The Pumping Glossary

Your go-to guide for breast pumping lingo.

*We’ve partnered with bamboobies to share strategies to help you as a working, pumping mom.

“Breastfeeding” is such a lovely, straightforward term: to feed a baby from the breast. To nuzzle at the bosom. So clear! So easy to comprehend (even if not always as easy to do).

When you move to other breastfeeding terms, however, things start to get more complicated. The vocabulary starts sounding more like Harry Potter spells than things associated with milk making: colostrum; prolactin; mastitis (…poof?!). Then you get to breast pumping terminology and things get really weird, as if someone changed the language setting on your TV. Flange? Duckbill? Membrane? Since when did nourishing your baby require such code?

Fear not, mamas and mamas-to-be, we who have gone before you are here to help decipher. We’ve partnered with our friends at Bamboobies (talk about a word you didn’t know about before breastfeeding) to talk about pumps, baby, and sort through all those strange terms – and pieces and parts – you need to know when pumping.

1 – Engorgement
We’re starting here because you’ll want to have a heads up on this one. Engorgement is a state of fullness when your breasts will likely feel as if they are going to burst. (They might also feel rock solid, and tender to touch.) Engorgement is caused by additional blood and fluid flowing in to prepare breasts for milk production to begin and an increase in milk production itself. It can happen when your milk first comes in, often two to six days after giving birth, or when you go too long between feeds (or pump sessions). If you reach this state, it’s a good time to pull out that pump (and some cabbage leaves). Better yet, try these tips how to help prevent or minimize engorgement.

2 – Hand Express
Raise your right hand, place it in a “c” around your breast and squeeze gently toward the areola. This, my mama friends, is called hand expressing. It’s the act of expelling milk manually using your hands and it might just be a breastfeeding mother’s best friend. Not only does hand expression come in handy (wink wink), when you are without your pump, but also it helps to stimulate more milk, ease blocked milk ducts, and aid with milk letdown. Here’s how to do it.

3 – Letdown
Our favorite part of the day! Okay, it’s actually just the release of milk from your breasts. This reflex is what happens when tiny nerves in your breast are stimulated (by a baby’s sucking or your pump), thereby firing up hormones – prolactin and oxytocin – that release or ‘letdown’ the milk. This letdown may take a few minutes or a few seconds, and when you think about your sweet baby’s face or even hear a baby cry. (Which is why you’ll want to have those Bamboobies nursing pads ready to catch any letdown on the loose!)

4 – Double Electric Pump
The double electric pump may sound like the next viral dance craze, but alas, it’s the name for a breast pump that uses a motor to pump and generate suction (versus a manual pump which relies on squeezes to a handle by hand). Both manual pumps and electric pumps create and release suction on the nipple to stimulate your nerves and draw out milk. A double electric pump, however does the pumping work for you, and can allow for a speedier, sometimes more productive pump session. (Though it varies for everyone.)
Side note: we wouldn’t be mad if a video of mamas dancing to the double electric pump noise caught on.

5 – Membrane
Also known as “those little white flimsy pieces your pump won’t work without”. Membranes are the thin, round discs that connect to and work with a pump’s valves to keep milk from backing up in the tubing. They are small, but mighty, and key to efficient suction: if torn or worn out, they can be the main reason a pump isn’t working well or sucking enough. It’s good to keep extras on hand.

6 – Duckbill
Depending on the type of pump you have, a duckbill is a valve shaped like the beak of a duck and an alternative to the traditional valve that works with the membranes mentioned above.

7 – Flange
A breast pump flange (pronounced like your cool friend Ang) – or breast shield – is the funnel looking piece of the pump that cups around your breast. Flanges form a seal around your areola to create a vacuum that draws your nipple forward and the milk out. Like a bra, a good fit is important, and one size flange doesn’t fit all (or even all throughout your pump days, since breasts are ever-changing while breastfeeding). This size chart can help.

8 – Galactagogue
Sometimes milk production needs a little help and you might be advised to try a galactagogue. While it sounds like a remote planet visited by Thor, it’s actually just a substance that increases milk supply. Some commonly used herbal galactagogues are fenugreek, blessed thistle, and alfalfa.

9. Boob Lube (i.e. Pumping Lubricant)
A little tube of heaven. All that pumping can be rough on your milk makers (especially if you are pumping exclusively). You can reduce some of the friction and make pumping a little more comfortable, by applying a pumping lubricant (boob-lube) such as boob-ease Organic Pumping Lubricant before each pump.

10 – Breast Express
There’s now actually a place for moms to feed on wheels! pumpspotting’s will be taking it’s new RV cross-country in the spring to show up for breastfeeding moms and provide a comfortable place for moms to nurse and pump. Check the boob-venture here.

Shop bamboobies Working Pumping Mom Necessities:

Amy VanHaren

Amy VanHaren

Amy is a seasoned working, nursing, traveling mom. She’s founder of pumpspotting, an app that connects breastfeeding women over milk and motherhood and helps them find, share, and rate the best places to nurse and pump. She splits her time between Maine and Northern California, and between digital storytelling for brands and bedtime storytelling for her two towheads.

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