Pumping: a  for choosing your pump

When you’re expecting your first baby, breast pumps are possibly one of the least exciting topics to contemplate.



8 out of 10 women own a breast pump by six months post-partum[1].

15-17% of women can experience nipple pain or damage[2].


Let’s start with how pumping works.

A pump works by repeatedly sucking your nipple against a plastic funnel until milk flows from your nipple.

It’s not hard to see why it can be painful or uncomfortable.

But the good news is these uncomfortable feelings can be avoided.

It all comes down to:

  • getting the right pump
  • getting the right flange size
  • going easy your first time pumping

Choosing the right pump. 

As a pumping mum, the advice you receive about pumping can often be based on personal experience. This can be helpful if you’re in a similar situation, but confusing if you’re not.

Here’s a guide, based on a 2016 research study[3] that looked at pumping setups across large groups of women, that may help you choose a pump to suit you and your feeding goals.

First, let’s look at the kinds of pumps available.

Manual – graphic




Portable – graphic


Low suction

Single breast at a time

Hand-operated, works by squeezing a handle or bulb

Small and quiet


Middle suction

Single breast at a time (mostly)

Electric, run by a small battery pack, that can often be clipped to your hip (portable), or contained within the pump (wearable)

Small, and often noisy

High suction

Both breasts at once

Electric, Run by a large battery pack, often plugged into wall

Large and noisy



So which pump is best for you?

It depends how much you need the pump, and which stage of lactation you’re in. With any decision about feeding and pumpings, speak with your lactation consultant, midwife, or doctor first. 


Lactation timeline


First 72 hours after birth

This first few hours is an important and extraordinary period for lactation as your body begins to produce milk.

Coming to volume

4 to 7 days after birth

In this phase, your milk needs to be “removed” effectively and consistently to give your body the signals to replace it, building up to the volume needed by your baby.


About 7 days +

This phase is where you and your baby settle into a lactation pattern. It is so mother-baby specific, that your pumping needs will be likely be different from your friends or mum’s group.

You and your baby are healthy and feeding consistently (8-12 times daily) and efficiently at the breast.

You likely don’t need a pump at all in this phase.

You may not need a pump at all, or you may use a manual or portable pump for comfort or relief*.


As you settle into a routine, you may choose to pump with a manual or portable pump. You can share feeding with your partner or carer to get extra sleep, take time out or return to work.

Baby is not always feeding at the breast efficiently or consistently, or you or your baby are unwell

You may need to start using a hospital-grade pump. Speak with your lactation consultant.

You may need to use a hospital-grade pump. Speak with your lactation consultant.



If you’re exclusively expressing, which means you’re pumping to feed your baby at most or all feeds, then your pumping setup becomes very important.

You will likely need a powerful, double-pump, pumping bra to hold your pump in place, multiple sets of parts, and storage and cleaning systems to make pumping more efficient and stress-free.

 You may want to join online communities of women who share tips and support for pumping mothers.

*If you have over-supply of milk, take caution pumping because removing milk can create even more. Speak with your lactation consultant.

What’s a flange and why is it important?

Most pumps come with different sized flanges, which are the cone shaped parts that fit to your breast.

It’s important to start pumping with the right flange size. Too large, and you can pull your areola unnecessarily into the pump funnel and damage the skin and tissue. Too small, and you can rub your nipple against the plastic or block milk duct openings.

There are some nipple rulers you can download and print to find your size. Make sure to measure just your nipple diameter, not the areola (darker skin around the nipple) too. Some brands even give virtual fitting rooms. Follow their advice on choosing sizing, rather than just getting the standard size (usually 24mm).


Tips for your first pumping session 

  1. Have your flange size as close to correct for your nipple as you can
  2. Start at the lowest suction level on your pump, and only increase to the highest comfortable level. More suction does not equal more milk if you’re in pain.
  3. Pump for as long as it takes to feel like you’ve expressed most of your milk, up to 20 minutes. As you get used to pumping you may vary the time, but this is a good starting point. 
  4. Try some coconut oil or lanolin inside your pump funnel to allow your nipple to slide.
  5. Use a soft insert or pump attachment to soften the interface to your pump. See Milkdrop, Pumpin Pals, Beaugen or Lacteck for examples.

Pumping can be hard at first and getting the right setup and system involves trial and error. Above all - don’t push through pain or discomfort in an effort to collect milk.

There are ways the pumping experience can be comfortable and enjoyable – get in touch with us if you have any questions or want to learn more, we’re happy to help.

Find us at @milkdrop_pumps or support@milkdroppumps.com

References for further reading

Prevalence of breast pump use:

  • Clemons, S. N., & Amir, L. H. (2010). Breastfeeding Women’s Experience of Expressing: A Descriptive Study. Journal of Human Lactation, 26(3), 258–265.
  • Johns, H. M., Amir, L. H., McLachlan, H. L., & Forster, D. A. (2016). Breast pump use amongst mothers of healthy term infants in Melbourne, Australia: A prospective cohort study. Midwifery, 33, 82–89.
  • Labiner-Wolfe, J., Fein, S. B., Shealy, K. R., & Wang, C. (2008). Prevalence of breast milk expression and associated factors. Pediatrics, 122 Suppl 2, S63-68.

Nipple damage

  • Clemons, S. N., & Amir, L. H. (2010). Breastfeeding Women’s Experience of Expressing: A Descriptive Study. Journal of Human Lactation, 26(3), 258–265.
  • Qi, Y., Zhang, Y., Fein, S., Wang, C., & Loyo-Berríos, N. (2014). Maternal and Breast Pump Factors Associated with Breast Pump Problems and Injuries. Journal of Human Lactation, 30(1), 62–72.

Selecting the 'right' pump

  • Meier, P. P., Patel, A. L., Hoban, R., & Engstrom, J. L. (2016). Which breast pump for which mother: An evidence-based approach to individualizing breast pump technology. Journal of Perinatology: Official Journal of the California Perinatal Association, 36(7), 493–499.

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