If you're regularly separated from your baby or if there is a delay in breastfeeding after birth, your midwife may recommend using a breast pump to express your milk. It is best to express by hand at first and move onto using a pump when your milk supply increases.
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.
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
Deciding whether to use a pump
Hand expressing may be best if:
- you are expressing in the first 1 to 3 days after birth
- you only want to express occasionally
- you are expressing to relieve fullness or uncomfortable breasts
- you are expressing to soften your breasts so your baby can attach more easily
Choosing a breast pump
Mini electric pump
If you will be expressing occasionally or for a short time, a manual or mini electric pump is the cheapest option.
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 one 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
If your baby is being cared for in a special care baby unit or paediatric hospital, they may have hospital grade pumps that you can use 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. Use the Med 1 form on revenue.ie that covers expenses incurred on any medical, surgical or nursing appliance.
Speak with your nurse, midwife, public health nurse or lactation consultant for advice on which pump is best for you.
How to use a breast pump
Breast pumps are generally 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 may 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.
The collection set and storage container of the breast pump need to be cleaned after every use. They should be completely dismantled, washed in hot soapy water and rinsed. They should always be well air dried or dried with paper towels. Some manufacturers recommend sterilising collection and storage containers once a day. If your baby is sick or premature, the expressing set will need to be sterilised 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 and over time it will get easier.
How to use a hand-operated breast pump
- Wash and dry your hands.
- Assemble the pump.
- Make sure you are in a comfortable position with your back supported.
- Begin pumping slowly with even pressure.
- Increase the pressure gradually (this should never be painful).
- When finished put the lid on the storage container, or pour the milk into a storage container if applicable.
- Label 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
- Wash and dry your hands.
- Assemble the pump and connect the tubing (if applicable) to the collection set and container.
- Make sure that the breast pump pressure is set to the minimum setting.
- Sit in a comfortable chair with your back supported.
- Place a warm compress (such as a facecloth) over the breast and massage for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Position the funnel of the collection set so that your nipple is in the centre.
- 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.
- Turn on the breast pump.
- Keep the breast pump pressure at the minimum setting for 2 minutes to help stimulate your milk flow.
- Gradually increase the pressure on the breast pump to the highest pressure that is comfortable for you (this should never be painful).
- Continue to express until the flow of milk slows down.
- Turn off the breast pump and once the suction is released, remove the funnel of the collection set from your breast.
- 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.
- When finished, put the lid on the storage container, or pour the milk into a suitable storage container.
- Label with the date and time that you expressed.
- 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.
- 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.