A Beginner's Guide to Breast Pumps

A Beginner's Guide to Breast Pumps

The transition into parenthood is both exciting and a little terrifying. The preparation, planning, and shopping alone can cause any well-organized person to feel like they’re in a chaotic whirlwind. While you might know what you need, finding the right brand or product specifications is overwhelming, difficult, and subjective—especially when it comes to breast pumps. There are hundreds of different types of breast pumps on the market. To make sure that you understand how to find the best option for you, we’ve put together a beginner’s guide to breast pumps.

Different Parts of a Breast Pump

Before you do any shopping, take some time to familiarize yourself with the different parts of a breast pump. This gives you a stronger understanding when comparing models and learning pros and cons of different brands. The main parts of a breast pump include the following:

The Breast Pump

The pump itself is what will create the suction to remove milk from the breast. In electric breast pumps, this is controlled by a motor and is accompanied by different parts such as dials or buttons and battery packs. In manual pumps, it’s manipulated by a level squeezed with your hand, but the underlying mechanisms are the same. The breast pump works to create a gentle vacuum that mimics the suckling of a nursing baby.

Breast Shields (Flanges)

Flanges are some of the most important parts of your breast pump. They are the shields that you place over your nipple and need to be the correct size to allow for efficient, comfortable pumping. Flanges help to pull your nipple into the vacuum of the breast pump. Make sure that you measure to find the right fit before using your flanges to avoid problems when pumping. Flanges are measured in millimeters based on your nipple diameter. Get a few different sizes of flanges so that you can compare comfort levels and flow.   

Valves and Membranes

The valves on your breast pump are what connect to the flanges. Valves are equipped with holes so that the milk can pass through them into the bottle. Membranes are small, circular pieces that fit on the valves. They open and close with the suction of the pump. There are different kinds of valves and membranes depending on the type of breast pump that you use. If you’re having problems with the suction, double check your valves and membranes to make sure that they are tightly secure and have a strong fit. Valves and membranes will need to be replaced regularly depending on your pumping frequency.


The tubing on your breast pump is just as it sounds. These tubes connect essential pieces of your breast pump together so that it does its job. The one thing that should be noted about tubing is the importance of keeping it dry. When the inside of the tubing is wet, it can lead to mold and mildew growth, which is dangerous if it gets into your milk supply. Make sure that your tubes and cleaned and dried completely before storing your breast pump.

Milk Collection Bottles

The milk collection bottles are the connected devices that collect your milk after it’s been expelled. There are different types of milk collection bottles that you can use, but many pumps are only compatible with certain ones. Make sure you read the instructions on your breast pump to ensure that you’re using the correct milk collection bottles. While some pumps come with them, others do not.

Types of Breast Pumps

Once you familiarize yourself with the different parts of a breast pump, it’s time to look at all of the types of breast pumps available. When choosing a breast pump, make sure to find something that works for your lifestyle and makes your life easier, not more difficult.

Hand Expressing

Hand expressing is using your own two hands as a breast pump. It’s the most basic type of expressing aside from nursing itself. Hand expressing can be surprisingly effective, especially if you’re suffering from engorgement or blocked ducts. However, proper technique for hand expressing can be difficult and tiresome. To improve the effectiveness of breast pumping, other methods have been developed.

Manual Breast Pumps

Manual breast pumps are manipulated using your hands. You need to squeeze a part of the breast pump (usually a lever) to stimulate suction and expel milk from your breast. Some women prefer manual breast pumps because there’s a higher level of personal control, but they are more work than electric options.

Electric Breast Pumps

Electric breast pumps have a motor that provides stimulation to help expel milk from your breasts. There are different options for both hands-on and hands-free pumps and can help build a milk supply quickly. Electric breast pumps come as both single and double pumps.

Hospital Grade Electric Breast Pumps

Hospital grade electric breast pumps are the most intense breast pumps on the market. They often cannot be purchased with the same ease as regular breast pump and may require help from your doctor. Hospital grade pumps are some of the most effective pumps on the market and can help you establish a strong milk supply.

Among the different types of breast pumps, there are also many leading brands and breast pump suppliers. Take your time in choosing your breast pump

The Importance of Breast Milk for Development

Towards the end of your pregnancy and the first week of your baby’s life, your body will produce a thick, rich substance called colostrum. Colostrum is filled with essential nutrients and antibodies that help your baby undergo a healthy development. If, for whatever reason, your baby cannot nurse during the first few weeks, pump the colostrum and bottle feed your newborn. It helps to build immunity and stimulate growth, but eventually will run out as your body’s milk supply begins to take over. Your milk supply will develop and stabilize based on your baby’s needs.

When to Start Pumping

While it’s recommended to get your breast pump and familiarize yourself without it before your delivery date, it’s not a good idea to start pumping early in your pregnancy. Since breast pumping can actually send you into labor, you should avoid pumping until at least your 37th week of pregnancy. If you’re overdue, your doctor may recommend pumping to help induce labor.

Many women wait until they’ve given birth to use their breast pump. You can start pumping as soon as you’ve delivered your baby, but many doctors recommend strictly nursing your newborns during the first week or so. This gives you an opportunity to make sure that your baby’s latch is strong, deliver the colostrum, and benefit from skin-to-skin bonding. If you have trouble nursing, talk to your doctor about working with a lactation consultant to help.  

When you do start pumping, make sure that you’re properly washing and sanitizing your pump between sessions to avoid dangerous germs from accumulating and getting into your milk supply. To learn more about how to clean your breast pump, click here.

Manipulating the Settings on Your Breast Pump

Don’t expect to be perfect at pumping on your first try. It takes some time to acclimate to your breast pump. If you’re feeling frustrated due to a slow milk flow, try playing with the settings to help stimulate let-down more efficiently.

First, make sure that you read all of the instructions on your breast pump. Every pump is different and may have unique settings that can help improve the efficiency of your pumping. Before each session, prepare your breasts by giving yourself a gentle massage. Using your knuckles, roll your breasts from the outer area gently towards your nipples. Repeat this motion circularly around your breast and try to relax. Stress and anxiety can lead to difficulty expressing milk and weaken your let down.

If your pump has advanced settings, you should be able to vary the speed and intensity of the suction. This is helpful as it can stimulate the way your baby would nurse, thus creating a natural response in your body. Some pumps are programable, allowing you to set the changing speeds, sit back, and relax. Other pumps require you to manually change the speed.

Remember, a stronger suction does not necessarily mean that you’re going to express more milk. In fact, if your settings are too strong, you will irritate the breasts, which can lead to a painful rash, soreness, redness, or irritation. Breast pumping shouldn’t hurt or cause you to feel pain throughout the day. Avoid common pumping mistakes by doing some research in advanced.  

Make sure that you take your time when choosing your breast pump and remember that The Affordable Care Act requires your insurance provider to cover breast pumps, breastfeeding support, and any other supplies that you may need. Byram Healthcare is here to help you find the perfect breast pump through your insurance coverage.