How to Pump More Efficiently with Breast Pump Levels

Breast pumps are much stronger and efficient in their design than they were even five years ago. Having different settings to work with allows breastfeeding women to adjust for their comfort, too. With an effective pump and comfortable, attainable settings, pumping breastmilk becomes a much more efficient task.

Strength and Cycle Settings

Cycles refer to the rate or speed of the full pump motion. Strength settings refer to the suction strength within each cycle. Both should vary and invert between the two modes: Massage and Expression. For example, the table below displays the cycles and strength settings for the battery powered Luna:

The Motif Luna Breast Pump Modes Cycles (30-60) Strength (1-12)
Massage Higher (60) Lower (1-5)
Expression Lower (30-46) Higher (6+)

This inversion of pumping settings mimics the way a baby would stimulate a milk-ejection response (MER), also known as the “letdown,” and segue into rhythmic drinking and suction. Both settings should be comfortable, but also increase efficiency when just right!

What Level to Start

Massage mode, lower strength and faster cycles, is the first part of a pumping session. Indicated by the image of a hand, this stimulates the nipple with gentle tugging to alert the body to release milk and relax. This step lasts one-three minutes, and can manually be switched once milk flow becomes consistent. Play around with settings to get the most stimulation, as well as experimenting what works best for your personal output.

The next step is Expression mode. This makes up the majority of the pumping session and provides the greatest output of milk. Think of the pace your baby feeds, with that rhythmic, steady repetition. When first getting acquainted with your pump, its a good idea to begin with a medium suction strength level during the expression mode, such as 6-8, and gradually work your way up as long as it stays comfortable, as this is where the majority of the time pumping will be spent.

If discomfort or pain is a part of the equation, it could be due to incorrect settings, but also breast shield sizing. Too strong of a suction can actually compress the tissue and block milk from flowing. You can read more on sizing, comfort, and other pumping concerns here!

What to Do While Pumping

This is a time to relax: take a deep breath. Have water and a snack on hand, listen to music, look at pictures and videos of your baby, and even visualize milk flow! Studies have shown that classical music, the scent of your baby, along with visualization, can have an immediate increase in your body’s response to a breast pump, so let’s get that oxytocin flowing!

Other tips to take your mind off of pumping and encourage milk flow:

  • Cover bottles with a sock. This hides the milk so you’re not stressing so much about your milk supply!
  • Give yourself a pre-pump massage. Massaging and compressing the breasts both before and during pumping can help make it easier to express milk. It's also relaxing!

About the Author

Ashley Georgakopoulos is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) that specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding and an expert in the field of lactation. Ashley is from Knoxville, TN, and is a mother who has dealt with the obstacles and joys of breastfeeding. As the owner of Genesis Lactation, she educates families, connects them to resources, and helps the next generation be as healthy as possible: nutritionally and sustainably.

Information provided in blogs should not be used as a substitute for medical care or consultation.


Ak J, Lakshmanagowda PB, G C M P, Goturu J. Impact of music therapy on breast milk secretion in mothers of premature newborns. J Clin Diagn Res. 2015;9(4):CC04-CC6. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2015/11642.5776

Jacqueline C. Kent, Danielle K. Prime, and Catherine P. Garbin. Principles for maintaining or increasing breast milk production. JOGNN, 41, 114-121; 2012. DOI: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2011.01313.x


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