Avoid Sore Nipples and Trauma From Breast Pumping

Family with newborn talking with lactation specialist
Steve Debenport/E+/Getty Images

Using a breast pump, just like breastfeeding, should not be painful or traumatic. And most women don't consider either all that easy. Expressing your breast milk with a breast pump is something that you have to learn how to do properly, and that can take time. Unfortunately, if you use your breast pump incorrectly in the interim, it can cause pain and breast or nipple trauma. Using the correct technique will not only prevent this, but it will also help you remove milk from your breasts more efficiently.

Whether you're just occasionally pumping a few extra ounces of breast milk or you're pumping several times a day, you can avoid pain and injury by understanding the most common missteps and learning how to avoid them. 

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

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, not realizing that it's not a one-size-fits-all kind of product and that many breast pump brands 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 one that's too small, your nipples will rub against the sides instead of being drawn into the inner funnel, which can cause sore nipples. Before you go ahead and use that standard size flange, be sure that it's the right one for you.

Position Your Breast Carefully

Once you have the correct size flange, be sure that you're placing your breast inside of it correctly. Your nipple should be 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 after your session is done.

Don't Overdo It on the Suction and Speed

If you pump on high suction and at super speed, it doesn't mean you'll get more breast milk or finish pumping more quickly. These high settings can not only be painful to your breasts, but they may actually cause you to remove less breast milk. Instead, keep the suction and the speed of the pump on low. Find a setting that's comfortable and mimics how your baby nurses, which will get your milk flowing. Even if your baby has a strong suck, it still does not compare to the strength of a pump on high suction. 

Don't Pump for Excessive Periods of Time

Pump each breast for about 10 minutes. If you're still getting breast milk after that time, you can pump for a little longer (a maximum of 15 minutes if you pump both breasts simultaneously and 30 minutes if you pump each breast separately). Continuing to pump for longer than the recommended maximum times can lead to sore nipples and breasts.

Avoid Bicycle Horn Pumps

Bicycle horn (bulb-style) breast pumps are small, portable, hand-operated pumps with rubber bulbs at the end that provide the source of suction. Some women use them 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, such as pumps with squeeze triggers and adjustable suction. 

Where to Find Help If You Need It

If you continue to have breast pain, sore nipples, or bruising on your breasts while pumping, make an appointment with your doctor. They can treat any breast or nipple trauma related to pumping 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 provide guidance and assistance. These professionals 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. 

Was this page helpful?
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.