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Breast pumps

Your midwife may recommend using a breast pump to express your milk.

This may happen if:

  • you're regularly separated from your baby
  • there is a delay in breastfeeding after birth

It is best to express by hand at first and move onto using a pump when your milk supply increases.

Start as soon as you can. The more you breastfeed or express, the more milk your body produces.

You may also need to use a breast pump if your baby is unable to attach to your breast. For example, if they were born sick, premature or have challenges attaching to your breast.

Types of breast pumps

There are many different types of breast pumps.

These include:

  • hand-operated pumps
  • small electric single pumps
  • electric double breast pumps
  • larger hospital grade double pumps

Pumps can either be open or closed circuit. Closed circuit pumps provide the best protection against cross-contamination of your breastmilk.

Deciding to use a pump

You may not need to use a breast pump.

Hand expressing may be best if:

  • you are expressing in the first 1 to 3 days after birth to provide additional colostrum for your baby or relieve breast fullness (engorgement)
  • your milk supply is established and you only want to pump occasionally
  • you are expressing to soften your breasts so your baby can attach more easily

Choosing a breast pump

Silicone milk collectors 

These can help you save time when you are collecting your leaked breastmilk during a breast feed.

Be careful not to apply one with each feed as this can lead to blocked ducts and over-supply.

Many mothers use silicone milk collectors on 1 side to collect milk while feeding on the other side. Some mothers use them on both sides in between breastfeeds.

Make sure there is enough space in your bra so the milk collectors do not press too hard on your breasts.

Do not use them for too long at a time. Wear them only while feeding or for 15 to 20 minutes if your breasts are full or leaking.

Small electric pump

If you will be expressing occasionally or for a short time, a manual or small electric pump can be helpful.

Electric double breast pump

If you're returning to work and want to continue to breastfeed, a double electric breast pump may be the right choice. This will be quick as both breasts are pumped at the same time.

Hospital grade pump

A hospital grade pump is the best option if:

  • your baby is ill
  • your baby is premature
  • you're trying to establish a good milk supply for your baby

Expressing for a premature or ill baby

If your baby is being cared for in a special care baby unit or paediatric hospital, you can use a hospital grade pump free-of-charge. If you want to use a hospital grade pump while you are at home, you will need to rent or buy one.

You may be able to to get money back for any breast pumps you rented or bought for your premature baby through the Revenue Commissioners.

Claim money back on health expenses -

Speak with your nurse, midwife, lactation consultant or PHN for advice on which pump is best for you.

Ask our breastfeeding experts

Get personal advice from our lactation consultants

How to use a breast pump

Breast pumps are hand-operated or electric (powered by batteries or mains electricity).

Hand-operated pumps work by creating suction when you squeeze the handle or collection container. This can become tiring after a while, so take your time. Your breast pump may be a two-part collection set and storage container. Or it may be a collection unit alone.

Clean the collection set and storage container of the breast pump after every use:

  1. Take apart the breast pump tubing and separate all the parts that come in contact with breast milk or your breast.
  2. Wash the parts in hot soapy water and rinse.
  3. Leave the parts to dry well in the air or use paper towels.

Some manufacturers recommend sterilising collection and storage containers once a day. If your baby is sick or premature, sterilise the expressing set after each use.

What you need

Prepare everything before you start expressing.

You will need:

  • a clean collection set for milk collection
  • clean containers for milk collection
  • a breast pump
  • labels and a pen for labelling containers
  • a comfortable chair to sit in while expressing
  • a sink with hot running water to wash your hands before putting the pump together
  • a facecloth or warm compress to help massage your breasts before expressing
  • a small towel to catch any drips
  • a drink of water and maybe a snack within arm's reach

Give yourself plenty of time and try not to feel rushed. Expressing is a skill that you learn. It will get easier over time.

How to use a hand-operated breast pump

  1. Wash and dry your hands.
  2. Assemble the pump.
  3. Make sure you are in a comfortable position with your back supported.
  4. Begin pumping slowly with even pressure.
  5. Increase the pressure gradually - this should never be painful.

When you finish expressing, put the lid on the storage container, or pour the milk into a suitable storage container. Make sure to label containers with the date and time.

Wash and dry the collection set of the pump to get it ready for the next use.

How to use an electric breast pump

  1. Wash and dry your hands.
  2. Assemble the pump and connect the tubing to the collection set and container, if applicable.
  3. Make sure that the breast pump pressure is set to the minimum setting.
  4. Sit in a comfortable chair with your back supported.
  5. Place a warm compress such as a facecloth over the breast and massage for 3 to 5 minutes.
  6. Position the funnel of the collection set so that your nipple is in the centre.
  7. Hold the funnel so that the pump can create a vacuum, but try not to press too firmly into the breast tissue as this can prevent milk flow.
  8. Turn on the breast pump.
  9. Keep the breast pump pressure at the minimum setting for 2 minutes to help stimulate your milk flow.
  10. Gradually increase the pressure on the breast pump to the highest pressure that is comfortable for you - this should never be painful.
  11. Gently massage your breasts and continue to express until the flow of milk slows down.
  12. Turn off the breast pump and when the suction is released, remove the funnel of the collection set from your breast.
  13. Repeat with the second breast if using a single-collection set - some pumps may have double-collection sets and containers so you can pump both breasts.

If you are double pumping you will need to alter your bra to hold the funnels so you can express hands-free.

When finished, put the lid on the storage container, or pour the milk into a suitable storage container. Remember to label it with the date and time.

If you're still in hospital, include your baby's details on the label. Many hospitals provide printed labels that include your baby’s name, date of birth and address. You will also need to add the time and date of expression.

Wash and dry the collection set to get it ready for next use.

If your baby is still in hospital, this expressing set will need to be sterilised. Your nurse or midwife will help you. They will also show you where to store breast milk.

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Page last reviewed: 11 October 2022
Next review due: 11 October 2025