Struggling to make sense of your breast pump settings? Here’s everything you need to know about how to use all of the buttons on your pump, and how to maximize your pumping output.
Types of Settings
Here are the three main things that you need to be concerned about when it comes to determining the best breast pump settings for you.
- Mode – Most breast pumps have two modes: letdown/massage (to get your milk flowing) and expression.
- Vacuum Strength – The determines how hard the pump pulls.
- Cycle Speed – The determines how fast the pump pulls. Some breast pumps, like the Spectra, allow you to control cycle speed, while others do not.
On some pumps, you may also see buttons for power (to turn the pump on and off) or LED (to turn a backlight on and off).
As stated above, most breast pumps have two modes:
- Letdown mode is intended to be used at the start of a pumping session to get the milk flowing. Letdown mode is also called massage mode or “bacon” mode (because some breast pumps have wavy lines that look like bacon on the button).
- Expression mode is intended to remove as much milk as possible after your milk lets down.
Some pumps (such as Medela pumps) start in letdown mode and then automatically switch to expression mode after two minutes. Others (like Spectra pumps) start in whatever mode they were last in, and then you switch it manually.
What I generally recommend is starting in letdown mode, and then once you see your milk start flowing, switch to expression mode.
However, sometimes women find that they get more output by staying in letdown/massage mode for the entire pumping session, and they wonder whether or not this is okay. This is totally fine – whatever removes the most milk from your breasts is the right way for YOU to pump.
Vacuum strength refers to how strong the pump’s suction is.
Lots of new moms think that the higher they set the vacuum strength, the more milk they’ll get. However, if you put the suction at a level that is painful for you, this can actually reduce the amount of milk that you pump, because pain can inhibit letdowns.
On the other hand, having the vacuum strength set too low will make it harder for you to effectively empty your breasts.
To get the right vacuum strength for you, I recommend increasing the vacuum strength up until you start to feel a bit of discomfort, and then decreasing it one notch so that it’s comfortable.
More on breast pump suction here.
Cycle speed refers to how many times the pump sucks and releases per minute. Cycle speed is measured cycles per minute, so setting the cycle speed to 54 means that it sucks 54 times every minute.
Some pumps don’t allow you to modify the cycle speed, but if yours does, you have to test it out and see what works best for you. (There is no “correct” cycle speed that you should be using.)
Making Sense of Breast Pump Settings on Specific Pumps
While I can’t go through every breast pump on the market, I thought it might be helpful to go through how these settings work (and examples of how you might use them) on a few of the more popular pumps.
Spectra S1/S2 Breast Pump Settings
Most women find that starting in massage mode and then switching to expression mode once the milk starts flowing works well.
Set the vacuum speed to the highest level that is comfortable for you, and start with the cycle set to 54. You may want to test out a bunch of different cycle speeds to see what works best for you.
Spectra pumps start in the last mode that you were using before. That means that if you were pumping with high suction at the end of your last pumping session, you may want to adjust it back down before you start to pump.
More on the Spectra S1/S2 here.
Medela Pump In Style Breast Pump Settings
The settings for Medela pumps are pretty straightforward – you have the ability to change the vacuum strength by turning a dial, and you can push a button to switch from the mode you’re in (either letdown or expression) to the other one.
More on the Medela Pump in Style here.
Willow Breast Pump Settings
Willow’s breast pump settings are fairly straightforward.
Because the Willow pump can sense when you have a letdown, it switches modes automatically. The only setting you have to manage is suction strength.
As always, set it to the highest suction that is comfortable for you. You can set each side to a different suction strength if necessary.
Have questions about the breast pump settings on your pump? Let me know if the comments!