Getting Started with Pumping

The idea of pumping can be daunting to many people mostly because attaching a machine to your body doesn’t always feel natural or comfortable at first. I talk to many families who have often tried to pump with very little guidance or idea of how a pump should fit, feel, and work. So here is my list of things to do if or when you decide you want to start pumping.

Read the directions. I know, I know, reading directions when we get a new device always seems like a good idea, but we don’t always do it. With breast pumps, trial and error can come at a costly price to your body, so it is important to know what buttons do what, how to attach the pump correctly, and how to clean and operate it properly.

Yellow illustration of breast anatomy showing how to measure nipple size
Image Credit: Medela

Make sure you have the right flange size. The flange is the part of the pump that cups your breast. Most people automatically use what comes with their pump, but if your breast and or nipple is too large or small for the flange, it could make pumping difficult and even painful. You want to make sure your nipple has enough space, but not too much inside the flange. Measuring your nipple diameter, and then looking up which size correlates to your nipple size can get you the best fit.

Illustration of circles showing what size nipple goes with what size flange number
Image Credit: Medela

Relax. Having a relaxed mind and body while pumping will help you get more milk out of your session so if you can, get into a comfortable position, distract yourself with a book, magazine, TV show, or snack, and let the milk flow.

Use your hands. Using your hands before, during, and after pumping is a great way to be sure you are removing all the milk during every pumping session. Use reverse pressure to start and then switch to gentle massage throughout your session to feel around your chest for any fuller spots. This will help increase your supply as you add more pumping sessions.

Start with the small bottles. With pumping, looks can be deceiving when it comes to bottle size and whether you think you are pumping enough milk. I usually tell clients to start with the smallest bottle size and work their way up to a larger bottle as your body produces more milk. This will help keep you motivated and see the progress you are making without getting discouraged.

Check the settings. Most pumps have a “letdown” phase that is more pulsating with shorter, faster sucking to mimic your baby’s initial sucking at your chest to stimulate your letdown reflex. After this phase, the pump will usually go automatically into the regular settings for your pump. It’s important to start with lower suction and then increase slowly until the milk is flowing freely. Always use the amount of suction that feels comfortable and doesn’t hurt. And if you’re wondering, no, increasing suction does not mean more milk!

Keep your baby close. If you can, hold your baby either at the beginning of your pumping sessions or just do more babywearing throughout the day while you’re increasing pumping sessions. This will help your body correlate pumping with feeding your baby. If you are away from your baby throughout the day or during pumping sessions, having photos or special objects that remind you of your little one can also help initiate your letdown reflex.

Get Support. Just because you are pumping doesn’t mean you are not a lactating parent who deserves to receive the same amount of support. Lactation Consultants are there to answer specific questions and help you come up with the best pumping plan for you!

Disclaimer: Although I am a lactation consultant by profession, I am not your lactation consultant. This article is for informational and educational purposes only, does not constitute healthcare advice and does not establish any kind of client relationship with me. I am not liable or responsible for any damages resulting from or related to your use of this information. Please consult your healthcare provider before attempting to use any of this information.