Breast milk can either be expressed by hand or by using a pump. There are many different breast pumps available to buy or hire. The one you choose will depend on how you plan to use it.
Why you might need a breast pump
You might need to express milk when you are away from your baby (for example, if your baby is ill or premature), or because you are going back to work. You might also express milk when your breasts feel uncomfortably full, or to mix with your baby’s first solid foods. Many women express milk and store it in the freezer for emergencies.
Some women only need to express for a little while; others plan to do so long term. There are different breast pumps designed for different levels of usage.
If your baby cannot breastfeed from birth (for example, because they are premature or have special needs), you should start pumping as soon as you are able. If you have more than one baby, talk to the paediatrician or lactation consultant about building up your supply with a breast pump.
If you’re planning to go back to work, you can start pumping earlier and store the milk in the freezer.
Types of breast pumps
Breast pumps consist of a suction cup that fits over your nipple, a funnel and a collection bottle. The pump mimics the sucking action of your baby to stimulate your milk to start flowing. It extracts the milk and collects it in the bottle.
There are three different types of breast pump:
- Manual: You repeatedly squeeze a handle to extract the milk.
- Electric: The machine pumps automatically.
- Hospital grade: There is a barrier between the milk collection kit and the pump mechanism so the milk doesn’t come into contact with the air or any germs. This ‘closed system’ pump may be shared by different women.
Manual pumps are suitable for infrequent use (less than once a day) or short-term use (less than 4 weeks). They are also more discreet.
If you are planning to use the pump more frequently or longer term, it might be best to consider buying or hiring an electric breast pump. Electric pumps work faster and require less work, and you can pump both breasts at once.
Many women start off by using a manual pump and progress to an electric pump with their second child. Whichever you decide on, choose the highest quality pump you can afford.
Breast pumps come with different size breast shields. It is important to choose a shield that is the right size for you. If it’s too small, the nipple will rub against the sides. If it’s too big, the areola will be pulled into the funnel, causing soreness and affecting the milk flow. The shield is the right size if your nipple fits into the funnel easily and comfortably while pumping.
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on assembling and cleaning your breast pump. All breast pumps need to be sterilised after use.
How to find a breast pump
You can buy or hire a breast pump. If you hire one, you still need to buy your own milk collection kit (the parts of the pump that come into contact with the milk, like the breast shield and collection bottle) to avoid contamination.
Using a second-hand breast pump is not recommended.
Other ways to express milk
It is also possible to express milk by hand, or to combine hand expressing and pumping. This can increase your milk production.
Read more about expressing and storing breast milk here.
Where to go for advice
If you are having trouble or have questions, talk to a lactation consultant, maternal child health nurse or the Australian Breastfeeding Association on 1800 686 268. Or you can call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436.
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Last reviewed: September 2020