The highs and lows of using a breast pump


It’s 3 a.m., and your eyes open wide when you hear the incessant beep of your alarm clock. Your baby is sound asleep, but your engorged breasts prevent you from hitting that snooze button.

In the fogginess that is your postpartum life, attaching your breasts to cold flanges and listening to the suctioning sounds of your breast pump is pretty much the last thing you want to do. On the other hand, the ability to provide all that milk without having to wake your baby is a giant relief. 

This is the ever-complicated relationship most parents have with the breast pump—an innovative device we so appreciate, yet curse at the very same time. There’s no denying that breast pumps are useful; however, learning how to use them, let alone leverage them to increase and/or sustain your milk supply, is anything but easy. 

Some parents choose to use a breast pump in addition to breastfeeding their child as a means to create a more substantial milk supply. Others use it to make milk for a child that they cannot, or choose not to, breastfeed directly. No matter how you use your breast pump, or your reason for using it, you share one commonality with all pumping moms: the journey is a labor of love. 

Breast pumps can certainly make the breastfeeding or breast milk-providing experience significantly easier. After all, breastfeeding an infant, baby, or toddler is usually no walk in the park. That being said, breast pumps come with their own set of unique challenges as well as frustrations.

Here, we asked real moms to share their true feelings about breast pumping, including the highs and the lows of using a breast pump. 

The highs of using a breast pump

A breast pump does serve some seriously important purposes, like alleviating engorgement, helping to prevent infection, creating a stash of liquid gold for our babies, and more. Here, moms share the perks of breast pumping. 

1. It extended my breastfeeding journey

“I could continue my breastfeeding journey without having to be with my baby 24/7 (pumping at work, providing bottles for daycare). It also allowed me to manage my supply. I could add a pump session in the middle of the day to help promote a healthy supply, pump for comfort when I was engorged, or pump overnight when my baby started sleeping longer stretches.”

—Katie R., mom of two from York, Maine

2. I got to see exactly how much my baby was eating

“The anxiety and unknowns of being a first-time mom are high but having the visual that I was, in fact, producing enough breast milk for my baby was reassuring. When the time came for us to wean, I could do so at a pace that was safe and comfortable for my body rather than dictated by the baby’s feeding schedule.”  

—KB., mom of one from Salem, Massachusetts

3. It allowed me to create a milk stash

“One perk of using a breast pump is the ability to collect excess milk to use for bottles. Breastfeeding can be extremely time consuming and I found that having excess milk stored in the fridge or freezer that my husband could give the baby every once in a while was really helpful for my journey!”

—Sarah G., mom of two from San Diego, California

4. It let me multitask if needed

“Pumping with a portable, hands-free breast pump frees up your arms and hands so you can multitask if needed. When breastfeeding, you have to actually hold the baby and sit in one place until they are done feeding. Depending on the breast pump, you can be more mobile.”

—Jessica T., mom of two from Bridgewater, New Jersey

5. I get longer stretches of sleep

“My breast pump assisted with allowing both my baby and I to get longer stretches of sleep since I did not have to wake up, or wake my baby up, to feed. It also allowed me to still provide breast milk while we have to maintain employment.”

—Andrea G., mom of two from Swampscott, Massachusetts  

6. It helped prevent infection

“In the beginning, I was able to relieve the pressure of oversupply and avoid clogged ducts or, worse, mastitis. Although I was home and able to exclusively breastfeed, pumps were necessary to relieve pressure when gone from my children. Hand expressing would have never cut it; I’ve tried!”

—Abbey G, mom of two from Marblehead, Massachusetts 


The lows of using a breast pump

Pumping allows us to provide our babies with milk without having to be the sole feeder, yet the relationship most moms have with these electrical devices is, well, complicated. Here are some of the lows of using a breast pump, according to pumping moms. 

1. The cleaning process is so time-consuming

“When you’re sleep deprived and already have so many cleaning tasks on your plate, adding in pump parts to wash is a pain.” 

—Amber M., mom of two from Carlsbad, California

2. Pumps require so much trial and error

“You don’t just turn a pump on and it works seamlessly. For me, it was less effective than my baby at emptying my breasts, as well as dealing with any blockages or blebs. There’s so much fiddling around with the different settings that I wasn’t prepared for. It takes a while to figure out what speeds, pressures, and combinations of the two work for your particular body. And what’s even worse is that, when seeking support from my area lactation consultants, I was told that they only offer breastfeeding support appointments and not pumping support so you really are on your own.”

—KB., mom of one from Salem, Massachusetts

3. It takes even more time out of your day

“As a new breastfeeding mom, so much of your time is spent feeding you sometimes feel like that’s all you do. Adding pumping into the mix just means more time spent doing things vs. relaxing.”

—Sarah G., mom of two from San Diego, California

4. It’s uncomfortable and lacks the intimacy of nursing

“The process is very time-consuming compared to nursing directly and lacks the intimacy of breastfeeding. It’s very uncomfortable and causes soreness if not done correctly. It was also hard for me to establish my supply just from pumping alone, mostly because the process lacks intimacy so it felt like a chore that I wasn’t always consistent with doing on schedule.”

—Marina S., mom of two from Swampscott, Massachusetts

5. Without a portable machine, you have to be “plugged in”

“Until I found an equally powerful model, I needed to be ‘plugged in’ while pumping. This counteracted the sharing of feeding responsibilities, as I often pumped while my baby was eating. It also limited where I could be at a pumping time. Finding a good fit for a portable pump was an additional out-of-pocket expense as my larger one was insurance covered but nothing else was.”

—Amanda H., mom of one from Swampscott, Massachusetts

6. It’s plain uncomfortable

“I found pumping uncomfortable. It was never enjoyable and I feel very lucky to not have depended on them, otherwise I would have not breastfed for as long as I did. They would release pressure, but not to the extent that a real latch would.”

—Abbey G., mom of two from Marblehead, Massachusetts


Q: When does breast milk come in?

A: Though the timeline looks a bit different for everyone, breast milk generally comes in between 2 to 5 days after giving birth. If you’ve had a C-section it may take closer to a week. Before this, you’ll produce colostrum, a yellowish milk that’s sticky to the touch. 

Q: What are the disadvantages of pumping breast milk?

A: Pumping breast milk can be quite time-consuming and is not very comfortable. Additionally, moms who use a breast pump point out that it can be difficult to get as much milk from a breast pump as they do from their baby. Pumping can also be expensive, since you have to continue to buy necessary supplies such as pumping bags.

Q: Can you pump while pregnant?

A: Yes, it’s possible to pump while you’re pregnant. In fact, it’s possible that pumping during pregnancy can result in increased milk supply thanks to the increase in prolactin. It’s also a great way to create a freezer stash for after your baby is born.

Q: When should I start pumping?

A: If you plan to breastfeed, the best time to start pumping is two weeks after establishing nursing. However, if you plan on solely pumping, you can begin pumping at any time before or after giving birth. 

Q: How often should I pump?

A: How often you should pump depends on a few circumstances, including whether or not you’re exclusively pumping or supplementing with formula. If you are exclusively pumping, it’s recommended that you pump 8 times a day. If you’re supplementing with breastfeeding, you can pump less often, but you should still aim to pump every time that your baby should be eating. 

Q: How long should you pump for?

A: How long you should pump also depends on your circumstance. If you are exclusively pumping, it’s a good idea to pump for at least 20-30 minutes per session. If you’re pumping in addition to breastfeeding, you can pump less, but should do so for a minimum of 15 minutes per session.

Q: How often should I pump if I’m breastfeeding? 

A: If you’re pumping in addition to breastfeeding, you should still pump for at least 15 minutes per session.

Q: How much milk should I be pumping?

A: How much milk you produce when pumping may differ from your friend or colleague—and that’s OK. Ideally, you want to pump as much milk as your baby would consume in a bottle. For a newborn, that’s about 2-3 ounces per feeding; for 6-12 months, that’s about 4-5 ounces per feeding; for 12-18 months that’s about 3-4 ounces per feeding. 


You may also like


Stay in the know

Sign up to get sleep tips, exciting product updates, and special offers right into your inbox.