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17 Breast Pumping Tips For Beginners

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When you are a beginner at pumping, you may be confused by the entire process. Here is a list of the absolute best tips you need to know when you start pumping breast milk!

How Do You Pump Breast Milk For The First Time?

To pump breast milk for the first time:

  1. Wash and sanitize your pump parts.
  2. After the pump parts have air dried, assemble the pump parts and attach the tubing to your pump.
  3. Start pumping in letdown mode.
  4. Switch to expression mode once milk begins to flow.
  5. If milk flow slows, switch back to letdown mode.
  6. Continue pumping for 20 minutes or until empty.

The first time I pumped, a nurse in the hospital helped me. The second time I pumped, I forgot how to re-assemble all the pump parts and had to call two nurses into my room to figure it out.

The second day postpartum, my OB came into my hospital room while I was pumping. She figured out that I did not even realize the pump suction settings could be increased or decreased. Pumping was completely new to me.

I can look back on that experience now and laugh at how clueless I was about pumping and breastfeeding.

I do not want any of these experiences to happen to you, so I have compiled my top tips for a beginner who is learning how to pump.

5 EASY Tips for beginners at pumping and breastfeeding. copyright 2019

Gather Pump and Supplies

When you are about to start pumping, the first thing you will need to do is to gather your pump and supplies.

Tip 1 – Check If Your Insurance Company Covers A Breast Pump

If you are just beginning to think about pumping, check to see if your insurance company will cover a breast pump. Many health insurance plans in the United States will cover a pump for free. This can save you a lot of money.

If you are going to be exclusively pumping, look into renting or buying a hospital grade pump like the Medela Symphony. A hospital grade pump is the best way to help establish your supply. If you are going to be pumping and nursing, a double electric pump should work well for you.

If you are interested in purchasing a Medela Symphony, there are a lot of important factors to consider. To read more about buying a Medela Symphony, check out this article.

Check out this article for more information about choosing between two of the most popular double electric pumps, the Medela Pump In Style Advanced (PISA), and the Spectra S2.

Tip 2 – Check Out The Features Of Your Pump

Once you have your pump, check out all the features. You want to understand how the buttons work before your first pumping session.

If you have a Spectra pump, be sure to check out this article: The Ultimate Guide to A Spectra S1 and S2 breast pump.

Pumping While In Letdown Mode

Look at your pump and find the letdown button. This is the mode that you should use when you begin your pumping session.

The letdown mode will be a faster speed with less suction or vacuum strength. The faster speed coaxes your milk to start flowing.

You’ll want to start your pumping session in letdown mode and then switch to expression mode. The Medela pumps I’ve used start in letdown mode for two minutes.

If your milk has not started flowing once the two minutes are up, then you can hit the letdown button again and extend the time.

If your milk ever slows down or stops flowing, you can hit the letdown button a second or third time. This will encourage another letdown during your pumping session. This will help you to pump the most amount of milk.

Pumping While In Expression Mode

The next feature you will want to look for is the expression mode setting. This setting will usually be a slower speed and higher suction, which helps to draw the most milk out. The majority of your pumping session will be sent in expression mode.

When pumping in expression mode, you will get the most milk if it is on the highest setting with the most suction that is comfortable for you.

Finding the right setting will depend on your body, and it may change over the months that you pump.

The correct expression mode setting is a bit of a “Goldilocks” setting. If the suction is too strong, you will feel pain, which prevents milk from coming out.

If the suction is too weak, then your breasts will not be fully drained. If either of these occurs, you will not fully empty your breasts, and you may end up with problems with your milk supply.

Start off expression mode on a low setting and gradually increase the suction until you find the setting that is just right.

When I started pumping I could only handle a fairly low setting for the first few weeks. However, after the first three weeks, I was able to increase the pump suction which helped me to pump more milk.

Tip 3 – Gather All Your Pumping Supplies

The next thing you will want to do is to gather all of your supplies, breast pump, and accessories. The essential items you will need are flanges, duckbill valves, tubing, bottles, and backflow protectors if they come with your pump.

I also highly recommend a hands-free bra. A hands-free bra is essential because it will allow you to tend to your baby or self-massage while pumping. If your hands are free you can also distract yourself on your phone during your pumping session.

My favorite hands-free pumping bra is very customizable. There is velcro to change the band, so it works for almost every size. This is also great when you may change sizes as you are further postpartum. You can check out my favorite pumping bra here (link to Amazon).

You can already read more about my favorite pumping bra for Spectra here.

There are also a few more items that I kept nearby to make pumping session more comfortable.

I kept a large water bottle near me, a snack, and a phone charger to use while I was sitting and pumping.

I also kept a few things for my baby within arm’s reach of where I sat down to pump. I kept a pacifier, a few toys, and a few books nearby to entertain my daughter while I pumped.

Tip 4 – Ensure You Have The Correct Flange Size

The thing that will have the most impact on the comfort of your pumping session is your flange size. You want to choose a flange where your nipple can move freely without a large amount of areola being pulled into the tube.

The majority of women are a size 24mm or 27mm, but some women need a smaller or larger flange size than these two sizes.

If pumping is painful, check how your nipples look in the tube while pumping. If your nipples are rubbing along the sides of the tube, then you may want to try a larger flange size. If there is a large amount of space surrounding them in the tube, try a smaller flange size.

You may need to try a few different sizes of flanges until you find one that works well for you. When you have the correct fit, you should feel comfortable and feel a gentle tugging sensation.

It is important to remember that you may need a different size after a few weeks or months of pumping.

During the first two months of pumping, I used a 27mm flange. I moved down to a 24mm flange after the initial swelling and engorgement went down and my supply regulated.

Tip 5 – Have Extra Sets Of Pump Parts On Hand

I recommend that beginners buy at least one extra set of pump parts to have on hand. You don’t want to be stuck where you need to pump and you’ve lost track of a small membrane or duckbill valve.

I also recommend having replacement tubing on hand. When I pumped with the Medela Symphony, I found moldy tubing twice and hand to throw it out immediately. If I didn’t have a replacement on hand, I would have had to use a backup pump or manual pump to maintain my pumping schedule.

An extra set of pump parts is also useful in case you accidentally drop a pump part on the ground. You’ll be able to continue your pumping session immediately if you have a set of clean parts ready to go.

Tip 6 – Replace Pump Membranes And Duckbill Valves Frequently

One thing that I wish I knew when I began pumping was that the membranes or duckbill valves needed to be replaced frequently. This will depend on the pump you have and how frequently you are using the pump.

The membranes and the duckbill valves are the part of your pump that has the greatest influence on the suction.

The first pump that I used was a Medela, and I was surprised that the membranes became loose very quickly. I was exclusively pumping, and I had to replace the membranes after three weeks.

I tried a few off-brand membranes and duckbill valves and I would not recommend wasting money on them. They became lose very quickly and were not made as well as the original parts. I got the best suction with the original duckbill valves and membranes from Spectra and Medela.

Be sure to read this article on replacing pump parts for all of the details you need to know!

How Often Do You Need To Replace Medela Membranes?

If you are exclusively pumping, membranes should be replaced every 2-4 weeks. If you are pumping and nursing, membranes should be replaced every 4-8 weeks.

You should replace the membranes more frequently if the pump seems to have lost suction or if you notice a tear in the membrane.

How Often Do You Need To Replace Spectra Duckbill Valves?

If you are exclusively pumping, duckbill valves should be replaced every 4 weeks. If you are pumping and nursing, duckbill valves should be replaced every 2-3 months.

You should replace the valves more frequently if the pump seems to have lost suction. The valves are more durable than the membranes.

Tip 7 – Ensure Your Bottles Are Connected Securely To The Flanges

Another tip for beginners is to make sure your bottles are securely screwed onto the flanges. I have had a few devastating pump sessions where I spilled milk because the bottles were not screwed on tightly.

I do not want this to happen to you, so just double check your bottles before beginning to pump.

Tip 8 – Frequency Of Pumping During The First 12 Weeks And Beyond

When you are beginning to pump, it may be confusing to know how frequently you should be pumping.

There are different recommendations depending on how many weeks you are postpartum. The recommendations also change depending on if you are exclusively pumping or pumping and nursing.

How Many Times Should I Pump A Day And For How Long?

If you are exclusively pumping, you should pump between 8 and 12 times per day during the first 12 weeks postpartum. Each of these sessions should last at least 20 minutes. If you are pumping and nursing, you can pump once or twice per day to relieve engorgement or to build a freezer stash.

When exclusively pumping, it is important to pump until you are empty instead of pumping to the time on a clock. You can also check out this article on when to stop a pumping session to find out more.

When you are pumping between 8 and 12 times per day, it is best to try to evenly space out your pumping sessions. It is recommended to pump once every 2-3 hours during the day and every 3-4 hours at night during your first 12 weeks postpartum.

After 12 weeks postpartum, your milk supply regulates. After that happens, you can experiment with going longer between pumping sessions. To avoid losing supply, when you reduce a pumping session, try adding those minutes to your other pumping sessions.

For example, if you currently pump 10 times per day for 20 minutes each session, you are spending a total of 200 minutes of pumping each day.

If you would like to drop down to 8 pumps per day, try continuing to pump for 200 minutes daily. Divide 200 minutes by the 8 pumping sessions, and your pumping sessions should last for 25 minutes.

Tip 9 – In The Beginning, Stick To A Schedule And Pump At The Same Time Each Day

I wish that I knew a pumping schedule was important when I was a beginner at pumping. My daughter was in the NICU, and I ended up pumping roughly every three hours.

I did not know about keeping a set pumping schedule and my sessions were not necessarily at the same time each day.

As I researched more about pumping, I found out that your supply can be improved by sticking to a strict pumping schedule, especially if you are an exclusive pumper.

For example, pumping at these times every day: 5 am, 8 am, 10 am, 12 pm, 3 pm, 6 pm, 9 pm, and 1 am.

A consistent schedule helps your body understand when to produce milk because you are always expressing at the same time each day.

Sometimes you will not be able to stick to a rigid schedule because you need to care for your baby.

If this happens, it is not the end of the world if you are off by a few minutes. Try your best to get back on track with the next pumping session.

Sample Pumping Schedule For 10 Pumps Per Day

























This is a good schedule to follow during the first 6 – 8 weeks postpartum. With this schedule, try to sleep as much as possible from 8:30pm to 11pm, 11:30pm – 3am, and 3:30am – 6am. It will be difficult, but you only need to keep up a rigorous schedule like this for the first few weeks postpartum.

Sample Pumping Schedule For 8 Pumps Per Day





















This is a good schedule to follow for weeks 8-12 postpartum. If you are following this schedule, try to sleep as much as possible from 8:30pm to 11pm, 11:30pm – 3am, and 3:30am – 7am.

Notice that the total number of minutes pumped per day (200 minutes) is the same as in the first sample pumping schedule. Each pumping session is 5 minutes longer to account for the two dropped pumping sessions.

Tip 10 – Start The Timer For Pumping Sessions From The Beginning Of Your Prior Session

In the beginning, it may be confusing about when you should start your next pumping session. Your next pumping session should start based on the time you started pumping, not the time you ended your pumping session.

For example, you may be pumping every three hours for 20 minutes each session. You start pumping at 12pm and end pumping at 12:20 pm. Your next pumping session should start at 3pm, not at 3:20 pm.

If you start timing your pumping sessions from the end, then you will gradually slip your pumping sessions further and further back.

It will be difficult to fit in all of the 8 to 12 recommended pumping sessions each day. It is also easier to stick to a consistent schedule if you start the timer based on the beginning of each pumping session.

Tip 11 – Beginners Should Not Skip The Middle Of The Night Pumping Sessions

I know that this will be difficult to hear. When you are beginning to pump, do not skip the middle of the night pumping session.

I understand that you are exhausted in the first few weeks after delivering. Remember that this period of time will not last forever, and you will be past it in a few weeks.

These middle of the night pumping sessions are very important for establishing milk supply in the beginning.

Your body has the highest prolactin levels between 1 am and 5 am. It will help your supply to pump at least once during this time frame.

During Pumping Sessions

During your pumping sessions, there are a few more tips to keep in mind. These tips are important to help a beginner to establish and maintain milk supply.

Tip 12 – Pump Until Empty

If you are replacing a nursing session with a pumping session, it is important to pump until your breasts feel empty. After pumping, your breasts should feel soft and should not have any lumps.

To maintain your milk supply, It is better to pump until empty instead of pumping based on a timer. This is because when your breasts are empty, it signals your body to make more milk. If milk remains in your breasts at the end of a pumping session, then your body will slow down milk production.

Pumping until empty will also help to prevent clogged milk ducts which can be very painful and lead to mastitis if they are not cleared quickly.

For more information on preventing clogged milk ducts, check out this article on 25 tips to prevent and treat clogged milk ducts.

In that article, I compiled everything I learned through research and my personal experience with clogged milk ducts.

For more information on pumping until empty, check out this article about when to stop a pumping session.

Tip 13 – Pump 5 Minutes After Empty To Increase Milk Supply

Beginners should also try pumping for five minutes after feeling empty. This will signal to your body that it needs to continue to produce more milk.

The theory behind adding extra minutes to your pumping session is mimicking a nursing baby.

If a baby did not receive enough milk during a nursing session, they would continue sucking in order to draw out more milk. A baby would continue to nurse to attempt to draw out more milk.

When you begin to add extra minutes to a pumping session, you will not see an immediate increase in milk supply.

It may take a few days of pumping with the extra minutes before you see an increase in overall milk supply for the day.

Tip 14 – Beginners Should Try Massaging During Pumping To Empty Faster

Another tip to try at the beginning is to massage your breasts while pumping. This can stimulate your letdown reflex, which may help you to empty more quickly. Massaging can also help get the milk flowing so all of your milk ducts empty.

I thought that a lactation massager was very useful to help me empty more quickly. You can check out the lactation massager I like here (on Amazon).

Tip 15 – Lubricate Flanges Before Pumping

I wish that I knew to lubricate my pumping flanges before each pumping session. I didn’t find out this tip until further along in my pumping journey.

Food grade lubricants are safe to use on your flanges. Some women like to use coconut oil, and others like to use olive oil.

Dab a tiny amount on the inside of the tubes in the flanges right before beginning each pumping session. If you have not tried coconut oil, try it and see if it makes your pumping session more comfortable.

I do not recommend using lanolin as a lubricant for your pumping flanges. This is because lanolin is not very comfortable as a lubricant on the flanges. It is very thick and sticky and can increase friction, making the pumping session uncomfortable.

Tip 16 – Beginners Should Try Hand Expressing After Pumping

When I was in the hospital, the lactation consultant recommended trying hand expressing. Hand expressing is also referred to as “hands-on pumping”. This technique is where you draw milk out by manually massaging and squeezing your breasts.

A study by Jane Morton showed that mothers were able to increase their milk supply by using hand expression in addition to double pumping. A link to this study is under the “References” section below.

In order to hand express, start off by manually massaging your breasts before double pumping. Then, double pump. Finally, use intense hand compressions to squeeze out as much milk as possible from each breast.

I have heard from a few friends that they were able to express an extra ounce or two of milk when they hand expressed after pumping.

They were shocked that they still had milk even though they thought they were empty from the pump. If you have not tried hand expressing, try it and see if it helps you to express more milk.

How Much Milk Should I Be Pumping?

On average, most women who are at least one month postpartum will produce 1 to 1.5 ounces per hour.

If it has been three hours since the last pumping or nursing session, then you can expect to pump between 3 to 4.5 ounces per pumping session.

This is likely to increase after the first few days and weeks postpartum. In the first week postpartum, your milk supply should increase from drops in the first few days to several ounces once your mature milk comes in.

Average milk supply is 24 to 30 ounces per day. In my experience, I had variability during pumping sessions throughout the day but had a fairly consistent daily milk supply.

I pumped more ounces during my middle of the night and morning pump sessions and fewer ounces towards the end of the day.

Tip 17 – Understand Milk Storage Guidelines

It is important to understand how long your milk will last once you have pumped it. After pumping, you should label the milk with the date and time it was pumped. You can also smell and taste a drop of your milk before feeding to make sure it does not seem spoiled.

The CDC recommends the 4/4 rule for freshly expressed breast milk. For a full term healthy baby, freshly expressed milk can remain on the countertop up to 4 hours.

Fresh milk can remain in the refrigerator up to 4 days. Breast milk can also be stored in the freezer and will be ideally used within 6 months, but it is acceptable to use it within 12 months.

If milk has been previously frozen and then thawed, the milk storage guidelines are more strict. This type of milk can last on the countertop for 1-2 hours.

Thawed milk can last in the refrigerator a maximum of 24 hours once the last ice crystal disappears. Once breast milk has thawed, it cannot be re-frozen.

The guidelines for countertop storage are based on a room that is 77 degrees or cooler. If it is warmer in the room, then breast milk will not last as long as in these guidelines.


These tips will help any beginner who is pumping for the first time. When beginning to pump, it is important to understand:

  • How your pump works,
  • All the supplies and pump parts you will need,
  • The frequency of pumping sessions,
  • How to stick with a pumping schedule,
  • Techniques to pump until empty such as massaging and hand expressing, and
  • Milk storage guidelines.

Recommended Reading

  1. Replacing Pump Parts (1 Secret for Maximum Milk)
  2. The Ultimate Guide To A Spectra S1 and S2 Pump (including Bonus Tips)
  3. Sarah Wells vs. Jujube – Stylish Pump Bags For Work
  4. The Best Tips To Pump Milk For Daycare

More Pumping And Breastfeeding Tips

Follow PumpingMamas on Pinterest for more great pumping and breastfeeding tips.

Be sure to save this article on Pinterest to your Pumping or Breastfeeding board for later!

pumping tips for beginners at pumping and breastfeeding. stick to a pumping schedule to increase breast milk supply. 2019


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