How to Pump Effectively

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated November 4, 2014.

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How to pump effectively and efficiently is extremely important so you spend the least amount of time behind a pump as possible.  If you are returning to work or have other children, your time is limited!  Learn what steps to take to maximize output in minimal time.

How frequently you express depends on how much milk you require.  If your supply is established and you are returning to work, you will need to pump to make up for the times your baby eats while you are away.  Learning how pump effectively is an essential time saver.  If you are jut starting pumping and trying to build your supply, make sure to read about building your supply pumping.

Not only is it important to empty your breasts when you pump, but how you do this is also critical.  Effective pumping is key.  One study found that a good quality double electric breast pump was able to remove 99% of milk in the breasts within the first five minutes of pumping for most mothers. 1  Not only is a double electric pump going to increase output, but choosing one that has intermittent suction of 50-80 cycles per minute and an adjustable vacuum ranging from 50-250 mm Hg is important.  Also, make sure the vacuum is comfortable.  A strong vacuum that causes pain is not helpful to milk expression!  However, research also shows that using breast compressions while pumping will increase milk output.2  This is important to note since some moms notice a drop in their supply when they pump (versus nursing at the breast).

Breast compressions can easily be done while pumping.  Either use a hands-free pump (you could even cut small holes in a nursing bra to allow your pump flange to be held in place by your bra) or sit high enough that your pumping bottles can rest on the counter while you use your hands for breast compressions.  As you are pumping, gently massage spots on your breast working from your chest forward to your areola.  Hold down until you feel the area soften with milk expression and then work on another area.  Continue breast compressions while you pump until your breasts feel very soft and no more milk is being collected by your pump.

If you are still concerned about the volume of milk you are expressing, following pumping with hand expression can further increase milk output.  In fact, Morton et al found a 48% increase in milk production when breast compressions while pumping followed by hand expression were incorporated! 3

If you just have a few minutes here and there while away from your baby, it may be easier to hand express.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Mitoulis LR, Lai CT, et al. (2002) Efficacy of breast milk expression using an electric breast pump Journal of Human Lactation 18(4):344-52
  2. Morton J, Hall JY, Wong RJ, et al. (2009) Combining hand techniques with electric pumping increases milk production in mothers of preterm infants. Journal of Perinatology. 29(11):757-64
  3. Ibid.