How to Use an Electric Pump: Step by Step Guide for Moms

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Do you want to learn how to use an electric pump?

It’s such a small item but it can be very intimidating to the newly breastfeeding mom. 

My breast pump sat in the box for weeks because I was too afraid to take it out. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it. ?

The one time I’d seen one in use, I was so freaked out I didn’t think to ask any questions. I just remembered thinking, “What is that thing doing to her nipples!?

Surprisingly, I ended up breastfeeding and pumping for 2 years and learned everything I know through trial and error. 

I want to share with you all of the things I’ve learned on my journey to help you avoid some of the common struggles.

So, today, I’m going to give you a step by step guide on how to pump using an electric breast pump. More specifically, how to use a medela breast pump. Consider this your official instruction manual. 


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Don’t have your breast pump yet? You may be able to qualify for a free one through your insurance. Click here to find out.


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How to use an electric breast pump

1. Open the box 

I know it’s scary but it’s time to rip off the bandaid and see what’s inside. I promise nothing will bite!

2. Take out the contents

If your insurance issued medela breast pump is shipped to you, here is what you can expect to see inside: 

Breast Milk Pumping Basics

  1. A breast pump

  2. Power adapter 

  3. 2 5oz milk collection bottles along with 2 caps 

  4. Pump tubing 

  5. A pair of 24mm shields 

  6. 2 valves with 2 membranes 

  7. 2 breast shield connectors

If you decide to purchase the medela pump in style from a store or Amazon, your contents will be similar but you do get more. You should expect to also find:

  1. A portable plastic workspace

  2. 27mm shield

  3. A pump bag 

  4. Bottle cooler

  5. Ice pack

  6. 2 additional milk collection bottles with caps

3. Check the size of the breast shields 

Your breast pump will come with a 24mm shield and maybe a 27mm shield. This doesn’t necessarily mean this is the correct size for you. 

The size you need will depend on the size of your nipple. Medela recommends using a measuring tape to measure the distance across the middle of your nipple from the base (not including the areola). Make sure you’re using the mm side. 

Once you have a number, head on over to Madela’s breast shield sizing guide and find out what size is best for you. 

Please don’t skip this step! 

According to Lactation Care, using the wrong size shield could cause you to not pump enough milk, end up with painful nipples, and develop clogged milk ducts that could eventually lead to infection. 

Trust me, these are all things you want to avoid, if possible. 

4. Get familiar with the breast pump

Yes, the pump is a little intimidating. But once you know what each button does and how to use it, you’ll feel more confident. 

Use the picture below to learn more about your breast pump. 

electric breast pump for breastfeeding


The Dial

On the top right you’ll see a dial. This is how you choose the amount of suction the pump applies to your nipple. Others may refer to this dial as the way to determine the breast pump speed. 

Logically speaking, it would seem as if the more suction (or speed) you use, the more milk you should be able to pump. This is not the case. In fact, you want to use the least amount of suction (or speed) that gets the job done. 


Increased suction can cause your nipples to blister, decrease milk output, and make pumping feel miserable. 

You want to pump at the highest suction level that you can tolerate. 

Start low, and increase one notch at a time until you reach a point where it’s uncomfortable. At this point, go back down a notch. 

Don’t expect your tolerance level to be the same every day. Some days your nipples may be more tender than others. You may find you aren’t able to handle the same level of suction as you did the previous day. 

This is normal and nothing to be concerned about. Adjust your suction accordingly. 


The Letdown Button

This little button will become your best friend, especially when you start working and pumping.

But, many moms don’t know how to use it. 

The letdown button is made to mimic the nursing actions of a newborn baby. Newborns tend to suck rapidly with intermittent pauses, stimulating milk production. 

Depending on where you are in your breastfeeding journey, you can use the letdown button in 2 different ways. 

  1. To help initiate milk production (for exclusively pumping moms)
  2. To maintain an established milk supply. (For then breastfeeding and pumping moms)

The body can respond differently to breast pumping than it does to traditional breastfeeding. Some women aren’t able to “letdown” on the pump the way they can with their baby. 

That’s where the letdown button comes in. It helps to maximize the amount of milk being pumped while mimicking your body’s natural let down mechanism. 

Don’t worry we will discuss this more when going over how to breast pump. 


Adapter plugin

This is the place where you’ll plug in the included adapter or your breast pump car adapter. (add affiliate link)


Tubing Port

Over to the left, you’ll notice two protruding holes. This is where you hook up the pump tubing. 

It’s best to pump both of your breasts at the same time, but you can decide to only pump 1. I sometimes did this if my baby was nursing on the other side. 

If you do decide to pump a single breast, make sure to plug the other connector with the tubing port cover. It sits above the two ports in the middle. 

Now it’s time to start pumping! 


How to pump milk using an electric breast pump 

how to pump properly







Now that you know how to use an electric pump, let’s go over the pumping process. 

First, here are the things you’ll need to make your pumping sessions more tolerable:


Hands-free pumping bra (This is the one I use)

Nipple cream (There are many on the market but this is my favorite)

Towel (for catching milk)

Something to read or watch. (This will do the trick)


Let’s get started. 

  1. It’s a good idea to wash your hands before and after handling your breast pump parts. So go ahead and do that now.  

  2. Decide where you’re going to pump and gather all of your pumping essentials. Some moms even decide to create a breast pumping station

  3. Plug the breast pump into the closest outlet and place it on a surface close to where you will be sitting. 

  4. Place a valve and membrane on each of the two breast shield connectors

  5. Attach a set of the connected valve, membrane, and breast shield connector to two medela bottles. 

  6. Place each of the two pumping tubes into the tubing ports 

  7. Put on your hands-free pumping bra 

  8. Rub lanolin on your nipples 

  9. Place a breast shield over each nipple. 

  10. Attach a breast shield connector and bottle set to each pumping shield. 

  11. Now attach the pumping tubes to the breast shield connectors 

  12. Place a towel on your lap 

  13. Sit back

  14. Set a timer for 20 minutes 

  15. Turn on the pump

  16. Keep turning up the dial one notch at a time until it feels uncomfortable. Now turn the dial down by 1 notch. 

  17. Watch for the flow of milk into the collection bottles. If milk comes in the first two minutes of pumping, hit the letdown button. This takes the breast pump out of the stimulation phase and into the milk expression phase. If two minutes have passed and milk isn’t flowing, don’t worry. The pump will automatically switch to the expression phase after 2 minutes. 

  18. Once the 20-minute timer goes off, turn the breast pump off. The only reason not to do so is if you are in the middle of a “let down”. In that case, wait for the flow of milk to stop and then turn the pump off. 

  19. Disconnect the milk collection bottles from the pump parts and immediately secure the bottle top. It’s very easy to knock over the bottle and you don’t want to cry over spilled milk!

  20. Remove the valves (place them in the towel in your lap). 

  21. Take off the pumping bra

  22. Remove the breast shields. 

  23. Celebrate surviving your first pumping session!


Pumping breast milk tips

You’ll find that returning to work will increase the amount of time you spend with your breast pump. Over time you may experience a decrease in your milk supply. When this happens the biggest culprit will probably be your pump parts.

Your valve membranes aren’t made to last forever. Make sure to keep extras and change them out periodically. You’ll also want to have an extra set of pump tubing and breast shields. You can get them here


If you aren’t getting the amount of breast milk you expect in a pumping session, there are other things you can try: 

  1. Breast massage 

  2. Leaning forward while pumping

  3. Looking at pictures or watching videos of your baby

  4. Pumping regularly

  5. Power pumping 


How to pump properly

Is the electric breast pump a little less scary now? 

I hope so! 

You now have a step by step guide to help you use an electric breast pump for breastfeeding. If you come across any additional questions or run into problems, feel free to consult a lactation consultant.

They can help you determine when to start using your electric breast pump, how to express more milk, and anything else breastfeeding or pumping related!

Use your resources and be sure to pump regularly. It’s the one way to ensure your milk supply doesn’t tank upon returning to work.

You’ve got this Momma!

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