How to pump

How do I pump with a hand or electric pump?

To use a new hand or electric breast pump, mothers begin by washing their hands and all the parts of the pump that will be in contact with the mother or her milk. Start pumping with the lowest suction strength, increase it gradually until it is no longer comfortable, and then decrease it slightly. The milk should start flowing within 30 seconds after starting. Pump until the breasts are empty, which is within 10 to 20 minutes on each breast. Mothers should pump for two minutes after the milk stops flowing and until the breasts are soft and they have collected the expected amount of milk. If it takes more than 20 minutes or is painful, their technique may need adjusting.

A) Describing pumping

Once you have obtained a hand or electric pump, you need to use it correctly. Constant-suction pumps are used a little differently and described elsewhere.

B) How to pump with a hand or electric pump

1) Clean the pump before the first use and after all subsequent uses

If the pump is new, wash all the parts that will be in contact with you or your breast milk using warm, soapy water. Then rinse the parts with clean water and allow them to air dry on a clean paper towel.

Wash the pump parts after each use.

2) Choose the suction strength

Aim to use the highest suction strength that is comfortable:

  1. Start with the lowest suction setting and increase it gradually to get an idea of your breast sensitivity. 
  2. Slowly increase the suction until you are no longer comfortable.
  3. Decrease it a little until you are comfortable.  

Different mothers will use different amounts of suction. Make sure the pump is not hurting you. Pain will decrease the amount of milk you can pump .

3) Expect the milk to start flowing  

The milk should start flowing within 30 seconds after you start pumping.

C) The length of time for each pumping session

Estimates are that 50% of the milk is removed within the first 7 minutes of pumping and this occurs with two let-downs. Eighty-five per cent of the milk is removed within 15 minutes, with some being even faster (Meier 2016).  

Pumping times can vary with some mothers only needing 10 minutes and others needing 20 minutes. 

Signs that pumping is done include (Meier 2010):

  • The breasts are soft.
  • You have obtained the expected amounts of milk.
  • You have pumped for two minutes after the milk stops flowing.

Mothers should not pump for more than 20 minutes on each breast. Pumping for more than 20 minutes or not obtaining the expected amounts of milk are usually signs that the technique needs adjusting.


Meier PP, Patel AL, Hoban R, et al. Which breast pump for which mother: an evidence-based approach to individualizing breast pump technology. Journal of Perinatology  2016; 36: 493–499
Meier PP, Engstrom JE, Patel AL, et al. Improving the use of human milk during and after the NICU stay. Clinic Perinatol. 2010; 37(1):217-245