A breast pump is a mechanical device that lactating women use to extract milk. It may be a manual device powered by hand or foot movements, or an automatic one that uses electricity. Powered pumps are more efficient than manual pumps and can usually be used hands-free. They also let you pump at work or in public. A breast pump works by creating suction to remove milk from your breasts, and then storing it in a bottle or other container. This milk is called expressed milk, and it can be used to feed your baby when you are away from him.
Pumping can help you build up a supply of breast milk that can be fed to your baby when you are not available to nurse him, such as when you go back to work or school. It can also help relieve symptoms of engorged (overfull) breasts and plugged milk ducts. If you are planning to pump, start pumping two weeks before you go back to work or school. This gives your body time to adjust and increase your milk production.
Breast pumps are not expensive and are easy to use. There are different types and sizes, so you can choose the best one for your needs. Most models have a breast shield that fits over your nipple and areola. It has a long tube that connects to the pump, and a suction cup, or flange, that creates a vacuum to draw out the milk. Some pumps have a dial or switch to control the degree of suction. Other pumps have a control panel that lets you select different modes and settings.
Wash your hands before handling the pump, and make sure that you have a clean, private place to pump in. Before pumping, read the instructions for your particular model of breast pump to learn exactly how it works. Then, put together the pump and find a comfortable position. Make sure that you have a milk container and a bottle to put your expressed milk into, and get ready to begin.
When you start pumping, wait for the “let-down reflex,” a sensation that triggers your milk flow. It can be sparked by holding your baby or by looking at a picture of him. The pump can also stimulate it by sucking at your nipple and using the same technique as breastfeeding, which causes the release of the hormone oxytocin that initiates let-down.
When you’re ready to begin pumping, set the pump to your preferred setting and start pumping. During a session, you’ll probably want to pump for about 30 minutes or until your breasts feel empty. Pumping can be painful if the flange doesn’t fit snugly, so if you’re having trouble, ask your lactation consultant for help finding the right size. Remember to break the vacuum seal between your breast and the flange when you are done pumping. Then, pour the expressed milk into a bottle or other container and stow it in your refrigerator or freezer for later use.