How Breast Pumps Work | Beginner’s Guide For New Moms

So you’re considering using a breast pump as an aid to make sure that your baby gets the needed milk supply and you might be wondering how breast pumps work.

The first four months are known to be a crucial time for the baby and more mothers, are considering the use of breast pumps to increase milk supply.

Using breast pumps also allows mothers to store milk supply and even share it with another mom who has trouble with milk supply.

As a novice when it comes to breast pumps it can get confusing at first but with the right guide, breast pumping and knowing how breast pumps work will become second nature in no time.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at all the essential things that you have to learn as a first-time user of breast pumps so you fully understand how breast pumps work.


Different Types of Breast Pump

Different Types of Breast Pump

There are different types of breast pumps that you can choose from. The following is a list of the different types of breast pumps to suit different preferences of moms:

Battery Operated Breast Pump

The battery-operated breast pump as the name suggests has a small motor that is powered by a battery. The small motor operates the pump and is usually more portable than the electric breast pump.

A battery-operated breast pump usually has fewer features than an electric breast pump. One example feature is the suction strength adjustment that is present in an electric pump but not a battery-operated one.

A battery-operated breast pump is great to bring to places where you don’t have access to an electric outlet.

Manual Breast Pump

The manual breast pump is the most basic type of breast pump. This is usually a small handheld device that has a silicone cup that covers the nipple and areola.

To start pumping, you will have to press the manual pump repeatedly to create suction. The number of times you have to press the manual pump will depend on how fast you want to see results.

One advantage of using a manual breast pump is that it can be used anywhere and anytime. The only downside is that it can be quite tiring to press the manual pump for an extended period.

Electric Breast Pump

The electric breast pump is similar to the battery-operated breast pump but instead, it is powered by an electric outlet. The electric breast pump is usually bigger and has more features than the battery-operated breast pump.

One advantage of using an electric breast pump is that it can be left on its own to do its job while you take a break. It also usually has different settings for suction strength and speed so you can adjust it according to your preference.

Hospital Grade Breast Pump

The hospital-grade breast pump is the most powerful of all the pumps and is used in hospitals for mothers who are having trouble feeding their babies because of low milk supply.

This breast pump also has a bacterial filter and can be rented by different moms. Rent appears to be a better option for mothers as hospital-grade breast pumps are expensive.


Breast Pump Designs

Picture of Open and Closed systems on Break Pumps

Currently, there are two breast pump designs as follows:

Closed System Design

A closed system design is usually used by hospital-grade breast pumps where the milk cannot get inside the motor of the pump and prevent bacterial build-up.

Breast pumps with closed system designs can be used by multi-users without the fear of contamination as the motor has no contact with breastmilk.

Mothers also have to purchase new breast pump kits like tubing and breast shields which add to safe and sanitized use.

Nowadays there are new personal-used pumps with filters and barriers to stop breastmilk from being in contact with motor and tubing. You might want to search for those types if you’re looking to have breast pumps for long-term use.

Open System Design

An open system design for a breast pump is when there is no barrier between the milk and the motor of the pump.

Open system designs are usually used for single-user breast pumps as it is more difficult to clean.

However, some manufacturers have created easy-to-clean open system breast pumps that are safe for multi-users like hospital-grade breast pumps.

Read about the full differences here.


Parts of Breast Pumps

Parts of Breast Pumps

Now that you are familiar with the types and designs of breast pumps, let’s now take a look at the different parts of a breast pump.

A breast pump has the following parts:

  • Breast Shields or Flanges – the cone-shaped piece that is included on a breast pump kit accessories
  • Valves and Membranes – these are the parts that connect to the breast shields and with holes where the milk passes through
  • Tubing- clear plastic tubing that is connected to the breast shields
  • Milk Collection Bottle – this connects to the breast shields where the milk gets collected
  • Breast Pump – this performs the suction and gentle vacuum to draw out the milk from the breasts
  • Connectors – parts specific to the Medela pumping accessories. With separate connectors, cleaning your pump parts become easier.
  • Backflow Protectors – parts specific to Spectra accessories that prevent the milk from backing into the motor or tubing.

Setting up Your New Breast Pump

Breast pump control panel by Motif

You might get intimidated by the tubing’s and parts but you got this. We’re here to help you out in setting up your new breast pump with the following easy steps:

  1. Once you got that breast pump, you can set it up even if your baby’s not due yet. Setting it up early can reduce your stress after delivery.
  2. First, check the manual where you have the instructions. Store the manual in a place where you can easily pull it out in case you forgot a step. If you’re more of a visual person, you can also check out YouTube videos online.
  3. Sterilize your breast pump. Check if your breast pump is dishwasher safe to avoid the possible warping of parts. Ways to sterilize your breast pump include boiling the parts for 5 minutes or using steam clean bags with a microwave oven.
  4. Once your breast pump has been sterilized, make sure to air-dry the parts. Tubing’s for a closed-system pump do not require to be cleaned but open-system breast pumps do.
  5. It is not recommended to try your pump out before your baby is born but you can try the flanges and see if they fit well.

How to Use a Breast Pump

Breast pumps in use

Checking the manual is recommended or you to go back to check how to use the specific breast pump that you bought But, here are the general steps on how to use a breast pump:

  1. Find a place without distractions.
  2. Make sure you are relaxed. Ensure your back, shoulders, and arms should have enough support.
  3. Massage your breast before pumping as this can enhance milk flow. Applying a warm compress can also help with better milk flow.
  4. Place the flanges on your nipple and make sure they fit nicely.
  5. Turn the electric or battery-operated pump on. (If you have a manual breast pump, do the required squeezing motion)
  6. There are recommended volume of milk to pump depending on your child’s age as follows:
    1. 5-7 days of age – Up to 2oz (60ml).
    2. 1-3 weeks of age- Up to 3oz (90ml).
    3. 4-6 weeks of age- Up to 5oz (150ml).
  7. Have a pumping schedule each day and follow the schedule.
    1. Repeat daily. If you have trouble producing enough milk, try using baby-friendly protein powders to help your body out.

Don’t get frustrated when the result of your first breast pumping session is not as productive as you expected. Practicing and regular pumping will ultimately have your body adjust and be more comfortable for the next sessions.


Cleaning Breast Pump Parts

Cleaning of baby milk bottle

Cleaning your breast pump parts should be done every after pumping session. The breast pump manual should have a guide on how you can clean the parts. But generally, you can wash the parts with soap and warm water and air dry them afterward.

If you plan to use a dishwasher to clean the parts, place the small parts into a close-top basket to prevent them from ending up in the dishwasher filter. Make sure to wash your hands before you get the washed items from the dishwasher.


Replacing Breast Pump Parts

Various parts to a breast pump and milk bottles

The recommended replacement of breast pump parts is after 90 days but it could be earlier than that depending on the condition of your breast pump.

Make sure to check the parts for possible buildup residue, especially in the tubing’s. If your pump starts to perform poorly, check the elasticity of the valves.

Some parts may wear out earlier than the others so you can stock up on some parts that easily wear out.


Frequently Asked Questions Relating to Breast Pumps

How do you know if you need a breast pump?

There are several possible reasons why you would need a breast pump but the most common reasons are If your baby has latching issues if you will be away for work but still want to provide breast milk for your babies, or if you just want to build ample milk supply for your baby.

How often do you need a breast pump?

The recommended number of breast pumping sessions if you’re just starting on is 8-10 times a day.

Does using a breast pump hurt?

It can hurt for about 10-15 seconds when you start pumping but after that, your body should start to get used to it. In cases where you experience pain even after several sessions, you might need to adjust the speed and suction settings if you’re using an electric pump, change positions or change your flange size.

Which breast pump is the best?

There is no best breast pump. The choice depends on which type or design of breast pump is much preferable to you.

Can you share breast pumps?

Sharing of manual, battery-operated, or electric pumps is not advisable as it could cause contamination. Hospital-grade breast pumps on the other hand can be shared because of their closed system and separate accessories that users should purchase for use.

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