How Does an Electric Breast Pump Work?

As a new mom, one of the challenges you might face is finding the right way to feed your little one when you’re away or unable to breastfeed directly. That’s where the best electric breast pumps come in handy. These stylish devices allow you to express and store your breast milk, ensuring your baby receives all the essential nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive into the world of electric breast pumps, exploring how they work, what components they typically include, and addressing some frequently asked questions.

Whether you’re a first-time parent or an experienced one, this information will help you navigate the pumping process with ease and confidence, allowing you to cherish the beautiful journey of motherhood while providing the best nourishment for your little one.

What Does a New Breast Pump Come With?

A new breast pump generally comes with a set of essential components to facilitate efficient milk expression. These components typically include:

  • Flanges, also known as breast shields, which create a seal over the nipple and areola
  • Specialized tubing to ensure optimal suction and prevent milk from flowing back into the pump motor
  • Backflow protectors that detach from the tubing to maintain hygiene;
  • Valves necessary for the pump’s proper function; and one or two collection bottles with lids, which attach directly to the flanges to collect expressed breast milk.

All these components work together to provide lactating mothers with a convenient and effective solution for expressing breast milk.

Parts of an Electric Breast Pump

Essential parts and accessories typically included with an electric breast pump:

  • Pump itself
  • Valves
  • Membranes
  • Breast shields (flanges)
  • Tubing
  • Connectors
  • Power adaptors
  • Battery packs

Some other optional accessories and items can enhance the pumping experience:

  • Breast milk bottles
  • Storage bags
  • Carrying bags or totes

In addition to the above, it’s essential to consider the broader implications of breast pumping on breastfeeding outcomes. A recent study examined the impact of breast pumping on breastfeeding duration, particularly focusing on mothers with concerns about milk supply.

The findings revealed that experiences with breastfeeding can influence breastfeeding duration, with some mothers facing challenges that may lead to early discontinuation of breastfeeding. It shows the importance of properly using a breast pump to achieve its effectiveness.

How Does an Electric Breast Pump Work?

Getting Started

Before using your electric breast pump, you’ll need to get everything set up properly. Wash all pump parts that come into contact with breast milk in hot, soapy water and allow them to fully air dry. Read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you understand how to assemble the pump correctly.

Positioning the Flanges

Find a comfortable position, either sitting or standing. Center the funnel-shaped flange or breast shield over your nipple and areola. The flange should form a secure seal around your breast without any gaps. Many pumps come with different-sized flanges to ensure a proper fit.

Initiating Letdown

Most electric pumps have a letdown or massage mode to help stimulate your milk ejection reflex. Plug the pump motor into an electrical outlet and turn it on to this mode. It uses light, frequent sucking patterns to initiate milk flow. Apply gentle breast massage and compressions during this phase.

Switching to Expression Mode

Once your milk has begun flowing, press the button to switch the pump to the expression mode. This mode uses longer sucking cycles and stronger vacuum pressure to effectively draw out your milk supply. Note that the switching of modes can work both ways depending on the brand of electric breast pump. Some pumps automatically transition from letdown mode to expression mode based on cues like the start of milk flow, while others may require manual intervention to switch modes. Adjust the suction strength using the control dial to the maximum comfortable level, avoiding excessive vacuum.

Draining Both Breasts

The expressed milk will travel through the tubes into collection bottles or bags attached to the pump. Switch between breasts every 5-10 minutes or when the flow slows, using breast compressions to fully drain each side. Double-pumping both breasts simultaneously can save time.

Ending the Session

After 20-30 minutes of pumping or when no more milk is expressed, turn off the pump motor. Release any remaining vacuum seal before removing the flanges from your breasts. Carefully detach bottles or bags containing your expressed milk.

Cleaning and Storage

Refer to your pump’s instructions for properly cleaning and sanitizing all parts after each use. Store expressed milk safely in bottles or bags, following guidelines for refrigeration or freezing. An electric breast pump allows for hands-free, efficient milk expression when you can’t directly breastfeed your baby.

How Does a Double Electric Breast Pump Work?

A double electric breast pump allows you to pump both breasts simultaneously for faster, more efficient milk expression. The process works very similarly to pumping one breast at a time, with a few key differences:



  • Follow the same initial setup – wash all parts, and assemble the pump per instructions.
  • Instead of one flange, attach two flanges to the pump’s tubing and collection bottles/bags.


  • Get seated comfortably with the double pump positioned at breast level.
  • Center a flange over each nipple, ensuring a warm seal without any gaps on the areolas.
  • The flanges may need to be angled slightly inward for proper fit on each breast.

Pumping Process

  • The letdown/massage mode uses the same light, and rapid suction patterns on both breasts to initiate letdown.
  • Once milk begins flowing, switch to the deeper expression mode suction.
  • Control dials allow you to adjust vacuum strength individually for each breast.
  • Expressed milk travels through separate tubing into the collection bottles/bags.

Swap Breasts

  • Most pumps have bottles that can rotate 360° for full breast drainage.
  • Still, swap the flanges between breasts halfway through pumping.
  • Use massage techniques to fully empty each breast.

The double collection allows you to pump both breasts at the same time, cutting your total pumping time in half compared to single pumping. This efficient process completely drains your milk supply in one session.

Importance of Proper Pumping

A recent study explored the impact of double electric breast pumps on breastfeeding practices, highlighting potential benefits and concerns. Efficient pumps may increase infant milk intake and extend breastfeeding, but separating breastfeeding from milk expression could weaken societal support. The study also raises concerns that splitting breastfeeding from milk pumping might lessen support for breastfeeding in society. It also wonders if having easy access to pumps could make it tough to push for laws on paid maternity leave.


How long does it take to pump breast milk with an electric pump?

Using a double electric breast pump to pump both breasts simultaneously usually takes around 20-30 minutes. However, the total pumping time can vary. Some mothers may only need 15-20 minutes, while others may need to pump for up to 30 minutes to fully drain their breasts. The key is to pump until your milk flow slows down and your breasts feel well-drained.

Do breast pumps come with bottles?

Yes, most breast pumps come with one or two milk collection bottles that attach directly to the pump’s flanges. The bottles have lids to store the expressed milk. However, you may want to purchase additional bottles if you plan to pump multiple times per day, so you always have clean bottles ready.

Does a manual breast pump work better?

Manual breast pumps can be a good alternative for some mothers, but they don’t necessarily work better than electric pumps. The pros of manual pumps are that they are affordable, easy to use, lightweight, and portable. However, the downside is they can be time-consuming and tiring since you need to operate them by hand and they only pump one breast at a time.

Electric pumps are more efficient than manual pumps as they automate the pumping process and allow double pumping of both breasts simultaneously, increasing milk output. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and lifestyle needs when choosing between a manual or electric breast pump.

Will pumping every 2 hours increase the milk supply?

Yes, pumping more frequently, such as every 2-3 hours, can increase your overall daily milk output. This is because more frequent milk removals signal your body to produce more milk to meet the increased demand. Some recommendations suggest pumping every 2-3 hours, around 8 times per day, to build and maintain a healthy milk supply.

Are you supposed to lean forward when pumping?

Yes, you should lean forward slightly while pumping to help milk flow more easily through the flanges/shields and into the bottles. Leaning forward takes advantage of gravity to drain your breasts more effectively and reduces the workload on the pump motor. Using a pillow behind you can help maintain this recommended leaning position comfortably during pumping sessions.

Final Words

As you journey through motherhood, an electric breast pump becomes a trusted ally, ensuring your baby gets the best nourishment even when you’re apart. Amidst the ups and downs of parenting, take comfort in knowing that this handy device helps you provide love and care to your little one, no matter where you are. So, cherish each moment, knowing that your dedication to your baby’s well-being shines through in every drop of breast milk expressed. Here’s to the wonderful adventures ahead, filled with love and cherished memories shared between you and your precious child.