your pumping sessions a helping hand so you can extract more of the milk you do produce. 

Breast pumping supplies checklist

If you’re a breast pumping mum, you’ll need the following essentials (in addition to your pump and its accessories if you’re using one):

  • breastfeeding bras or hands-free breast pumping bras (the latter are really great because you can get other things done while you’re using an electric pump)
  • milk collection bags and bottles — I recommend bottles if you’re bottle feeding because then you don’t have to spend time transferring stored milk into your baby’s feeding bottle; but if you’re storing a lot of milk, you may prefer bags because they save freezer space (note that the thinner material used in freezer bags allows milk to cool and warm more quickly and this can help preserve breast milk nutrients)
  • Labels and a pen or pencil — you should always label milk storage containers with both the date (so you know how long you can safely store it) and the time of day when it was expressed (the milk you express at night contains sleep-inducing nucleotides and more melatonin, which helps your baby sleep and learn to sleep longer at night than during the day, so it’s a good idea to match milk you expressed at night with night feeds and milk you expressed during the day with day feeds)
  • a good supply of quality, anti-colic, anti-reflux feeding bottles and teats that match your baby’s feeding rate
  • bottle lids — get plenty of spares because there’s nothing worse than expressing a bunch of milk and then not being able to either store it with a lid or transport it without spilling it
  • cleaning supplies — I recommend a natural bottle and teat cleaning solution
  • sterilisation supplies — perhaps an electronic steriliser or sterilisation solution
  • an insulated cooler bag — if you ever need to transport your milk you’ll need a bag to keep it cool so it stays safe for your baby
  • a photo of your baby — this is great for stimulating your letdown if you can’t be near your baby when pumping
  • a water bottle and possibly snacks — you need to stay hydrated when breast pumping and your pumping sessions may be the only times you stop and have an opportunity to snack!
  • entertainment — breast pumping takes a lot of time if you’re doing it regularly, so there’s no point being bored
  • hand sanitiser — it’s great to have some of this on hand in case you need to pump and there’s no soap to wash your hands with (or you sneeze halfway through a session)
  • breast pads — I recommend you always have a couple on hand just in case of leakage
  • nipple cream — at the risk of packing for every conceivable outcome, I also recommend keeping a small tube (or even a sample sachet) of nipple cream in your pumping bag just in case you develop any soreness (next month marks 2.5 years of non-stop breastfeeding and I had to dig out the nipple cream last week because my youngest bit me which caused breastfeeding and pumping to hurt for days afterwards — the cream really helped!)

Getting breast pumping support

If you need additional help to enable you to successfully and consistently express your breast milk, there are a number of places you can turn to for help:

  • the midwives from the hospital where you gave birth (if you gave birth in a hospital)
  • a maternal and child health nurse
  • a lactation consultant - this is a professional who specialises in helping mothers with breastfeeding
  • your GP or obstetrician
  • a breastfeeding or lactation association in your area if there is one
  • the Australian Breastfeeding Association
  • chat with our team

Additional reading

I really hope you found this post useful (if you’re still unsure about anything, let me know in the comments). But even if you did, you’ll probably be looking for other information at some point as well. So to help you on your quest for such knowledge, I’ve combined a list of other resources that you might find useful:

Bottle feeding

If you’re reading this guide, then you’ll almost certainly need to know about bottle feeding, and so the following resources on our blog may be of interest:

Mix-feeding

If you’re ‘mix-feeding’ your baby (feeding Bub formula and breast milk) or planning to mix-feed Bub, you might be interested in our blog post on how to safely prepare baby formula.

Baby health

Many families also find the following health-related articles useful:

Minbie’s awesome new hospital-grade, double breast pump

If you’re curious about Minbie’s new breast pump, check out this video of new mum, Rebecca, talking about her experiences with the new pump.

Minbie Hospital Grade Double Breast Pump from Minbie