HomeHealthHow Does a Breast Pump Work? A Buying Guide for New Mums

How Does a Breast Pump Work? A Buying Guide for New Mums

Whether you’re planning a return to work or just want a stash of milk for those “just in case” moments, a breast pump can be a lifesaver for new mums.

The good news? With the breast pump industry booming (which reached a whopping USD 2.3 billion in 2023!), there’s a pump out there perfectly suited for your needs. This guide will help you sift through the options and find your perfect match.

Types of Breast Pumps

There are various types of breast pumps available that cater to various needs and preferences of different mums. Here are some of them:

Manual Breast Pumps

Manual breast pumps are a budget-friendly choice for mums who plan to pump occasionally or need a portable option for travel. However, they require more effort to use than electric pumps and take longer to express milk.

Since most manual pumps are single pumps, you’ll only be able to express milk from one breast at a time.

Electric Breast Pumps

Electric pumps come in two main varieties, both of which offer different benefits depending on your needs.

Single Electric Pumps

A single breast pump comes with adjustable suction so you can personalise your pumping experience. Plus, it’s great for occasional pumping or for anyone who prefers the convenience of electric pumping. There are also units you can fit inside your clothing, which allows you to pump while running your day-to-day grind.

Double Electric Pumps

Double pumps are all about saving time. By pumping from both breasts at once, you can cut your sessions in half. The downside? They’re the priciest option and can be a bit bulkier than other pumps.

Hospital-Grade Pumps

Hospital-grade pumps are ideal for mums with low milk supply or preemie babies who need more frequent feedings. These are typically not available for purchase and are rented from lactation consultants or hospitals.

How Does a Breast Pump Work?

A typical breast pump is straightforward to use and operates by creating suction to extract milk from the breasts. Here’s how it works:

The Parts

A breast pump is made up of just a few key parts: flanges (funnel-shaped pieces that fit on your breasts), a suction unit that draws milk out, and collection bottles to store the milk.

The Pumping Process

Pumping usually lasts for about 10-15 minutes per breast and involves the following steps:

Prepare Your Pump

Wash your hands thoroughly and assemble the pump. Centre the flanges over your nipples in a way that shouldn’t feel any pinching or discomfort.

Start Pumping

Begin with a low suction level and gradually increase it to a point where it feels stimulating but comfortable. You should see your milk filling the bottles.

Letdown Reflex

It might take a few minutes for your milk to flow freely. This is because your body needs to release oxytocin, also known as the “letdown reflex.” Relaxing, thinking about your baby, or applying a warm compress to your breasts can help stimulate this reflex.

Express Milk

Most pumps have a cycle that mimics a baby’s suckling pattern, with periods of suction followed by a pause. This cycle helps stimulate milk flow and makes the pumping process more efficient and comfortable.

Choosing the Right Breast Pump for You

Now that you’re familiar with the different types of breast pumps, here’s how to pick the one that best suits your lifestyle and needs:

Personal Preference

About 86% of new mothers prioritise ease of use when choosing a breast pump while about 68% choose comfort. The point? It all boils down to what works for you.


Studies show that breastfeeding can set you back around USD 11,000 in one year alone. This is something you want to factor in when choosing a breast pump. Go for one that’s comfortably within your budget.

Pumping Frequency

How often do you anticipate needing to pump? If it’s occasional pumping (a few times a week), a manual or single electric pump could be sufficient. These are more affordable and easier to store or transport if you’re not pumping frequently.

If you’re frequently pumping (several times a day), a double electric pump might be the most time-saving option. This can be especially helpful for mums returning to work or needing to build a stash of breastmilk.


Do you need portability for travel or work? A manual or single electric pump might be more convenient.


Manual pumps and some single electric pumps are compact and don’t require an outlet, making them ideal for on-the-go pumping.

In Closing

Remember, there’s no single “best” pump—the perfect one is the one that works comfortably and efficiently for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor or lactation consultant. They can answer your questions and provide personalised advice based on your specific situation.

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