Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Breast pumps

3-minute read

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.

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

Last reviewed: September 2019

Back To Top

Need more information?

Expressing and storing breastmilk | Australian Breastfeeding Association

Which breast pump is best for you?

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Breastfeeding - expressing breastmilk - Better Health Channel

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Expressing breastmilk & storing breastmilk | Raising Children Network

You can express breastmilk by hand, or with a manual or an electric pump. Store expressed breastmilk in special bags or containers in the fridge or freezer.

Read more on website

Which breast pump is best for you? | Australian Breastfeeding Association

Many breastfeeding mothers will need to express their breastmilk at some time. Whatever your reason for expressing, it can be confusing working out the best way to express and what breast pump is best to use (if any). This article looks at the different types of breast pumps and which ones are suitable for different types of expressing.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Expressing and storing breast milk

This page includes information about expressing, storing, cleaning equipment, transporting and preparing expressed breastmilk for your baby.

Read more on WA Health website

Using expressed breastmilk in childcare settings | Australian Breastfeeding Association

Providing a mother’s expressed breastmilk to her child in early childhood education and care services supports mother and child to continue.  While away from their child, mothers need to express breastmilk at similar intervals than they would normally breastfeed. Bottles of expressed breastmilk need to be carefully prepared, stored and heated.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Breastfeeding your baby - Maternal, child and family health

This booklet provides practical advice on common questions and concerns about breastfeeding including why, how long, what to expect, overcoming problems, expressing breastmilk and returning to work.

Read more on NSW Health website

Expressing and storing breastmilk | Australian Breastfeeding Association

For most mothers the easiest and most efficient way to feed your baby breastmilk is usually at the breast, but there may be occasions when this is not possible and you need to express your milk. Expressing, storing and feeding expressed breastmilk can be a totally new skill to learn so here are the basic tips you will need.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Hand expressing | Australian Breastfeeding Association

 Hand expressing video - Australian Breastfeeding AssociationHand expression of breastmilk – Stanford School of Medicine

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Inverted and flat nipples | Australian Breastfeeding Association

Nipples vary in shape, size and presentation from woman to woman and, for some women, left to right. Some nipples protrude from the level of the areola (see image below right). Flat nipples are level with the areola. Inverted nipples (see imagine below left) do not protrude from the level of the areola but are retracted inwards instead. Some severely-inverted nipples are fully stuck inwards while others can be drawn out with suction, such as with a breast pump or syringe.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.