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Breast pumps

9-minute read

Key facts

  • Breast milk can be expressed by hand or by using a pump.
  • You can use a manual or an electric pump.
  • If you need to pump regularly an electric pump is usually best.
  • Breast pumps are available for hire or purchase.
  • Follow the instructions that come with your pump.

What is a breast pump?

A breast pump is a device that helps extract milk from your breasts. The devices can either be manual (a hand pump) or electric.

There are 3 methods of expressing breast milk:

  1. hand expressing
  2. hand pump
  3. electric pump

All breast pumps have a suction cup that fits over your nipple, a funnel and a collection bottle. The pump copies the sucking action of your baby to make your milk start flowing.

Why might I need a breast pump?

If you are breastfeeding you might need to express milk with a breast pump because:

  • you are having short term problems with breastfeeding, such as mastitis
  • your baby is ill or premature and unable to suck effectively at your breast
  • you are not with your baby for every feed, perhaps you are going back to work or someone else is caring for your baby for a while
  • your breasts feel uncomfortably full
  • you want to mix breast milk with your baby’s first solid foods
  • you want to express milk and store it in the freezer for emergencies
  • you are trying to increase your breast milk supply

If you have more than one baby, talk to the doctor or lactation consultant about how to use a breast pump to increase your supply of breastmilk.

If you’re planning to go back to work, you can start pumping beforehand and store the milk in the freezer for up to 6 months.

You might only need to express for a few weeks, or you might need to pump long-term. There are different breast pumps designed for different levels of usage.

What types of breast pump are available?

There are several different types of breast pump:

  • manual: you repeatedly squeeze a handle to pump out the milk.
  • electric: this is faster and requires less work than a manual pump.
  • hospital grade: if you need to pump more than once a day or for longer than 4 weeks you may want to hire a hospital grade pump. A hospital grade pump has 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. You will need to buy your own milk collection kit.
  • wearable pumps: some new pumps are designed to be worn inside your bra. These small pumps allow you to move about freely. They may not remove the milk as well as other pumps and so they are best used once you have a good milk supply.
Illustration of the four main types of breast pumps available; a manual breast pump, an electric breast pump, a hospital grade breast pump and wearable breast pumps.
The different types of breast pumps available, each are designed for different levels of usage.

How do I choose the right breast pump?

Think about how often you will need to express breast milk for your baby, and how long you will need to use a pump. You can ask a midwife, lactation consultant, early childhood nurse or breastfeeding counsellor for advice.

Manual pumps are suitable for infrequent use (once a day or less) or short-term use (less than 4 weeks). They are smaller and more discreet than an electric pump. A hand pump is portable and quite inexpensive to buy.

If you are planning to use the pump more frequently or for longer, it might be best to buy or hire an electric breast pump. For example, if all your baby’s feeds will be expressed breast milk. Some electric pumps allow you to pump from both breasts at once. Electric pumps can be bulky. They make more noise than a manual pump.

You might start off with a manual pump and change to an electric pump if you find you use it a lot. Whichever you decide on, choose the highest quality pump you can afford.

Breast shields

Breast pumps come with different size breast shields. It’s important to get a shield that is the right size for you.

If it’s too small, your nipple will rub against the sides. If it’s too big, your areola will be pulled into the funnel, causing soreness and affecting your milk flow.

The shield is the right size if your nipple fits into the funnel easily and comfortably while pumping. Breast shield sizes range from small (21mm) to XXL (36mm).

Where can I find a breast pump?

Manual pumps and personal electric pumps are available to buy from pharmacies and baby supply stores.

Hospital grade electric breast pumps can be hired from some pharmacies or from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

How do I use a breast pump?

Getting ready

  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions on assembling, using and cleaning your breast pump.
  • Have a trial run and practise using the pump so you can get comfortable with it before you need it.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water and dry them well each time.
  • Find a comfortable private place and grab a glass of water.

Running the pump

  • Gently massage your breast towards the centre before placing the cup or shield over your nipple.
  • Make sure there is good contact between the cup and your breast.
  • Relax and start the pump.
  • With a manual pump use a steady rhythm.
  • With an electric pump start on a low suction and then increase as you feel comfortable.
  • Pump until your breast is softer or your milk flow stops. This might take 10-15 minutes.

Repeat these steps for your other breast.

Seal and label the container of expressed breastmilk.

If expressing is painful ask your health professional for advice. You could try expressing one breast while your baby is feeding on the other.

How long does it take to use a breast pump?

If your baby is feeding well, they will be good at getting all the milk from your breasts. Expressing with a hand pump may take a little longer than breastfeeding your baby.

You also need to allow time to get the pump ready and for cleaning your equipment afterwards.

What can I do to get more milk when using a breast pump?

If you are not able to pump much breast milk consider these suggestions:

  • try some warmth on your breast
  • massage your breast
  • check that your pump and collection kit is put together correctly and is not wearing out or leaking
  • move up to a stronger suction as you get comfortable
  • change between breasts and back again during a pumping session
  • increase how often you pump

Speak to your local child and family nurse or doctor about ways to support breast milk production. There are also medicines that your doctor can give you to support breast milk production.

How do I store the expressed milk?

Expressed breast milk can be stored in the fridge or freezer in clean glass or plastic containers, including sealable plastic bags.

Learn more about how to store express breast milk.

Resources and support

Find out more about choosing a breast pump on the Australian Breastfeeding Association website.

If you are having trouble with breastfeeding or have questions talk to:

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2023

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