Pumping Essentials: 10 Things Every Pumping Mama Needs

Last Updated: June 10, 2024
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

By Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

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Are you looking for a comprehensive list of pumping essentials? You are in the right place! I put together this list as a go-to guide for all my pumping mamas out there.

You might use it before you’re due to learn what to stock up on, or maybe baby is here and you’re ready to dip your toes more heavily into a pumping routine.

The items on this list are must-haves whether you’re pumping occasionally when you’re away from baby, regularly as a working mama, or even as an exclusive pumper!

After having two babies of my own, and trying over six different pumps and countless accessories, I’m excited to put together this list for you guys.

I think we can all agree that pumping isn’t exactly our favorite activity, but with the pumping essentials mentioned here, I hope it’ll be a little more tolerable.

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1. The right breast pump for your needs

Okay, so obviously this list of pumping essentials needed to start with a breast pump! And the good news is that these days there are a ton of different options out there. This means that you can actually find a pump that fits your needs.

The double good news is that more and more pumps are being covered by insurance! Gone are the days of having your insurance company pick your pump for you (for most!). And if you don’t have insurance right now, I’m going to cover some more affordable options for you to look into.

So it only made sense to break down this first section based on your needs. Let’s take a look!

For mamas that pump in a stationary spot

When I say stationary spot, I’m talking about the mamas who are a-okay with traditional pumping. That means you’re likely going to be plugged into a wall, and you’re going to be attached to your pump via tubing.

These are the pumps we most commonly see and think of when it comes to pumping, and you know what, for many there’s nothing wrong with them! They’re almost always covered by insurance, and choosing the right one comes down to a lot of personal preference.

Here are three I’ve personally tried:

  • Motif Luna Breast Pump: This is definitely the lesser known of the three pumps listed, but the one I probably love MOST. It’s easy to use, is super quiet, the battery pack lasts and lasts, and my pumping sessions are faster and more efficient. Read my full review here
  • Spectra S2 Breast Pump: This was the pump I used exclusively with my first, so for me it’s old faithful, and it totally gets the job done! I like that it’s a closed system, and the modes on it work really well for me. On the flip side, you do have to be plugged into a wall, and the pumping times were a bit longer than the Motif. However, these are almost ALWAYS covered by insurance and I can’t say anything bad about it
  • Medela Pump in Style Breast Pump: This is admittedly my least favorite out of the three pumps listed here, but for many, it’s what’s covered by insurance, and saying it’s my least favorite isn’t saying it’s bad! My output was still good and it is easy to use, I just don’t love that it’s an open tubing system, and the settings were a little bit trickier to leverage for me!

Read my full comparison of Spectra vs. Medela

For the mama that wants to pump on the go

If you actually can’t stand sitting still while you pump (solidarity) or maybe you want a more discreet way to pump while you work, a wearable breast pump is where it’s at! As a nurse, I absolutely LOVE the Willow pump because I can pump while I’m at the nurse’s station and walking around the floor.

I also love using my wearable pump at home while I tidy up the house, go for a walk, or just generally move about the house doing whatever I need to do! Not being tied to a wall or tubing is huge for me.

  • Willow Pump: I absolutely love this wearable pump. It wins for output, ease of use, and the tracking companion app is totally sweet. The main drawback here is that this pump is pricey. And it’s also not universally covered by insurance. However, more insurance companies are starting to cover or reimburse it! Read my full review
  • Elvie Pump: The Elvie pump is a wearable, tubeless system as well, that does work! Many mamas love this pump. For me, I used the Willow first, and I didn’t feel like the Elvie stood up quite as well in comparison. However, if the Elvie is covered by insurance but the Willow isn’t, you definitely can’t go wrong with this pump! Read my full review
  • Baby Buddha Pump: This one is a little bit different. It does work on a tube system, but the actual pump unit is super tiny (smaller than an iPhone!) and you wear it around your neck. So it’s very portable, but not as discreet and self-contained as the Willow or Elvie. However, the Baby Buddha Pump is WAY cheaper in comparison, so it’s a great supplemental pump option. Read my full review here

For the mama that wants some flexibility with the pump she already has

If you’ve already got one of those more standard electric pumps I mentioned above, and don’t want to spend a ton of money on a wearable pump, you’ve got some options!

Here are a few products/adaptations you can make to your pump to make it a little more portable:

  • Car adapter: There’s a car adapter for almost every breast pump! And you better believe that pumping while you drive is a thing. It’s actually such a good use of time
  • Freemie collection cups: These are an aftermarket product that you can hook up to almost any model of double electric pump. It replaces the flanges and collection bottles with a little insert that goes inside your bra for more discreet pumping. Love these things!
  • Battery packs: Like I mentioned above, even though most standard pumps traditionally mean you have to be plugged into the wall, there are more and more battery packs on the market now. Search your pump type to see if battery packs are available!
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2. The right sized flanges – and an extra pair or two!

Mama, having the correct size flange (also sometimes called a breast shield) for your pump is SO important to your comfort and output when you pump. Whether you pump twice a month or 8 times a day, get yourself the right sized flange!

Many don’t realize that flange size should be chosen based on your nipple size, not your breast size! You want your nipple to easily move into the flange’s tunnel with the suction from the pump. If it’s too small, your nipple won’t move into the tunnel easily. There will be friction against the sides of your nipple and some pretty awful sores.

On the flip side, if the flange tunnel is too big, not only will your nipple get pulled into the tunnel, but the areola (the area around the nipple) will be pulled in too, leading to irritation, sores, and even bruising – ouch!

So how DO you make sure your flange is the right size?

Here’s what we’re going for:

  • Your nipple moves easily in and out of the flange tunnel
  • Only a very little bit of the areola is pulled into the flange tunnel with the suction
  • You’re not experiencing any pain or friction

Aside from ensuring you don’t experience any pain or discomfort, the right sized flange is going to help with your output too. This is because you will letdown more easily if you are comfortable and relaxed! Keep in mind that a lactation consultant can help you figure out if your flange is the correct size.

Most of the major pumping brands offer various sized flanges ranging from 20/21 mm – 32 mm. But you do usually need to order them separately. Luckily Amazon carries most brands!

And if you find that your nipples are still not fitting into one of the offered sizes, there are after-market brands with other size options. Maymom definitely offers the widest selection and is very well respected!

To figure out your size you can use a ruler or a coin! I learned this from @legendairymilk:

  • Dime = 18 mm
  • Penny = 20 mm
  • Nickel = 22 mm
  • Quarter = 24 mm
  • Dollar = 26 mm
  • Half dollar = 30 mm

And once your figure out the correct size, go ahead and order yourself an extra pair – especially if you are a mama that’s pumping daily!

Silicone flanges are an option too

With my second baby, I was able to try out so many cool after-market pumping parts and products, and let me tell you, they really do make a difference in the pumping experience!

I really loved my LacTeck Silicone Flanges for additional comfort when pumping. The only thing about the silicone material is that it was a little bit trickier to clean the milk fat off them (if you know, you know that greasy, breast milk residue). But soaking in vinegar really helped!

3. Duckbill valve replacements

So when I was pumping for my first baby, no one told me that you are supposed to replace those little duckbill valves every 3-6 weeks! And girl, this is SO worth it, because your output will be so much better if you keep your parts up to date.

Duckbills valves are actually considered a “consumable” part of your breast pump! I so wish someone had told me that before I went crazy wondering why my output suddenly dipped.

And if you have a breast pump with a suction-style valve instead of a duckbill valve (like on the Medela) duckbill valves are interchangeable – and most agree that they work better!

Simply hit up Amazon and search your pump name + duckbill valves. I highly recommend the Maymom brand for this!

4. Milk storage bags

Yes! You need somewhere to store all the liquid gold, and really, I don’t have any kind of fancy recommendations for this. I personally love the Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags or the Target brand but haven’t had issues with others, either.

When it comes to using them, the one tip I have is to use your flange to pour from the bottle into the breastmilk bag to reduce spillage!

5. Comfortable pumping bras

A pumping bra makes ALL the difference as a pumping mama. Especially if you don’t have a wearable pump. Really any bra that’s labeled pumping bra, versus trying to make it work with a regular bra, will do. But I want to go ahead and share my two favorites:

  • The Larken X Pumping Bra: I love this pumping bra because it’s soft structured (I literally sleep in it!) but holds the pump in place like nobody’s business. I scored you guys a code – LIESEL10 for 10% off!
  • The Kindred Bravely Sublime Pumping Bra: Another great, more traditional pumping bra option. But with the supportive, soft, high-quality goodness that’s true of all Kindred Bravely bras and loungewear. We got a code for you here too – LIESEL20 for 20% off!

6. Travel cooler

If you’re going to be pumping away from your home, a travel cooler for your pumped milk is certainly a pumping essential! The Sarah Wells Cold Gold Breastmilk Cooler Bag is a definite fan favorite!

There are also cooler and pump bag combos that can hold your pump and have a cooler compartment that a lot of moms like!

7. Pump bag

On that note, I like to use a pump bag that keeps things organized, can double as a carry-all for work-related things like my laptop, and has a built in cooler aspect.

The Sarah Wells Pump Bag delivers on this and is designed to fit the cooler bag within it. I’ve also checked out the backpack style pump bags which look really cool, and a more traditional tote-style.

8. A dedicated bottle brush/drying rack

I do like to have a bottle brush that’s dedicated entirely to pump parts and bottles because I think it’s just way less gross than using the general household sponge or brush. And same goes for a drying rack.

For me, having it all together in one spot works a lot better! My picks here are the Boon Drying Rack and the Dr. Brown’s Bottle Brush.

9. Pumping spray or another flange lubricant

This is another pumping essential that I wish someone had told me about! Lubricating your flanges makes pumping sooo much more comfortable, but it’s just not talked about often enough.

You can use coconut oil as a flange lube, or even some of the natural nipple balms out there (like Bamboobies Organic Nipple Cream), but I really love to use Legendairy Milk’s Pump Spray because my hands don’t get all sticky and oily afterwards! Just spray it on and it’s super effective.

10. Entertainment

Lastly, I think it’s worth including entertainment on this list because if you are the sit and pump type (like so many) it’s far more tolerable if you’re doing something you like. Scrolling your phone works, but with a hands-free pumping bra you can also easily read, knit, type, etc. while you’re pumping.

Nice cold water, some snacks, and pictures and videos of your baby also help ?

Looking for more pumping resources?

Now that we’ve rounded out this list of pumping essentials, I want to point you towards some other pumping-related articles we’ve got here at MLN. Here are some you might find useful:

Have a pumping essential we left off the list that you can’t live without? Be sure to chime in below to keep the conversation going!

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Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

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