How to Avoid Sore Nipples and Breast Trauma From Breast Pumps

6 Ways to Prevent Pumping Pain and Injury

How To Avoid Sore Nipples And Breast Trauma When Using A Breast Pump
You can avoid breast pain and sore nipples by learning how to use a breast pump correctly. Steve Debenport/E+/Getty Images

Using a breast pump, just like breastfeeding, should not be painful or traumatic. And, just like breastfeeding, it's not always easy. Expressing your breast milk with a breast pump is something that you have to learn how to do, and you'll get better at it over time.

When you don't know how to use a breast pump correctly, it can cause pain and breast injury. But, when you do learn how to use a breast pump correctly, it will not only prevent pain and injury, but it will help you to remove the breast milk from your breasts more efficiently.

So, whether you're just pumping an occasional extra bottle of breast milk, or you're pumping several times a day for a preemie or because you've returned to work, you can avoid the pain and breast injury that can come along with pumping by following these simple tips. 

#1. Keep It Clean

Always wash your hands and your breasts before pumping and make sure your pumping equipment is clean. You want to keep the germs or any contamination away as much as possible. Bacteria and fungus can cause sore, cracked nipples, thrush, or a breast infection

#2. Use a Pump Flange That Fits You Correctly

The part of the breast pump that goes over your breast and nipple is called the flange or breast shield. Many women just use the standard size flange that comes with the pump. They don't realize that it's not a one size fits all kind of product, and many breast pumps offer the option to buy extra shields in different sizes.

If you use a pump flange that's too large, it will not be very effective. If you use a pump shield that's too small, your nipples will rub against the sides instead of being drawn into the inner funnel. This rubbing can cause sore nipples. So, before you go ahead and use that standard size flange, be sure that it fits comfortably and that you're not simply suffering through the process because you think "That's how it's supposed to be!"

#3. Position Your Breast in the Pump Shield Carefully

Once you have the correct size flange, you want to be sure that you're placing your breast correctly inside of it. Your nipple should be placed perfectly centered in the middle of the flange. If it's off-center, even just a little bit, your nipple will feel and look like it's been bruised. So, it's important to take the time to make sure it's positioned properly before turning on the pump.

#4. Don't Overdo It on the Suction and Speed of the Pump

If you pump on high suction and at super speed, it does not mean you'll get more breast milk or finish pumping more quickly. These high settings are not only painful, but they may cause you to remove less breast milk. Instead, keep the suction and the speed of the pump on slow and low. You want to find a setting that's comfortable and gets your milk flowing. Remember that you want to mimic how the baby feeds, and even if your baby has a strong suck, it still does not compare to the strength of the pump on high suction. 

#5. Don't Pump for Excessive Periods of Time

Pump each breast for about 10 minutes. If you aren't getting any breast milk after a few minutes, it's OK to continue pumping for the full 10 minutes. If you're still getting breast milk after 10 minutes, you can pump for a little longer. If you pump each breast separately, it's best to try to pump for about 20 minutes per pumping session and no longer that 30 minutes. If you pump both breasts at the same time, the maximum time you should pump is 15 minutes. Continuing to pump for longer than the recommended maximum times can lead to sore nipples and sore breasts.

#6. Avoid Bicycle Horn Pumps

Bicycle horn or bulb-style breast pumps are small, portable, hand-operated pumps with rubber bulbs at the end that provide the source of suction. They have been used to relieve occasional breast engorgement, but they're not recommended. Since it's difficult to control the suction of these pumps, they can cause damage to the breast tissue and put you at a greater risk for breast issues such as sore nipples or mastitis. If you'd like to use a small, portable, manual device, there are safer options. 

Where to Find Help If You Need It

If you continue to have breast pain, sore nipples, or bruising on your breasts, get help. See your doctor for an examination. Your doctor can treat any breast issues related to pump trauma and instruct you on the proper use of a breast pump or give you a referral to see someone who can. A lactation consultant can also help. A lactation consultant can teach you how to use a pump correctly and provide you with information and tips on how to get the best results with a breast pump.  

Edited by Donna Murray

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View Article Sources
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.
  • Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.