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Everything You Need to Know About Pumping

Everything You Need to Know About Pumping

During your breastfeeding journey you will most likely need to pump. Whether you’re heading back to work, building a stash, or need to exclusively pump, being prepared will help make your pumping experience a little easier. 

In this post, we’re breaking down the anatomy of a breast pump, how to pump, and when to replace your pump’s parts so you can embark on your pumping journey confidently!

Type Of Breast Pumps

Electric Single or Double Breast Pump: With an electric breast pump, the pump mechanism extracts your milk without you having to put in any manual effort. This would be a more suitable option for you if you plan on pumping regularly and if you plan on returning to work after you have your baby. Some pumps have the option to pump only a single breast at a time or both. 

Closed-System Breast Pump: Closed and open system pumps are types of electric breast pumps. Closed system breast pumps have a barrier between the milk collection bottle and the pump mechanism. The barrier prevents your breast milk and humidity from accidentally leaking into the pump mechanism or passing through contaminated tubing, making it more hygienic.  It also makes cleaning up afterwards much easier since you do not have to wash the tubing.

Open-System Breast Pump: Unlike the closed-system, this type of breast pump does not have a milk-blocking barrier, which makes it easier for your breastmilk to travel down the tubing and into the pump mechanism. With an open-system, you will have to be more diligent and thorough when cleaning your pump parts, especially the tubing since trapped milk can eventually start to grow mold.

Manual Pump: These types of pumps are not meant for “heavy duty” pumping, but rather occasional pumping. Manual pumps are often lighter and more affordable, however using them can be quite tedious and time-consuming. These pumps are well suited if you are mostly nursing or travelling since they do not require batteries.

Breast Pump Modes (Electric Breast Pumps)

Massage or Letdown Mode: Massage mode helps to stimulate a letdown. It mimics the same suction your baby uses to initiate a letdown themselves.

Start pumping in massage mode at your desired strength and switch to expression mode once your milk starts flowing.

Expression Mode: Expression mode is used after your letdown and once milk starts flowing. This is where you'll find a slower but stronger suction.


Many moms choose to alternate between massage and expression mode to stimulate second or third letdowns. Some moms even  prefer to stay in one mode the entire time. You can play around to find what works the best and feels the most comfortable for you.

Important Pump Parts

Flange:  This is one of the most important parts of your breast pump. The breast pump flange is essentially a plastic or silicone breast shield through which your breast, and more specifically your nipple must fit into, in order for your breast milk to be expressed.

For optimal milk expression and comfort, it’s important that you choose the correct flange size. Improper sizing can impact your supply and cause a variety of issues such as engorgement, blocked milk ducts, and nipple pain.

It’s common for pumps to include 24mm and 28mm flanges, however those might not be the best sizes for you. Not sure which size you need for your nips? We’re here to help! Check out our free Nipple Guide For Flanges And Breastshields . You can use it to measure both your nipples since it is possible they could require different sizes. It’s best to measure your nipples after pumping when they are at their fullest size.

Duck Bill vs. Valve & Membrane

When the pump sucks in air, there is a silicone membrane that contracts and “locks in” the suction to allow for milk to be extracted. When the pump releases air and these parts “release”, allowing your breast milk then trickles into the bottle. If the membranes are not air tight, it could prevent you from getting full suction resulting in lower output and clogged ducts. 

There are two types of membranes, duck bill and valve & membrane. Although both of these essentially serve the same function, there are some differences which can impact pumping outcomes. 

Valve & Membrane:  The valve is a hard plastic piece while the membrane is a thin piece made of silicon. Due to the design of these pieces, they have to be replaced more frequently than their counterpart.

Duck Bill: More moms prefer to use duck bills over the valve & membrane combo. Duck bills are more durable, easier to clean, and can sometimes help provide a stronger suction. On some pumps that use Valve & Membrane parts, they can be replaced with duck bill valves.

When to Replace Your Breast Pump’s Parts

Duck Bill vs. Valve & Membrane: Depending on your pumping frequency, it could determine how often to replace your pump parts. It is recommended to replace duck bills every 1-3 months, while the valve & membrane types should be replaced approximately every 2-8 weeks.


Flanges (Breastshields): These don’t need to be replaced as often as the membranes however they still do go through normal wear and tear. If you notice any cracks or deformity, replace them as this will impact suction strength and can make cleaning them properly difficult.

Tubing: If you see any moisture or residue in your breast pump’s tubing and are not able to get them completely dry, its best to replace them. You want to ensure that the milk your expressing is not contaminated.

Breast Pump: Breast pumps do have a lifespan based on how many hours you pumped. It’s best to check with the manufacturer of your pump to see what their recommended lifespan is. Although the pump might last significantly longer than their recommended time, the main thing to ensure is working properly is the suction strength. 

How to Pump

1) Sanitize your pump parts

2) Put your breast pump together and plug it in. While you are preparing your pump parts, it could help to use a hot compress to warm the breast. Warming the breast can help improve milk flow.

3) Have a seat and make sure your comfortable and your breast pumping station is stocked with everything you need including water and some snacks. Being comfortable and relaxed can also help with milk flow.

4) Put on your flanges and make sure they are properly centered. Remember to check out our guide to ensure your flanging sizing is correct.

5) Start the pump on letdown mode until you see the milk start flowing. Then switch to expression mode.

6) Massage the breast to maximize your output. Studies show hand on pumping yielded 48% more milk than pumping alone. Use a Lactation Massager to help with emptying the breast more effectively.

7) Once you are done, make sure to store your breast milk safely.

We hope you enjoyed this post. Now go on and rock that pump mama!