How a Breast Pump Works

Two Basic Knobs Operate a Pumps Vacuum & Speed

Using a breast pump takes a bit of trial and error.  Depending on the type of breast pump, there are two major adjustment knobs. 

One knob is for vacuum adjustment, that will affect the comfort level for suction.  Less is more with this knob.  Mothers have been too quick to turn this knob to high, trying to get milk out fast.  This can cause a number of problems, like sore and cracked nipples.  Start on a lower setting and work up to higher settings, if necessary.

The second knob controls the speed of the electric motor.  It can be selectively varied to increase the frequency of the suction cycles, which can vary between 20 to 44 cycles per minute. The breast cup may collapses during a part of each cycle to simulate the peristaltic action of a suckling infant. This is how it is supposed to operate.

So, one knob for suction level and the other for speed of motor.  Test these two knobs at varied levels until you find what works best for you.

Another issue could be, that you need to feel more comfortable using a device to express milk.  Sometimes, it takes some getting used to.  Getting into a mind set to let a device extract your milk is easy for some, while others have an adjustment. 

Here are a couple of tips to help you relax and let the pump do its job.  First, you could have your baby near you while you pump.  Our motherly instinct will kick in and let milk flow, sometimes even when we don’t want the milk to flow.  When you baby is near, milk comes out more easily.  If you don’t want to pump near your baby, hold on to or wrap your baby’s blanket where you can smell it.  Have a picture of your baby so you can see it while pumping. 

The next step is what some people call the athlete’s success process.  When you begin your pumping session, use guided imagery.  Picture yourself as a fountain of breast milk that will feed your healthy plump baby with milk that flows freely.  Mothers have reported that using guided imagery has allowed them to relax enough to feel the same “let down” reflex that they feel when their baby is nursing at breast and they pump plenty of milk out.

These are a few ideas that might help.  Email your success or questions to us at  We love to hear from moms.


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