Expert Advice

Pump vs Breastfeeding: What you need to know

Expressing breast milk can be useful for many reasons. Here's what you need to know about pumping...

By Fiona Wright

There are many reasons for exclusively expressing which may include difficultly breastfeeding, mother has returned to work or perhaps baby doesn't feed well at the breast.

How long does it take?

According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, the amount of time it takes to express can vary due to the time of the day, the type of breast pump, technique, pump setting, mother's flow, etc. However, on average an expressing session lasts about 15 minutes.

How much to express?

Knowing how much an exclusively breastfeed baby drinks can help work out how much to express. A newborn takes in small amounts of colostrum per feed. Then, when the milk comes in, the volume the baby consumes increases rapidly. Research shows a baby between the age of one to six months drinks an average of 750-800ml in a 24 hour period.

Changes in supply

If your supply drops you can try increasing by …

  • Expressing more often over the course of a 24-hour period.
  • Increase the skin-to-skin time spent with your baby.
  • While pumping, do a combination of squeezing and massaging your breasts.
  • Continue to pump until a few minutes after your milk flow stops.
  • After pumping, hand express for a few minutes.
  • Power pumping — ie several pumping sessions in a 2–3 hour period of time. During each session, pump until a few minutes after your milk flow stops.

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Storing breastmilk

Expressed breastmilk can be stored in the fridge for three to five days (at the back on a shelf, not in the door) and frozen for us to three months, depending on your freezer.

Skin-to-skin time with your baby can help increase your milk flow. *Image: Getty Images.
Skin-to-skin time with your baby can help increase your milk flow. *Image: Getty Images.

Manual vs Electric

Manual pumps
Manual (or hand-operated) pumps are smaller than electric pumps and more discreet. They are also cheaper than electric pumps. Manual pumps are light and portable so you don't need to worry about an electricity supply or sound as most a quiet. A manual pump gives the user complete control over the suction and speed of the pump; however, many mothers grow tiresome during manual expression and are unable to collect enough milk.

Electric pumps
They are more expensive but electric pumps can be easier to use than manual ones because they don't require much physical effort. And many models let you pump both breasts at once, which is a real time-saver and may increase your milk supply. Look for an electric breast pump that has separately adjustable suction and cycle levels, as this will enable you to choose settings that most closely resemble the way your baby suckles. It is also useful to have a pump that operates in two phases: one to stimulate the let down of your milk, and then the second for efficient expressing.

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