Breast pump

This article looks at how to use a breast pump to express breast milk, with information and tips on using manual and electric breast pumps.

Using a breast pump

Breast pumps are useful when you need to give your baby milk in a bottle or cup but want to continue breastfeeding. Pumps are either hand-operated or electric.

How to use a manual breast pump:

Hand-operated pumps are easier to use for expressing breast milk when your breasts are full than when they are soft. Some hand pumps can be used with one hand. Most have ‘flanges’ which go over your nipple and areola and fit the breast, drawing the milk out by suction and collecting it in a bottle-shaped container. 

  • Prepare your breasts as described in 'expressing' before using a pump.
  • Hold your baby if possible - skin-to-skin contact helps.
  • Avoid the old-style ‘breast relievers' (as opposed to 'breastmilk pumps'). These come with a rubber bulb attached to a plastic funnel and are still available on prescription. They are not very effective as a pump, and any milk collected must be discarded, as the pump can’t be sterilised properly.

How to use an electric breast pump
Electrically powered pumps run on mains electricity or batteries (and sometimes both). They are good if you need to express often for a baby in special care. They are more expensive than hand pumps, and the batteries run down quickly, but they are usually less tiring to use than hand pumps. 

'Double pumping'
There’s some evidence that double breast pumps - electric pumps which allow both breasts to be pumped at once - can be good at saving time and at stimulating the breasts more effectively. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Some women find they’re successful with one type of pump and not with others. If you buy one and it doesn’t work for you, take it back for a refund, rather than assuming you can’t express. 

Hiring a breast pump
'Is it worth me hiring an electric pump? I intend to use one to express some milk for my baby as I’ll be out for an evening. I may also want one longer term as I’m going back to work.'

You need to work out whether the cost of hiring is worth it. One opinion would be to have a go at hand expressing to see how you get on, as that costs nothing. Long-term hiring almost certainly works out more expensive than buying your own pump. Ask an NCT or other pump agent about the cost of hiring an electric breast pump and how much, if anything, you need to pay outright for the tubing and collection parts of the pump, which remain with you.

Electric pumps – both large ‘hospital style’ ones and smaller ones – can be hired from NCT breastfeeding counsellors. Your midwife or your hospital may be able to lend you a pump. You’ll find more information about suppliers below.

Breast pump suppliers
To find a breast pump agent for your area, please call the Enquiry Line on 0300 330 0770.

Further information

NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.

Call The National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212

UK Association of Milk Banking is a network of milk banks across the UK. You may be able to donate breastmilk for a premature or sick baby.

UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative has information on how to breastfeed successfully, including positioning and attachment, tips for success and a section on expressing your breastmilk by hand.

Best Beginnings: view video online from the DVD 'from bump to breastfeeding' 3 mothers learning to express breastmilk for various reasons
'Expressing and returning to work' has a comprehensive library of face-to-face interviews where parents share their experiences about breastfeeding, birth, parenting and many other issues.

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