Why And How To Use A Manual Breast Pump

Image: Shutterstock


Breast pumps help lactating women extract milk from their breasts and store it for future use. A manual breast pump helps mothers provide their babies with precious breast milk loaded with antibodies to boost their immunity even when they are not around. This device functions on hand movements and is pretty efficient in extracting breast milk. In this post, we present you with the types, different parts, points to consider before buying, and tips on using a manual breast pump.

What is a breast pump?

Breast pumps are devices designed to extract (express) breast milk from a mother’s breasts and supplement or replace breastfeeding via bottle or alternative feeding method. Some pumps even mimic the suckling action of a baby.

Why do you need a breast pump?

As a new mother, you might need a breast pump for several reasons. A few of them are:

  1. The baby is not able to breastfeed directly or has medical complications.
  1. The baby is born premature or cannot latch on to the breast.
  1. You have to return to work or study and do not have the chance to breastfeed several times in a day.
  1. You are unable to sit for long to breastfeed the baby.
  1. You need to relieve plugged milk ducts or pull out a flat or inverted nipple.
  1. Get relief from the pain and pressure of engorged breasts, especially where the baby is unable to provide that relief.

There are different types of breast pumps.

What are the types of breast pumps?

There are three basic types of breast pumps:

1. Manual breast pumps:

Manual breast pumps usually have a lever or handle, which needs to be operated manually in order to express the breast milk. The milk is then collected in a container.
These pumps are usually small and handy and can be great to use on the go. Some of the disadvantages are being unable to express both breasts at the same time and the chance that your hands may hurt from constant manual effort required to work the pump.

2. Battery-powered breast pumps:

Image: Shutterstock

A battery powered pump uses batteries to power a small motor that creates suction to express the breast milk. The powered pump can also control the degree of suction, hence varying the amount of milk collected. Depending on the model, battery-powered pumps may provide less suction than an electric pump with a power cord. Learning hands-on pumping can help express more milk.

3. Electric breast pumps:

Image: Shutterstock

An electric pump is similar to a battery powered pump except that it has a cord that plugs into an electrical outlet.

Breast pumps can also be classified based on the pumping type:

  • Single pumping:

Single pumping type devices can be used to express milk from only one breast at a time. Manual and most of the battery-powered pumps are single pumping types.

  • Double pumping:

Double pumping type devices are designed to express milk from both breasts simultaneously. These consist of two breast shields (also called flanges) with tubing connecting to the container. Most electric breast pumps are double pumping-type devices.

Though all types of breast pumps might suit, we will be focusing on manual breast pumps in this post.

What are the parts of a manual breast pump?

Any basic manual breast pump consists of the following parts:

  1. Breast shield/flange: A cone-shaped cup meant for fitting over the nipple and the areola.
  1. Pump: The component that creates a vacuum to express or extract the milk from the nipple. The pump can either be directly attached to the breast shield or through a plastic tube.
  1. Container: Collects the extracted milk. It can be either a bottle or a bag.

What Should You Look For When Buying A Manual Breast Pump?

You can rely on this checklist while buying a manual breast pump.

1. Usage of the pump

  • How many times you will be using the pump
  • If you want to use the pump in addition to breastfeeding or substitute direct breastfeeding
  • How much milk you can pump in one session

2. Duration of each pumping session

  • If you do not have time constraints, then using a manual pump may be a good option for you.
  • If you plan to use the pump at work or do not have much time, look for a double electric or battery pump that extracts milk from both breasts, simultaneously.

3. The instructions on the manual pump

You need to understand the instructions to assemble, use, and clean the device. Review the instruction manuals of various pumps online or at the store to check their user-friendliness.

4. Place of use

Buy a smaller one if you intend to use it at your workplace. You can also consider exploring hands-free battery powered breast pumps that can be used while working or driving.

5. Portability

If you intend to carry the breast pump while traveling, look for ones that are portable, do not take up a lot of space, and are easy to assemble and handle. Manual and battery pumps are easier to carry than the electric ones.

6. Breast shields of the pump

Make sure the breast shields match your breast size. Check the manufacturer’s website for the breast shield sizes and pick the one that fits you. It is important to know, pumping should not hurt. Many times, when pumping hurts, it’s because the shield/flange is too large. Only the nipple should be pulled into the funnel of the shield, not the areola.

7. The suction of the pumps

The amount of suction of the breast pump should be just right for your milk supply. Excessive suction can leave you with sore and painful breasts after each pumping session and less suction will end up in engorged breasts even after a session. Begin at the lowest setting and increase based on your comfort level.

8. Design of the pump

You will want to look for a manual pump that is easy to hold and handle. Pumps with bulky designs can be difficult to use and transport.

How To Use A Manual Breast Pump?

Here is how you can use a manual breast pump. You may also follow the instructions given on the product label.

  1. Place the breast shield on your nipple. Your nipple should easily go inside the breast shield.
  1. Hold the breast shield in place with one hand and hold the lever/handle with the other hand.
  1. Wipe off any nipple cream or ointment before applying pump. This may not always be necessary, i.e. lanolin can act as a lubricant during pumping and also doesn’t need to be washed off before breastfeeding. Other creams or fragranced lotions may need to be wiped off.
  1. Move around the handle of the pump until you find an appropriate suction level. This will make the pumping easier.
  1. Keep yourself calm and be relaxed during the pumping session. Even consider looking at a picture or video of your baby. Time your session well so that you don’t have to rush through it.
  1. Gently insert your finger between your breast and the shield to break the vacuum seal and remove the shield from your breast.
  1. Shorter, more frequent pumping sessions are recommended over longer, infrequent sessions. This will help maintain your milk supply. Wash all the breast pump parts including the milk container, valves, and breast shields, after each use.

Note: Every manual breast pump is accompanied by a detailed instruction manual on how to use the pump. Follow the manual because detailed instructions change from pump to pump.

General tips on using a manual breast pump

Follow these tips when you are using a manual breast pump.

  1. Read through the entire instruction manual even if you have used a breast pump before.
  1. Wash your hands with soap and water and dry them thoroughly before using the pump.
  1. Wash your breasts before pumping, if you have been using any cream or ointment on them.
  1. Find a clean and comfortable place where you are not likely to be disturbed.
  1. Keep yourself calm and be relaxed during the pumping session. Time your session well so that you don’t have to rush through it.
  1. Pump as long as it feels comfortable and productive to you.
  1. Wash all the breast pump parts–container and breast shields, after each use.

Next, let’s see the various breast pumps available in the market.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long should I manually pump each breast?

While using a manual pump, you may pump for about 15 minutes every three to four hours. If you are planning to go back to work, you may speak with your employer about an appropriate private space to pump and ensure to start practicing pumping two weeks before you start working (1).

2. Is a manual or automatic breast pump better?

Both pumps have their share of advantages and disadvantages. A manual pump is great for carrying anywhere but requires labor and time, while an electric pump is time-saving (2). Nonetheless, a research study says that a manual pump is as productive as an electric pump (3).

3. Should I pump after every feeding?

Yes, experts suggest you pump after every feed for at least ten minutes to maintain your milk supply and prevent breast discomforts (4).

Manual breast pumps allow the mother to control the pumping and its pace directly. They help express breast milk when breastfeeding is not possible due to illnesses or other issues. Also, babies who cannot latch or feed on breasts can be fed easily. The pumps are useful to collect and store breast milk for later use. Always follow advice from a certified lactation consultant to know the right ways to use breast pumps and store milk. You should also clean the breast pumps as per recommended hygiene standards.

Disclaimer: MomJunction may earn a commission when products are purchased through affiliate links given in the article. However, this partnership does not influence the editorial content featured in our list.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Using A Breast Pump.
  2. 5 things to know about buying and using breast pumps
  3. Donald K Hayes et al. (2008); Comparison of manual and electric breast pumps among WIC women returning to work or school in Hawaii
  4. Breast-Feeding Questions
Was this article helpful?
The following two tabs change content below.

Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a certified lactation counsellor from iNational Health Care Academy, Singapore and a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. She did her graduation in Dentistry from KM Shah Dental College. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate... more

Regina Kincaid

Regina qualified as a midwife in 2005 in Germany and has since worked in maternity care in England and Ireland. She achieved stage 1 of the UNICEF Baby Friendly accreditation as infant feeding lead midwife at Ealing Hospital in London and worked in the lactation team of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, Ireland. She did her Neonatal Examination Course... more