How to use a breast pump: A first-timer's guide from a midwife.

Philips Avent
Thanks to our brand partner, Philips Avent

Nobody mentioned breast pumps before you had the baby, right? But, for a whole host of reasons you, along with plenty of other newbie mamas out there, now find yourself holding a pump and wondering how exactly it all works.

Sure, there are instructions you can follow on the box, but wouldn’t it be handy to hear the extra bits of know-how straight from an expert?

New mums, let midwife and Philips Avent Ambassador Liz Wilkes (pictured above) put your mind at ease as she shares her tips for using a breast pump.

To kick things off, I asked Liz a personal question. I didn’t feel very comfortable using a breast pump around my family and friends when my son was little, and I wondered if is this is a typical response?

“It is very, very normal to feel strange, and around family and friends this feeling can be amplified,” Liz tells Mamamia. “It’s sensible to recognise this and to ensure that you have privacy during pumping sessions. It may be that as time goes on you feel differently, and you work out ways to cover up – if that’s your concern – but at the beginning trust how your body feels as it’s important for the milk ejection reflex that you’re relaxed.”

As a new mum, it can be tricky to relax, so that’s why Liz’s advice about privacy is such a good one. Being more relaxed can help you achieve better results when pumping. According to Liz, the ideal circumstances are when you feel as comfortable as possible. It’s best if you’re not feeling rushed, and it helps if you can see your baby, or a photo of your baby, as that helps with the release of milk.

philips avent
When you're using a breast pump, comfort is key. Image: Philips Avent.

OK, time for breast pumping 101. When should I use a pump?

"If you’re using a pump in the first few weeks after birth I’d definitely recommend that you’re also supported in your breastfeeding by a health care professional who will advise how you can best use a pump in your situation," says Liz.

There may be many reasons for using a pump. "You might have sore or damaged nipples, are having some trouble getting your baby to attach or you’re not producing enough milk," she explains. "Less commonly, you would pump because you prefer to, or if your baby is too premature to feed. As your baby gets older, you may choose to pump to have a feed available if you go out or go to work. Having additional support while using a pump can make all the difference for successful feeding."


How do I know if I'm using it correctly?

Liz says that it's best if a health professional helps to show you how to use a breast pump. But there are other things you'll notice yourself as you start using the pump.

"Generally speaking, the pump shouldn’t hurt," she explains. "You should be able to see your nipple being drawn into the pump gently and milk should start to drip into the bottle after a short period. It’s more important to note how you feel, that you’re not in pain and that your breast feels 'lighter' after pumping – much the same as if you’ve fed your baby."

What are the differences between single and double pumps?

"The main difference is convenience and speed," says Liz. "Double pumps are ideal if you’re not breastfeeding at all or have to pump for a long period. By emptying both breasts concurrently, it halves your expressing time. Of course, it means you’re focusing on expressing two breasts, which is more fiddly but it’s great for mums who need to express for some time."

Can I pump on the go?

"This requires a bit of organisation but is totally possible. The use of a hand pump is ideal for situations where you need to express while you are out, at work or an event," Liz explains. "Smaller hand pumps are convenient and, while they’re often not as efficient for long-term use, they’re ideal for the mum who needs to express on-the-go from time to time."

Liz also advises thinking about secure milk storage in advance if you’re planning to keep and use your expressed milk.

philips avent breast pumps
Philips Avent's Comfort Single electric breast pump has a soft massage cushion to gently aid the flow of milk, and is battery operated so you can use it on the go. Image: Philips Avent.

How much milk should I be getting each session? 

Everyone is different, Liz stresses. "It’s easy to think that you should get as much as your baby would drink, but it’s not as straightforward as that," she says. "In the early days, you may get as little as 1ml, increasing gradually to 40mls or more. Once your milk supply is established, you may get 100mls or more.

"The difficulty with pumping can be knowing when to start and stop, which differs depending on how old your baby is and why you’re pumping. If you’re pumping long-term to feed your baby with expressed milk, make sure you speak to your midwife, lactation consultant or child health nurse about how much milk your baby will need."


Any final tips to share, Liz?

Perhaps the important one of all: "Be kind and easy on yourself because breastfeeding requires perseverance and support. It’s important that you have good advice around your pump use."

A support crew is vital to help you navigate your way through the early days of parenting and beyond. You can think of Philips Avent as part of your team. Their breast pumps and range of breast care products ensure you and baby are both taken care of. They’ve thought of everything, with manual, electric, single or double pumps, for at-home use home or on-the-go. Incorporating lightweight design and a soft massage cushion, the pumps were created to let you sit up straight for comfort and ease. Philips Avent also have bottle warmers and sterilisers in their extensive feeding and baby care range. Their breast care range also includes nipple shields (to aid breastfeeding for cracked nipples), Niplettes (to help with inverted nipples), and breast pads (a comfortable solution to keep you dry during breastfeeding).

Looking for more helpful tips and tricks to navigate this new parenthood journey sans guidebook? Be sure to have a listen to our Year One podcast, in particular our episode The Battle of the Boob, hosted by Holly Wainwright and Christie Hayes. They chat with experts, without judgement, about all your feeding options and the challenges you may face.

Listen to Year One: The Battle of The Boob:


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